This tribute was read out by Father Vickery House at Jon’s Funeral. It was written by his Father, Brian Cole
N.T. Reading John l3 v. l2-l7
This is much more than a beautiful story of the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ. It contains an unspoken rebuke to all those who would travel with Jesus without ever really understanding His essential nature. That nature was self-giving love for others; His Heavenly Father first and the world of people second! In that culture, washing the feet of guests was the servant’s work. The task was menial and unenviable, but, if people were to be honoured and valued; essential. So, what the disciples declined or neglected to do the Saviour, willingly undertook, leaving us, as He said, an example.
Jon Cole spent a good deal of his life following that example and he chose those parts of society that many of us avoid in which to do it. Jon was always prepared to engage with people that he met, he was genuinely interested and was always prepared to make time for people. His work among children and young people with severely restricted learning ability was inspiring and, as one of his admiring friends said - "ground breaking" With Kate, Caroline and Tim, "Art Works" was conceived and developed bringing new horizons for those who many find too painful and difficult to embrace,
The compassion that Jon showed in his lifetime was no accident of nature - its origins lie in his childhood and youth. As a boy of 8 years he willingly accompanied his father on many of his itinerant preaching engagements. He loved the gospel story of Jesus and sat attentively absorbing sermons much to the surprise and admiration of adult members of the congregation - and often rewarded with something edible at the end! Jon’s favourite bible character was John the Baptist who of course was the great introducer of Jesus. In his teenage years Jon pointed a number of his peer group in the same direction and there are some firmly committed christian friends here today who owe the seeds of their faith to Jon's good humoured but faithful witness.
So, as we heard in our reading, serving others whether it be by washing their feet or painting them beautiful word pictures Jesus said - "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them"
Jon was happy - especially when he was among his friends. His zany humour, scary faces and total disrespect for the conventional made him good company. His intolerance of the scandalous inequity of life, and the exploitation of the poor by the rich, the abuse of the environment by multinationals made Jon a hot debater and vocal protester. Recently he sought and found some solace befriending the underprivileged but unspoilt people of Cambodia.
It is something of an cliche to say that artists are born not made. Jon was a born artist, but had passed through the formal schools of institutional art with his fair share of dissent notwithstanding his graduation with first class honours. When the Royal Academy accepted him, but rejected his dog Naema, he promptly built a kennel outside the entry gates.
Artists have a unique privilege in that they can bequeath to posterity something that will endure. What Jon was is captured and preserved in his art. To those entrusted with the keeping and care of his paintings and those who study them in future years, Jon will speak. They will evoke memories of happy days and un forgettable events - of laughter, of tears of unfulfilled dreams. Each one of us will have good reason to thank God that Jon Cole charged onto the canvas of our lives and made a mark that time will not diminish.