St. Patrick's Church, Nuthall, Nottinghamshire
22nd November 1999 at 2.00pm
Rector: the Revd. Roy Palin
My mother was born in June 1931, just one year after her much loved elder brother Bruce had died of scarlet fever. Theres rosemary, thats for remembrance: pray, love, remember. But it is impossible for the fallible living to match up to the idealised dead; and sadly my mother developed the nagging doubt that she was no good at anything, and that nobody liked her. Normally you shouldnt contradict your mother, especially at her funeral, but I want to tell you that she was wrong on both counts. The number of you present here today, and the many touching messages of support that my father has received, bear witness to that. Mum would not have expected many people to turn up to her funeral, and would have been delighted that you are all here.
As she grew up and moved away from home, Rosemary had to face the challenges of life. Like most of us, she needed a partner; and Rosie chose her man well. George, that handsome young chap she met at Brighton Technical College in 1949, was and is a patient and intensely loyal man; and she responded to that loyalty with trust. Together they made their marriage work; and although there were plenty of squabbles along the way, they provided a secure home for their children and moved on together after the children left home, with a shared interest in Lions Clubs, travel, and their grandchildren. Rosies trust in my father was well-founded, and as she slipped into illness and inability over her last five years he did not let her down, but showed her the same loving care right up to the end. She chose her man well.
What home did her children start from? For us, Mum was just there. It seemed as if she never knew her own strength, but worked quietly and efficiently behind the scenes to look after her family. She was always ready to put herself out for us; and whatever we did, nothing could disconcert her. Cycling alone across France, having children a little early, going out with someone from the other side of the world: she took it all in her stride, and responded generously to our needs. Discipline and motivation were implicit rather than stated: we wanted to do the right thing as a response to her love. I can only remember her really telling me off once; after I had ridden into the road on Half Moon Lane at the age of eight. She dragged me off that bike and gave me a great clout. Just then, a car pulled to a halt and a well dressed lady stuck her head out of the window. Poor Mum thought she was about to be reported for cruelty. Quite right, my dear called the lady, theyve got to learn! And Mum was always ready to have a go with her children and grandchildren. She happily took us on the log flume at Alton Towers, though the photograph taken on the way down suggests she might have had second thoughts. She took some of her grandchildren to see the film Bill and Teds Bogus Journey: well, she said afterwards, Ive never seen anything like that before! Above all, she created a great sense of family in which we knew we were loved, and from which we could go out and face the world with confidence.
Her grandchildren remember her as kind, understanding and generous. She took great pleasure in them and their achievements, and was frustrated that her illness prevented her from helping with the youngest ones.
I asked several of her friends how they remember her, and a consistent picture emerged. They said what a good friend she had been, and how fond they were of her. I heard about acts of generosity, offers of help that would then be efficiently arranged. They said she was a wonderful, good-humoured person who created a warm atmosphere; a woman of high intellect, well matched with her husband; a lovely enjoyable person who was an asset to life. Those friends from nearly fifty years ago found her unchanged whenever they met, and easily slipped back into their old comfortable companionship.
Mum was easily embarrassed if anybody praised her, but she had many achievements to her name. In her teens she was a promising sprinter and tennis player, but this sporting ability lay dormant until her late fifties when she trained with her friends Liz Allen and Pat Vayro, and then ran a number of half marathons: including the Derby Ramathon, and the Great North Run at the age of 62. She managed the pharmacy at Kirk Hallam decisively and energetically for over twenty years, while running a household and bringing up three kids at the same time. Her pineapple upside-down pudding was second to none. She also managed the almost impossible task of keeping a group of Ilkeston women in order, as the first President of the Ilkeston Lionesses Club in 1985; and was President again a decade later, despite then suffering from Parkinsons Disease.
So let me tell you a little about her life. She was born in 1931 at the School House in Ightham in Kent, where her father was the Headmaster. In 1940 the family moved to Fosters School in Welling, where Rosemary grew up in a spacious house with a large garden containing a huge magnolia tree. She joined the local Guide Company where she made a lifelong friend in Joyce Padwick, and was educated at Chislehurst High School until the age of 18. Her father was friendly with a local pharmacist who was in the same Lodge, and he gave Rosemary the choice of becoming either a teacher or a pharmacist. Since she couldnt stand the thought of teaching, she went to Brighton Technical College to learn pharmacy. Her father said that if she qualified as a pharmacist she would never be out of a job, and he was right.
At Brighton she met a local lad, just out of the Army, who introduced her to the St. Andrews Fellowship at Moulscombe, where the two of them made friends like the Wilsons and the Feachems. Young folk did their courting in gangs in those days, and all of the marriages that came out of that Fellowship have survived. There were rambles and hikes, and in 1951 the Fellowship went on a trip to Switzerland, which was a big adventure in those days. Her friends vividly remember Rosemary and George trekking across the Swiss hills. She was always game, ready to try things, lots of laughs and lots of fun: someone who wanted to live life to the full.
She qualified in 1953 and did her practical training in various branches of Boots in South-East London while my father was working for a drug company. Then in 1954 a pharmacist offered her a job managing a pharmacy with a flat over it, and on the strength of this my parents decided to get married, which they did on New Years Day 1955. Rosemary soon changed her employer to work in Bexleyheath where she became friendly with Dianzi Lowe, who was managing another pharmacy for the same firm. Rosemary and Di handed in their notice on the same day, and were in Hainault maternity home together at the end of 1956 to have their first babies. Another long-lasting friendship had been forged.
In 1958 my parents bought a pharmacy at Bognor Regis, but things did not go well and in 1961 my father began working in Dulwich, leaving Rosemary to run the shop in Bognor alone. She had just three weeks off in December that year when Mark was born, and then went back to work. The shop was sold in 1962 and the family moved to Dulwich in South-East London, where Rosemary worked part time at St. Francis Hospital. In March 1963 her third son James was born, but he was found to have congenital heart disease; and despite being transferred to Great Ormond Street he died three weeks later on 13th April, Good Friday. More happily, her little girl Rebecca was born in June 1965.
Two years later my parents heard of a place in Derbyshire called Kirk Hallam, where the council could not find a pharmacist to open a shop. They moved north in September 1967, and put down strong roots in the area. They became friendly with the dashing young curate at Ilkeston parish church, and Rosemary forged another great friendship with his wife Margaret, which only ended with Margarets death last year. It is fitting that she will shortly be buried alongside her old friend.
At this time my parents also became friendly with the Canhams, their accountants from Dulwich, and began to meet people locally. Rosemary supported my father when he helped to found the Ilkeston Lions Club in 1976, and when he became the District Governor in 1984 their circle of friends exploded. Yet more friends were made when Rosemary became the Charter President of the Ilkeston Lionesses Club in 1985. She was as game as ever, and got involved in bed pushes and pram races, dressing up as a cheerleader and also, so I am told, a duck! My parents moved to Belper in 1985, and found more good friends among their neighbours.
But in 1987, Rosemary had to cope with further loss when her grandson Guillaume died in infancy. And then in 1992 her first grandchild James was killed at the age of eleven while riding his bike. This final loss knocked the stuffing out of her, and she stopped work shortly afterwards. It was in 1994 that the first signs of her illness appeared, which seemed at first to be Parkinsons Disease. The diagnosis has never been entirely clear but it was some form of brain degeneration, possibly Lewy body dementia, which affected her mobility and her mental function. The deterioration was slow at first, but began to accelerate at the start of this year, and progressed ever more rapidly following a fall in July while visiting her grandchildren in Germany.
But my father, loyal as ever, had made sure that she had enjoyed her retirement. They had travelled widely: visiting old friends, attending Lions Conventions around the world, and twice visiting her in-laws on the island of Réunion. Although she became terribly muddled in her final illness, she was no trouble to the people looking after her. She recognised her family up to the end, and always tried to smile when I visited her.
How can I sum up the mother I love: that kind, lively, lovely, generous, strong, vulnerable woman? When I look back I cannot point to any single memory which does her justice. It was all those unassuming acts of love throughout her life which define who she was, and which are her memorial.
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
From "East Coker" by T.S. Eliot
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