16th February 1929 – 30th December 2019
These are the eulogies I spoke at my mother’s cremation and the subsequent memorial service, both on 21st January 2020.
I won’t say much here. We have a memorial service later this afternoon where I will speak more about Mum’s life and our memories of her.
Mum was a vibrant, wonderful person who did so much for her family and her community, fully involved in life in Wymeswold and in Bromyard, getting things done to help people and improve their lives.
Mum always got on with things. You could sit down after dinner, thinking I’ll just finish this coffee and then pack the dishwasher, only to wander into the kitchen to find the dishwasher already packed and running and everything left over washed up. It was hard to beat her to it.
It was blow, then, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a terrible disease which gradually stripped Mum of her vitality and inner essence. What she was going through made her frightened and angry. If ever anyone raged, raged against the dying of the light, it was Mum at that time, until at the end even she couldn’t any more.
We grieve for her now, but must remember that this was only a short period of her life. The rest of her span of 90 years was filled with joy and love, and some sorrows to be sure, as we all have. But the world would have been a much poorer place without her.
Memorial Service, St Andrew’s, Bredenbury
This memorial service is to remember and celebrate the life of my mother, Mary Smith.
And it is wonderful and comforting to see so many here with us.
It’s to mourn her passing as well, of course, but over the last few years the dreadful Alzheimer’s disease had progressively eroded and destroyed so much that made Mary, Mary, that those of us close to her have been mourning for quite some time. But even Alzheimer’s couldn’t completely erase her – the determination that kept her alive for longer than people thought; the character that Annette, the manager of the marvellous care home, remarked upon; the animation and love she showed when visited by her great-granddaughter, Sam, now aged two.
Mary Brennand was born in Chester in 1929, just in time to enjoy the great depression, and grew up as a teenager during the second world war. The bombers heading for Liverpool docks would fly over Chester, and Mum always worried that they would go for the steelworks on the Wirral where her Dad worked.
This was where she met lifelong best friend Sheila Astbury. “Mary was the nearest I had to a sister. Our childhood even during the war was happy,” she said.
After school, Mum went to Goldsmiths College in London to train as a teacher, living in student accommodation with an inadequate amount of coal for the fire during the harsh winter of 1947, wearing every coat and jumper to keep warm.
Mum worked as a teacher for only a couple of years in Shepshed, staying with the Matlock family, before marrying my Dad and going to live at Clay House Farm in Wymeswold. They had met when Mum (with sister Helen and parents) visited her Aunt Nell and Uncle Horace at their farm, Wisteria Cottage, just up the road from the Smiths in Wymeswold. Mum had a drawing of Wisteria Cottage by Wymeswold friend Susan Jalland on her kitchen wall at The Green, and it went with her into the care home.
Dad’s brother David said: “We all thought that Sidney was very lucky to have found such a talented, kind and lively partner.”
They married in Chester in August 1952 and I came along ten months later, a week after the coronation, with Marcus and Gaynor following. Looking after the family and the farmhouse took a lot of her time, but still Mum found time for other activities. I remember country dancing. We didn’t own a record player at home, but Mum had custody of the country dancing club record player which we kids were not allowed to use.
Mum also joined the Wymeswold Women’s Institute and the WI became a life-long involvement. After a few years, working up through committee and treasurer positions, Mum annoyed the president by standing against her, and annoyed her even more by winning and becoming president herself.
Mum learned to drive during the 1960s, having lessons, but also being taught by Dad. This did not turn out well. Let us just say that for Dad, Mum was not a good pupil to have, and for Mum, Dad was not a good teacher to have. Most lessons seemed to end in a blazing row. Actually, I don’t think Dad enjoyed being driven by anybody. But Mum passed her test and they bought a little Fiat 127, light blue, for her.
This mobility enabled her in 1971 to take on the role of Voluntary County Organiser in the Leicestershire and Rutland Federation of WIs, going round the county helping local Institutes. From there she became County Chairman, a position she held from 1975-78. And she served on the National Executive for a while. I don’t recall the exact dates, but I do remember, after I started work in London in the mid-70s, meeting Mum on some of her visits to the Ebury Street national headquarters.
Then in 1982 came a big change. They sold up the farm in Wymeswold and moved to a farm in the country just outside Bromyard – The Green. Clay House Farm was in the centre of the village, and as neighbouring gardens and plots of land were sold off for housing, they could foresee trouble from the buyers, mainly townie incomers, who would not take kindly to living next door to several hundred pigs, despite the fact that the pigs were there first.
The Green is an even bigger house than Clay House, but Mum made it her own. She continued with the WI, at Much Cowarne, and with the crafts she had always loved, and took further qualifications in flower arranging, enabling her to teach floristry. She didn’t dabble, she went in whole-heartedly. She did flowers at St Peter’s in Bromyard and here, St Andrew’s. We’ve had cards remembering her judging of flowers at shows all around the area.
Mum became involved with Bromyard Gala, becoming Chairman of the Produce & Handicrafts section. In October 2005, she was awarded the Bromyard Distinguished Citizen for her contribution to the community.
In the end, Mum lived for longer in Bromyard than anywhere else. It was the only place her grandchildren knew her.
Gaynor remembers happy childhoods. Mum worked hard for us and encouraged us to do well, and made sure we had jobs to do at home. She came to school events – plays and sports days. She loved to dance (Dad not so much) and was creative, with crafts and flowers.
Marcus remembers her voluntary work at the Hospice shop, sometimes bringing back suitable clothes for Angharad. And how Mum and his mother-in-law Jean became the “golden girls”, travelling round together when one couldn’t drive and one had no idea where she was going. (His words, Jean.)
We all three (and many others, it seems) remember her laughter, and when with Helen there was a lot of giggling. She was great to have in the theatre to start the audience off. (That’s for comedies, I assume, Marcus?)
We remember her love of children and babies, which lasted right to the end. You can see it in the photos of her with Sam, her great granddaughter. Any item on the television involving babies would bring a sparkle to her eye, and a smile to her face. She was a loving and intelligent grandmother to all her grand-children, educating them without their probably even realising. She indulged, but never spoiled them. Angharad’s fondest childhood memories are of the ‘craft’ things they did together; choosing curtains and rugs, and decorating her bedroom when she moved into the Cider Mill. She also recalls the Junior Flower Club that Mum set up and took for the youngsters in Bromyard.
Ellie said: “I always loved getting up early when visiting Grandma because she’d always be up before everyone else and I’d go downstairs and for a little while it would just be the two of us while we ate breakfast (cornflakes with raisins) and it was just so very very lovely. She had the best laugh and wonderful stories to tell.”
And in a life so full there will be much I haven’t spoken about, and much I don’t remember, or remember inaccurately or didn’t know. We all here have our own memories of Mum, of Grandma, of Mary. I hope we will be able to share some of them afterwards at the Falcon.
I’ll leave the last words with the one who has known her longest, her best friend, Sheila, again, because I can’t better them:
“We must remember her as the vibrant, wonderful person she was, a very good mother, wife and teacher, with so many varied interests. She was so talented, wise, kind and generous.”