Welcome everyone and thank you all for coming. We do not want this to be a sad occasion, but true celebration of someone who touched us all.
Had we been able to celebrate her life 2 years ago – I think I would have started by saying “ Well, what a force of nature we have lost” – time hasn’t dulled my sense that this is very true.
What a two years we’ve all had – and I can safely say that being the social creature she was, she would not have enjoyed it one bit – as I suspect is true of most of us – but I am very grateful that she was spared the Covid years.
Violet Mary Gilding ( and woe betide any service provider who rang her and addressed her as Violet – a name she didn’t like at all), was born on 21st August 1940 and though Mummy to me right to the end, was always known as Maureen.
She had an interesting start to life since her mother, who WAS called Violet, and her 4 elder sisters set sail for Canada in early 1940 – as there was an initiative from many colonial countries distant from the war in Europe to take in children, particularly from the cities in the uk vulnerable to bombing. Her father, Peter, was a professor at Birmingham University, who’s skills were required in the war effort but her mother was, unusually, allowed to accompany the children, as she was pregnant with Maureen.
The journey across was not without incident, ships in front and behind in the convoy were torpedoed by German U-boats, and they had to confront towering icebergs before reaching shore.
So her first foray into the world was in Toronto, some months later.
They were initially housed and helped by a local man in an elegant house – 227 Ellis avenue – still standing today which had a lovely large garden leading to Grenadier pond – large enough to be a sizeable lake here – but dwarfed by lake Ontario 300 yrds away.
Maureen’s adventurous spirit emerged early, since the garden had no fences she would be put in a play pen, which she frequently managed to escape from – “where’s Maureen” was a frequent cry – panic ensuing until she was eventually found either running towards the pond or down the round as fast as her little legs could carry her.
After four years away from home, her mother was desperate to come back with the 5 girls, Marjorie, Elizabeth, Anne, Jane and Maureen (which my grandmother of used to have to run through to remember my mothers name when she was in trouble – Marjorie, Elizabeth, Anne, Jane, Maureen – will you behave yourself.) and with her famous charm managed to organise a berth for them all on the Mauritania, 6 of about 12 civilians permitted to join the ship otherwise filled with American GI’s coming over in advance of D-Day.
After a long train journey to New York, as they were about to embark, up came the familiar cry “where’s Maureen” ? One of the soldiers spotted that she was on top of a mountain of military bags and suitcases about to be craned in a huge net on to the ship. They quickly realised that if anyone tried to climb up to rescue her the whole pyramid would most likely collapse and bury her – so she had to be gently coaxed down on her steam – which she did with remarkable dexterity and calm.
On return to the UK, she met her father for the first time aged about 4 – apparently greeting him “Hello Daddy – who are you?. They remained very close all of his life.
The family subsequently moved into a large house called the Uplands in Edgbaston close to Birmingham University – with a big garden raised above the street below. It was large enough for lots of games of hide and seek – but also beyond a university professor with 5 children’s salary to keep very warm – a memory that stayed with her and probably contributed to always wanting to have a kitchen with an Aga to guarantee warmth at all times.
She had a naughty streak from a young age. Her and her sister Jane, who I have to thank for many of these memories, having spotted a young couple canoodling on the bench beneath their garden wall – ran to collect a big bundle of freshly cut grass and threw it over the wall, covering the unsuspecting couple with it.
The young girl was livid and with hands clenching the top of the wall loudly cursed the two of them – the young fella apparently giggling as much as Jane and Maureen as they escaped the scene of the crime.
She was educated at the convent of the holy child in Edgbaston, constantly in trouble for giggling too much during assembly. On one occasion, when aged about 10 – she was again laughing in assembly with a friend about how austere and humourless the head mistress was. Mother Michael demanded to know what was so funny. She had to think of a joke fast, and said “ there were two earwigs on the top of a hill getting ready to jump off, and one said to the other “ere we go” – “Get the to the point of the joke” said the reverend Mother – allowing the whole assembly to appreciate what Maureen had really been laughing about.
Mother Michael subsequently got her revenge – a few years later when reading in front of the school some of their reports – she announced that Maureen, who was a rather chubby child – “had been expanding in all directions”. This perhaps led to a lifetime of concern over not being overweight – but also contributed to her stoicism and strength of character – she always recounted the story with genuine laughter. A stoicism which we possibly should promote more enthusiastically today than is currently fashionable.
On leaving school at 16 she went over to France to be an au-pair for a wealthy Parisian family – and although they weren’t the warmest of people, she enjoyed winter holidays in the alps and summer in Hossegor on the Atlantic coast near Spain, which completely coincidentally, all of us visited a number of times with her in the last years of her life. The experience in France gave a her a strong sense of fashion and elegance which, despite not being particularly vain, she retained all of her life. She was also able to speak French pretty fluently.
Returning from France in 1959 she started nursing training at st George’s hospital – then on Hyde Park Corner – and shared a flat with her fellow student nurses and subsequent lifelong friends, ( thank you Gina and Rosemary) initially in shepherds bush and subsequently opposite Peter Jones on Sloane square. How life has changed that a group of girls on a student nurses salary could live in a flat on Sloane square.
Through Gina’s future husband Robert, she met one of his best friends Mark, and their relationship was cemented when Mark was his best man and Maureen a bridesmaid.
Mark’s other great university mate John Plackett and his wife Jean also became lifelong friends.
Qualifying as a Registered Nurse in 1962 she completed a year as a staff nurse at st. Georges before going back to Canada and working as nurse in Toronto for a year.
On her return she decided to work as an air stewardess for British Airways – then called BOAC – or Better on a Camel as it was affectionately known by the staff, where her combined skills in French and nursing were put to good use – often looking after seriously ill patients being flown over from other countries to London for urgent medical treatment.
Mark and Maureen were married at her father’s oxford college on 14th April 1966 with 4 inches of snow on the ground – I used to tease her that I remembered it well – but 9 months and one week later I was born, closely followed 22 months later by Melanie and 4 years later Amanda.
We grew up initially near Cobham – with the river Mole at the bottom of the hill at the end of the garden – Mark religiously grew his vegetables on the river bank, only for the cows to cross the river almost annually when it was low to eat everything except his beetroot. We vividly remember trying and failing to encourage the cows back over the river – with no success. Mark was far from an aggressive man – and the cows knew it – he stood no chance.
Maureen stopped officially working whilst bringing us up, but was constantly involved with charity work – in particular for what was then known as the Putney Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables. Many of her friends were also involved, Figi Ashfield and her husband Phil who also were lifelong friends and Tony and Frances Spicer -who she had met at Ante natal classes as Melanie and Frances’s second daughter Nicky, were born at Mount Alvernia hospital in Guildford at around the same time.
We all have vivid memories of huge pots of Jam bubbling away for weeks prior to being sold at the annual hospital fair to raise money and setting up and serving at bridge drives and other charitable events, which thanks to her and her friends’ positive nature, always seemed to involve much fun and raucous laughter.
After we had largely flown the nest, she returned to work as an occupational health nurse at British Aerospace in Farnborough and latterly Dunsfold, where she had a great relationship with all the pilots and fireman, unabashed by, and very much appreciating the their often bawdy sense of humour – today it would be classed as offensive – she understood it to be a compliment and example of the warmth they felt for her – and she was able to give as good as she got.
She had an irrepressible spirit and many friends and family have noted that she never displayed an iota of self pity – moaning about her lot was just not her style. Even when during a period of money troubles the bailiffs had changed the locks on the house and her and my father came back from their respective work unable to enter their home – her recounting of the story was roaring with laughter having got stuck whilst forcing herself through an open bathroom window – with my father pushing frantically from outside until she collapsed in giggles onto the bathroom floor.
You might note who took the initiative in challenging times like this, and provided the determination and strength of character to get beyond them.
She was a very warm and loving mother, god-mother, aunt and friend, who had a keen sense of when someone needed a bit of love, a show of support or a hug – literally or figuratively. I’m sure many of us here have our personal private memories as testament to her kindnesss and emotional intelligence.
This didn’t mean she wasn’t also a disciplinarian – I lost count how many hairbrushes, kitchen utensils and other instruments closest to hand at the time – were used to whip me into shape growing up – all richly deserved I’m sure – even if probably a criminal offence today.
I have vivid memories of all of us being chased round the house by her with a teaspoon of English mustard in hand, “I’ll put mustard in yr mouth” being the punishment for swearing as children.
She had a profound sense of justice and fairnesss – and whilst not always right, never shied away from a battle – particularly in defence of others – and ensured she had her say and got her point across, not always completely even- temperedly.
But we knew 100% that if, and only if, we deserved it, she had our back – and you couldn’t wish for a more formidable and supportive ally.
She loved us children deeply and equally – although this is disputed by Melanie and Amanda. Growing up they would frequently make the family evening meal. The one and I think only occasion I contributed was subsequently recounted for weeks afterwards by my mother – which meant I was christened “Kedgeree” by my sisters for evermore. They can at least rest assured that Kedgeree’s lofty position had been long supplanted by her dog Trudi – who was her constant companion and long suffering confidant for the last 12 years of her life . Thank you Amanda for taking on her beloved Trudi and looking after her so well ever since.
We were lucky enough to spend many summer holidays abroad – how they tolerated a sometimes 3 day car journey each way with 3 young children asking if we were nearly there, before even reaching Dover I’ll never know – but those experiences gave us all a deep and lasting appreciation of the joy of travel and new experiences.
Many of these holidays were shared at least in part with the Spicer family – and whilst I know that Mummy was privately very sad to lose her friend Frances so early, she was also very grateful to the Spicer girls and their families for the many years of get togethers we all enjoyed so much subsequently – thank you all, it meant a lot to her.
Her early run-ins with reverend mother did nothing to put her off the church and she retained a deep faith throughout her life, which she felt had given her strength and support when most needed. She was always fully involved in her local church, whether as part of the cleaning rota or the choir – and I would particularly thank the choir here for all your friendship over the years – it was very important to her.
I would also like to thank them on my behalf – as they allowed me to join them every Christmas eve for midnight mass – the very opposite of “a Ringer” – unfailingly singing out of time and and out of tune once a year – but it made her very happy.
She loved Christmas and children (who also naturally warmed to her) – perhaps because she retained an element of childlike innocence and joyousness throughout her life.
She would have found it very funny that was in her Pilates class with her bottom in the air when she had an aneurism which she never recovered from. We were blessed that, with wonderful serendipity given that it was where she had trained, she was taken to St George’s hospital, now in Tooting 10 minutes from Melanie’s flat – so we were able to spend her last week together by her bedside and saying our goodbyes.
The Hospital and in particular her main ICU nurse and doctor were fantastic in both their care and allowing us the time and giving us the honest facts to make together the decisions we needed to make. Once she had been moved out of ICU to the standard ward, purely by chance the same wonderful irish ICU nurse happened to be doing some extra shifts in her ward before going on holiday – and so was still looking after her, which was of great comfort to us all.
Following her death I think all three of us were touched when discovering that many local people were genuinely upset to discover she had gone – often sometime afterwards, due to the Covid lockdowns. I remember taking her car into the local Kia garage and seeing the manager deeply moved and lost for words – until saying “And how is Trudi”? I could and can still assure him she is fit and well.
Both my parents were great hosts, and good cooks and many will remember the parties with the games and stories he created and her ability to cater and entertain in equal measure, taking it all in her stride. She had a very distinctive and genuine laugh, often punctuated with a unique intake of breath and the occasional snort, which made it all the more infectious. She had the ability to bring people together and light up the room.
Her and my father Mark were in love throughout their life together, often tempered, not least by my father’s infinite patience. They also had a great shared sense of humour.
I remember one of my sister’s telling me she’d asked my father how he put up with her volatility – he apparently replied – “It’s not at all dull, you never quite know who you will wake up with each morning” – with a characteristic loving smile.
Following his death she showed characteristic strength and determination to life a full and happy life – never burdening others with what must have been a deep sense of loss.
I remember an occasion sometime after his death when for once I was doing something helpful domestically – and we were walking towards each other holding the corners of a large duvet cover to fold it up. She looked at me sheepishly with a gentle smile and confessed – “we always used to kiss when we met in the middle doing this.”
Thank you all, she had reached the age when memorial services and even funerals were seen by her as rather fun social occasions – so she would have really enjoyed being here and seeing you all – and who knows – perhaps she is. I look forward to raising a glass to her with you all in the church hall afterwards. Thanks again.