Eulogy written and read by Alister at Mary's funeral on 1st June 2017.
Mary died on 20th May 2017.
Mary is my wife's sister so I was lucky to have her as my sister-in-law. For those who don't know me, my name is Alister. When Mary was very ill, she asked me if I would deliver her eulogy. In doing so, she made me feel both honoured and privileged. Mary always had a knack of making people feel valued and treasured.
She was a gentle and unassuming person, thoughtful and loving. She was a devoted wife to Alan, a dear sister to Peter and Joyce, a loving mother to Mark and Karen, a sensitive mother-in-law to Rob and a doting grandmother to James and Katherine. She treated her wider family and friends with affection and generosity of spirit.
Her leaving has left an enormous gap in our lives. Mary never wanted to be centre stage preferring to work her magic quietly in the background. It is a tribute to how successful she was at doing this that we all miss her so dreadfully.
It is just not possible to acknowledge all of Mary's admirable qualities in the short time available to me. However, having spoken with her family, three themes about her as a person emerge forcibly.
Anyone who knew Mary will know that she was a modest and unassuming person. The last thing she ever wanted was to be the centre of attention. She didn't even like being photographed. I remember Joyce and I took her one time to a flamenco club in Barcelona. I told her that I had managed to get seats in the front row and jokingly teased her that those in the front seats were frequently invited to come up on the stage to join in the dancing! The look of horror that swept over her face at the very thought will stay long in my memory. However she soon saw the funny side.
No, Mary preferred to take the back seat, acknowledging and praising the achievements of others whilst quietly keeping her own to herself. Modest and unassuming she might have been but when Karen passed her GCSEs, she couldn't resist the temptation to announce how well her daughter had done to the whole post office queue - much to Karen's embarrassment!
She had an inner strength, a quiet determination, a strong will and woe betide anyone who tried to cross her! She had high moral standards and to her credit encouraged her children and her grandchildren to share them. If Mark or Karen did something they shouldn't when they were children, they were treated to 'the look' which meant they'd be in serious trouble when they got home - and from what I can remember the same applied to Alan!
Mary was always calm in a crisis. She drew upon her source of infinite patience to deal with whatever life threw at her. Few of us have been faced with the prospect of delivering our own grandchild but this is exactly what Mary dealt with, at the top of the stairs, when Karen decided to go into premature labour. All went very well and after the event Mary, in her usually modest way, said she was glad that she was a fan of the TV series 'Call the Midwife' and therefore knew what to do!
Although she had been unwell for some time, she always put on a brave face, hiding her own suffering because she knew it would upset those around her. She had a quiet dignity about her which was reassuring and soothing to others. But quiet and unassuming as she was, she had the loudest sneeze in the world which would make the glass fruit bowl ring at twenty paces!
She also had a great sense of humour, a good sense of fun in her own quiet way. On one occasion Alan sat down at the table for lunch. Mary was a great cook and he was surprised she had only made beans on toast. She more or less slung the plate across the table at him. Sensing something was not quite as it should be, he asked, "What have I done wrong?" Back came the reply, "You've only forgotten my wedding anniversary!" It was pretence anger of course and she was soon laughing at his reaction. Needless to say Alan sheepishly produced a large bunch of flowers that evening when they sat down to the delicious dinner that she had prepared.
I think Mary's sense of fun and humour may well have had its roots in her childhood. Mary was always proud to be a farmer's daughter and naturally she and her brother Peter and sister Joyce spent many happy days as children on the farm.
On one occasion they were playing in the chaff store. Mary left before Peter, slamming the door shut on her way out. Needless to say Peter was locked inside. The only way out was for him to squeeze through the 'cat hole' which was just sufficiently large enough for him to struggle through. Peter likes to think it was an accident her slamming the door shut but - well - I'm not so sure! Was this an example of Mary's quiet sense of fun? I wonder…
Before Joyce was born, when Mary was two and Peter four-ish, they had somehow found their way whilst playing into the back of a lorry. They had also found paint and paintbrushes. Peter took it into his head to paint the inside of the lorry - oh and to paint Mary too from head to foot! Mum found the episode hilarious, Dad just moaned about the amount of petrol, which was rationed, that he had to use to clean her up.
Mind you Mary was not the only one on the receiving end of things. She had a habit of collecting spiders in jam-jars - the bigger the better - and releasing them at school in the classroom at inopportune moments (for which I might add she got into a lot of trouble) but her piece de resistance was releasing quite a few into her sister's bed just before she got into it. Horrible child!
Few of us will have met anyone with Mary's absolute commitment to diligence and attention for detail. It showed itself in myriad ways. Before she was married she worked in the local bank. Her talents were quickly recognised and she was recruited to travel to many branches across the country to help with the process of introducing electronic banking methodology as opposed to pen and paper. Her talent for judging character came into its own when supporting the bank managers in the selection of new clients. Unfortunately, her instincts were not always acted upon by the hierarchy which invariably resulted in the acquisition of some bad customers. They should have listened.
She was always meticulous in whatever she did. Her home is full of beautiful creations. She looked to keep everything clean and tidy and just so. In earlier years, she made her own clothes and then clothes for her children. Later when she had more time on her hands she took up bobbin lace. She went to evening classes and earned a City and Guilds qualification in lace-making and the history of lace.
From bobbin lace she moved on to needlework, gradually improving her skills by going on courses such as those offered by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court. She was taught by the country's best including one of the creators of Kate Middleton's wedding dress. She had a delicate touch and if you have seen some of her needlework and lace creations you will know what I mean. These are an absolute delight to behold. Beautifully executed with work so fine that you need a magnifying glass to truly appreciate the intricacy and sheer dexterity involved. She was extremely modest about her achievement never admitting that her work was of an exceptionally high standard.
Such was her interest in the subject, she would always examine any new clothes, cushions or curtains to see how, and how well, they were made. She would look particularly critically at curtains - she had always made her own as well as Mark's and Karen's. During her first few weeks in hospital, she would examine the curtains surrounding her bed and would tut disapprovingly if she saw they were missing a hook or didn't hang properly. She's probably doing exactly the same right now!
This attention to detail extended also to her love of cooking. Mary was an excellent cook inherited no doubt from her mother. Her roast beef and Yorkshire pud, Pavlovas, lemon meringue pie, fruitcake, shortcake biscuits, not forgetting her cherry pie (which, by the way, Alan always says is what attracted him to her in the first place), all were a gourmet's delight - even her egg and chips or baked beans on toast had an extra special quality. Yummy!
She loved her garden and spent hours carefully planting, pruning, weeding to make it just as she wanted it. It gave her immense pleasure to walk around admiring the plants and watching them grow and thrive. During her latter years she would be distraught at not being able keep it to the exacting standard she wanted; but she didn't give in. She didn't want a gardener, she wanted to do it herself and in her way.
Whatever Mary turned her hand to, she gave it one hundred per cent. She took her own fitness seriously and at one time played badminton. She was competitive and gave some good players a run for their money. I'm told that she had a hidden talent for ten-pin bowling. A lady of many parts.
I have kept the third theme about Mary for last because it is the most important. Above all else, Mary was a caring and loving person. She truly cared for and loved her immediate family: Alan, Mark, Karen, Rob and her grandchildren James and Katherine. Her caring was sometimes of a very practical nature. Mark, her son, recalls that as a child if he fell and grazed a knee she would tell him that if he were to run around the garden a few times and then come back, it would be better - and indeed, lo and behold, it always was. She extended her love and care to her brother Peter and her sister Joyce and included her wider family of cousins, nephews and nieces. But further than that, she spread her care, love and kindness to a much wider group.
Many of you here today will know of the charity work to which Mary has given so much of her time and dedication. She gave care and help to others for years at a day centre in Derby for people with a range of social needs. She taught some of the men and women how to bake and sew but drew the line at sorting out their toenails! For the last 25 years she served on the committee of The Children's Hospital League of Friends and gave practical help serving refreshments in the tea bar and raising money by organising raffles and the like. She received a 25 year long-service award in recognition of her hard work.
She was truly compassionate, gentle and loving and because of this she was also one of those people that everybody loved. If she were here right know, she would be cringing with embarrassment but, as they say, the truth will always find a way to come out. You all have your own memories of Mary and I have no doubt that among them are many examples of her kindness and warmth. Her life has enriched everyone who knew her and many more who actually didn't know her, because of her generosity of heart. When her grandson James was asked how he would describe his granny he said, without hesitation 'kind' and that is exactly how Mary wanted to be remembered
So here we all are now having to come to terms with the loss of such a dear person. Mary will live forever in our memories. She dedicated her life to others and positively touched so many lives. She leaves us a legacy of gentleness, unassuming quiet dignity, thoughtfulness, compassion, diligence and humour. But greatest of all, she has left us with an enduring example of what it means to be a caring and loving human being.