St Peters Tandridge, 29 March 2021.
I’d like to start by thanking you all for coming today, on behalf of our family.
March 2021 was always going to be a difficult time to arrange a funeral. Many of you have come a long way or are making a special effort in uncomfortable circumstances; sat apart from each other and wearing masks.
However, I think what’s important is that we have almost all of the most important parts of Granny’s life represented here, today.
It’s wonderful to have several of Granny’s lifelong family friendships represented here today, as well as to remember her friends and companions who can’t be here, including Jill Antrobus and John Wyatt.
Today we are celebrating Granny, Great Granny, Jill’s life. This is also a fitting opportunity to remember Grandpa Fred and Grandpa Brian.
And also Jill’s father, my Great Grandfather, Robert, or Bob as some of you will have known him. He and Granny had a very close relationship and I’ve come to realise that he had such an important influence on her life and even our lives, right up until this month.
Granny didn’t mind me teasing her now and again so: as you might well imagine she left us with a fairly specific set of instructions for today.
These instructions included a list of all the things she was involved with over the years and I’ll come back to those shortly.
But, with Dad’s help in preparing this, I think there’s something more that we should all take from today.
More than simply Granny’s outstanding sense of community and being a wonderful friend, daughter, mother, auntie, cousin, grandmother and great grandmother.
My generation tend to measure accomplishment in terms of academic or sporting success, accumulated wealth or whether or not you’ve overcome some terrible adversity.
But Jill’s story is different.
There are many points in her life that were terribly sad. However, none of these define her.
In fact, it’s what she achieved in spite of these things, and the strength of character that she developed, which is what I believe we should be celebrating today.
As a 6 year old girl, long before the NHS, Jill was very poorly. Her parents could only visit her in hospital a few times a week. The children all sat together for meals and she used to tell me about a boy who would kick the legs of the other children under the table. After a few meal times Granny decided to kick back and of course she was never bothered by him again, or so the story goes.
Perhaps this is the first time we see her strength of character developing. More importantly, I am sure that this early experience of hospital fed into her life long respect for the NHS – especially prescient after the past 12 months when we’ve all found new levels of respect for Doctors and Nurses. And of course this respect for the NHS and her strength of character ultimately manifested itself in tireless campaigning on behalf of Oxted Hospital.
So, Jill is defined in part by what she did as a result of an early life experience, rather than what happened to her.
In 1940, in order to escape the Blitz, Granny and her family were forced to swap the comfort of street lamps, parks and pavements in suburban Enfield, for the dark, narrow lanes of East Surrey.
But, as we’ve come to expect, Granny quickly made new friends and, rather than live in fear of the war, she and her friends turned to putting on little plays and musicals. They used a cluster of trees on Broadham Green as a natural theatre, just a couple of miles across the fields from where we are sat now. They would take donations for the Red Cross from passers by and neighbours.
Leaving London must have have been incredibly daunting for a 10 year old, but, as ever, she didn’t just muddle through, she made the very best of it.
Jill’s mother, Ellaline, was a wonderful singer so maybe this, coupled with those first theatrical experiences in the trees, were a small stepping stone to what became a lifetime’s commitment and love for the Barn Theatre.
I’m too young to even begin to fathom her lifetime’s worth of plays, musicals and opera. But thanks to Pippa and others, I and my brothers have been able to enjoy seeing Granny involved in the theatre – including on stage – in various ways right up until just a few years ago.
Selfishly though, I’m very grateful she found the Barn Theatre because without it, she wouldn’t have met Grandpa Brian and therefore I don’t think I’d be here now!
Jill’s mother died when Jill was just a young woman. Granny and Grandpa Brian take Great Grandpa under their wing and he lived with them for the rest of his life. And rather than this arrangement being framed in tragedy, we’ve only ever grown up enjoying it as a sense of closeness in our family and benefiting from Robert’s positive influence, that I mentioned earlier.
Granny didn’t enjoy the best of health, throughout her life. But again, we won’t remember her for that. She didn’t let health define her, or stop her.
This is Jill who, as a widow, found sport in her 50s, in playing bowls. And not just the occasional friendly match. She wouldn’t mind me describing her as ferociously competitive. Granny won national bowls championships and even, in her 70s, became a Director of the bowls club in order that she could help ensure its survival.
Perhaps most importantly, it was through bowls that Granny met Grandpa Fred. And this afforded them the opportunity to extend their retirement years together. Just as wonderful, was that fact we grew from being a fairly small family, to suddenly having brothers and sisters-in-laws, Uncles and Aunties and lots of wonderful cousins for Gareth and I in particular to look up to and hang around with at Christmases and birthdays.
Whether it was through bowls, theatre, fighting for Oxted Hospital or working for the Citizens Advice Bureau, Jill never, ever, became the stereotypical little old lady.
Oxted is littered with numerous property speculators and estate agents who misjudged this and whose offers received very short shrift over the years.
And when Granny could no longer bowl, or be as active in the theatre or WI, she was still the centre of our family. She was modern and forward thinking, glued to her tablet for email, Facebook and news.
Granny loved all our respective partners and was a proud Great Grandmother.
We’ll all remember Jill / Granny / Great Granny in our own special ways.
But I really wanted to find a common message about her life, that we can all take from today, share with others and draw strength from in the future.
A Revd Robinson once stood in this spot and delivered a sermon about ‘stickability’, which left quite an impression with me. I forget the biblical connection – sorry – but it was about having resolve, perseverance and energy to make the very best of life.
And it’s Jill’s ‘stickability’ – her resolve and energy for life – that I think we should all remember her for.
I’d ask you to remember her for this, in addition to your own special memories, and hopefully draw some comfort from her when life deals you a bad hand.
I’ll finish with a quote from Nicholas Nickelby. I had thought this was one of Granny’s books, but it turns out it might have been one of Grandpa Brian’s. Perhaps that makes this quote all the more appropriate today given their tremendous faith.
In Nicholas Nickelby, Charles Dickens writes:
The pain of parting is nothing, compared to the joy of meeting again.