30 August 1926 to 14 October 2017
Gwen was faithful, loving and giving and tried to follow Jesus as best as she could.
This eulogy was written by Gwen’s daughter Janice.
Mum was born and brought up in Cheshire. Her mother, Hilda, came from Wrexham in North Wales; a milliner by profession. Her father, Tom, was from Wem in Shropshire; a self-made businessman who had the knack of knowing just when to move from buying and selling bicycles to run coal lorries local buses and a petrol station.
Gwendoline Mary, “Gwennie” was three quarters Welsh and very proud of it. She was an only child. At primary school in Tattenhall she fainted at the age of 9 in front of the other children in assembly. This was the first of many times, so the doctor put her on “Parishes Food” iron drink which she had to drink through a straw. It made her teeth go black! The anaemia stayed with her most of her life. Meantime Mum learnt lots of poems at school and was able to recite poems from memory. Her fascination and skill with words started there. Later in life she wrote many poems herself.
Dogs accompanied Mum throughout her life. In her teens she had two red setters at once. She always said dogs understand us better than humans!
On she went to Chester City High School. She did well again in English and went on to study it at Aberystwyth University. For her MA she wrote a thesis on John Wesley. At university she met Dad (Howard) studying science there. They got engaged, but unfortunately her father was opposed to her getting married to anyone – let alone a scientist and a Londoner! He wanted her to be a headteacher. She taught English at Secondary Schools and then Howard and Gwen married despite her Dad, since they’d waited 5 years already.
Mum gave up her teaching career (as was usual then) and they started married life together in Northampton. They moved to Didsbury in 1957. Mum had learned to play the organ with the organist of Chester Cathedral and she continued to play for services at St James and Emmanuel and elsewhere. She ran a Baby Fellowship in St James’ old Sunday School in Sandhurst Road, playing and singing CSSM choruses with the mums and arranging speakers for them. The children went off to the big hall and played games organised by Miss Cheetham and Miss Brookes, kindly spinsters who helped Mum faithfully in this ministry for several years.
Opportunities came often to give talks herself to ladies groups, Withington Methodists, Mothers Unions in various places and at the Women’s World Day of Prayer for instance. Mountain walks every Saturday were a source of possible anecdotes for her talks. “Oh I could use that in my next talk!” she’d exclaim delightedly. “I’ll wangle it in somehow” she’d say if you questioned how it would relate to the theme she’d been given.
Mum and Dad ran a youth group at home for Bible discussions, prayer and playing Elvis records and the like. Mum was an official church visitor at Withington Hospital for many years. It was there that she picked up some teaching again in the Burns Unit. She taught some very sick children, a boy with spina bifida, a girl with facial cancer and a young man who was quadriplegic from a driving accident and wanted to do “O level” English. Very interesting and challenging work.
Apart from the hospital visiting, Mum was a faithful regular visitor of the elderly. There was a housebound old lady in Millgate Lane, Horace the verger and later Marjorie Bennett. Every Sunday afternoon Mum and the dog would go to see Marjorie after their walk by the river.
Mum was a wonderful storyteller. Often on walks in Northwest Scotland, late coming down a mountain, we’d forget how tired we were as she told us plots of Dickens stories, the Ancient Mariner or her John Wesley research.
Caring for Mum in this last four years has helped me get to know her better. I really admire her bravery in the face of total blindness. How did she cope? She was an extraordinarily strong lady and a huge presence even in her frail body at the end.
We were grateful for the help of Crossroads Care increasingly over the 4 years. I could confidently leave Mum in their care while I got back to my flat in London. The Care carers were just getting to know Mum when she was taken ill and were so nice about her. Also we are grateful for all the District Nurses did. Wonderful neighbours helped also to keep Mum in her own home right ‘til the last week of her life. I’m most grateful to all those who have helped Mum in any way. She only had one week of serious illness at the end in hospital.
May she rest in peace.
Revd Christine Sandiford adds the following:
The Psalmist said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations.”
Before the mountains were formed by the upheaval of the earth, before animals took their present shape, even before religion was formulated, before the first prayer was breathed, there was God.
I will remember Gwen as someone who loved the hills and winds, for whom walking in the mountains was a regular practice and a great blessing.
And I remember Gwen as one whose love for creation, especially animals, caused her to wrestle with readings in the Bible which talked of cruelty to animals – especially the blood sacrifice system in Ancient Israel.
And I remember Gwen as someone for whom prayer and worship – especially Welsh hymns and organ music – were deeply rooted in her life and restored her soul time and again.
Gwen was committed to her children (Janice and Andrew) and to her work (paid and unpaid) and to the church. And I remember that after retirement, Gwen and her beloved Howard went hospital visiting every week – visiting the wards and bringing cheer, a listening ear and a prayer in season, putting their faith into practice in so many ways.
And Gwen has left a legacy to us. She was devout and tried to follow Jesus as best as she could. Faithful is a word that describes the Gwen I know. And in these last years I saw the feisty side of her, too. She had spirit, even as her strength and sight faded. Life was not all rosy for Gwen, but her security was in the love of her beloved Howard, the selfless care by her daughter Janice, and in the God to whom she had entrusted everything.
As the Psalmist said:
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Gwen made not just 70, not just 80 but more than 90 years, yet remained attentive to her Maker, that she might gain a wise heart.
And she held fast to the promise in the Bible that “death has been swallowed up in victory” through our Lord Jesus Christ. Although our bodies are perishable, they will put on imperishability; though we are mortal, our bodies will put on immortality, and the dead will be raised. How?… When?… we cannot know, but “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Some years ago, when I was an editor of the parish magazine here, Gwen offered us some of her poems, many of which we printed. It was hard to choose just one to share with you today – and I think Janice had the same problem herself choosing one poem for today, not to mention being allowed only a finite amount of music. Where does one stop? So many of Gwen’s poems seem profound and appropriate, but I have chosen to read one called ‘Completion’. She published this in 2001 when she was only 75:
I am older than my mother,
Younger than my father.
Strange riddle to solve!
And I begin to understand
Their way of thinking,
Now I am old too.
We have become contemporaries.
And when I see them
There will be such a sharing,
So much to remember,
And great gratitude.
We will laugh again
At his incredible humour,
And laugh again
At her wonderful Welshness.
Surely we will!
For all the good in life
Will be found again,
Shadows no longer, but reality,
And we are home.
And now Gwen is home – with her mum and dad, with Howard, with all those she loved who have gone before, and with the One she loves best of all because He loved her into life. He loved Gwen from before even the mountains were formed and forever.
And someday we too will reach that greater home and meet again. Someday we will all be with those we love. Someday this separation called death will be no more. Thanks be to God.