27 January 1925 to 26 October 2020
This page includes a video of the funeral held at St James on 13 November 2020 and the tribute given at the service.
Given by Claire Campbell Smith
It’s not without reason that the residents of Wingate Drive sometimes referred to Mum as ‘Her Majesty’. She had something of a monarchical air about her – Ian called her ‘The Matriarch’ – and from as far back as I can remember, one of Dad’s catchphrases, delivered with a cheeky comedic grin, was simply: ‘Yes dear’. I think it’s fair to say that Mum was someone we knew was not to be messed with!
Yet like all good monarchs, Mum had her ‘subjects’’ best interests at heart. When she was sharing with us a few thoughts about her own funeral service, she said that if there was a message, it had to be that the most important thing is to show love to others, that others are more important than yourself. And until very recently, when the effects of ill health inevitably led Mum to be more needy of attention than ever before, that sense of outward-looking generosity and focusing on others was a real hallmark of her life.
In her teaching career, that translated into a wholehearted commitment to enabling young people to fulfil their potential. Mum was passionate about education and about equality of opportunity, and she ploughed her energy into providing every opportunity she could to help students develop their talent or interest in music. She was inspiring, encouraging and slightly scary, and the fact that so many went into the music profession or left school with a life-long love of music is a great testimony to her. We went to some fabulous concerts at Parrs Wood High School – she recently gave me some old programmes and I was reminded of the scale of the events she put on, conducting in her glamourous long gowns and making sure that none of the brass players dared to have their shirt sleeves rolled up – because that just wouldn’t be professional, would it!
I remember being backstage with her at the Palace Theatre, where children she’d trained were taking part as urchins in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godonov. Just as he was about to go on for the great Coronation Scene, the bass playing Boris was storming around backstage, shouting ‘Where’s my crown?’. What an exciting experience for young people to be involved in a real opera! I also remember so many Parrs Wooders coming to rehearse in our front room – like Stephen, who’ll play for us in a moment. Mum was a fantastic pianist and the house would be filled with the sound of really tricky accompaniments which she enjoyed mastering. Of course, it was when she was striding across the room to play the piano at a family friend’s 21st that one Bryan Campbell Smith saw her in her elegant blue dress and thought, ‘I must get to know her!’ Three years later, in 1951, they were married. Dad’s surprise gift to her on that day was a record of ‘Brightly dawns our wedding day’ from The Mikado and it was playing when she woke up – Dad, you were such a romantic!
Mum seized any chance to introduce others to the music she loved. When Janet was still a baby, she went into Strangeways each week to take a music appreciation class for women prisoners. One was an American spy, who passed atomic secrets to the KGB, and she always brought a red rose for her teacher! After Mum retired as Director of Music at Parrs Wood, she went on teaching the piano for over 30 years – Catherine and Caroline, with us today, were still having lessons with Mum in her 90s.
At the same time, she threw herself into supporting Manchester’s renowned chamber orchestra, the Manchester Camerata, as Chair of the Friends’ Committee. Concert after concert, she and Dad would load the car with boxes, stored in the garden chalet, and unpack them to create an attention-grabbing stall, selling of all kinds of musical items and raising a lot of money. It was jolly hard work but Mum and Dad were a first-class team, as they were in so many aspects of their 69-year marriage. Mum’s determination to ‘do her bit’ was the same in her support for the Didsbury Coffee Concerts, Bryan Fox’s wonderful Saturday morning series at Emmanuel Church, which champions young performers as their careers take off. That was right up Mum’s street, though she could rarely be persuaded to sit and enjoy the music. She was in charge of the coffee and croissants, and she ran that kitchen like a military operation, as I suspect she did when she was on coffee duty here after morning service. We had a measure of sympathy for her helpers!
Mum was a very sharp lady. When she sat the scholarship exams for the new Municipal High School for Girls in Rochdale, she came in the top 6, and only missed out on a uniform grant because no one had warned her about the Geography paper and she couldn’t sketch a map of the River Severn, naming all the places it passed through from its source to the sea! She did her School Certificate in 4 years instead of 5, and then her Higher Certificate in English, German, History and Art. Meanwhile, she had piano lessons in Oldham, 2 buses and a walk away, with a professor from the Royal Manchester College of Music. At 17, she turned down a scholarship there because her sights were set on Homerton in Cambridge, renowned as the best Teacher Training College. There were 1200 applicants and 100 places, and Mum got one of them! She loved Cambridge – the opportunities, the international community, the buildings, the cherry blossom and the river – it was all so different from Rochdale’s cotton mills and terraced houses, and the fact there were 3 women’s colleges and 20 men’s didn’t escape her either! She worked incredibly hard and made some great friends, like Auntie Steve, who’s joining us online from Newcastle, and Mavis, whose daughter Gillian became ‘my wonderful goddaughter’ – she’s here with us. One of Mum’s anecdotes from Cambridge was about the day the war ended, when she joined the revelry in the market square and stayed out well beyond the 10 o’clock curfew at College. She had to climb the fire escape to get back in. She said it was the only time she broke the rules but I’m not sure I believe her!
Mum’s inquiring mind and love of learning stayed with her throughout her life. Dad says she always used to surprise him – what she knew and the way she thought about things. She had a keen interest in current affairs and politics; she got to grips with technology because she didn’t want to be left behind as the world progressed – and thanks go to John Palmer for his IT support, which she so appreciated. The other day, someone told us that Mum was ‘trending’, in other words, she was being talked about a lot on social media, and I thought that was actually quite a good word for Mum, because she was always keen to stay up to date and embrace what was new, except when it came to modern opera productions and contemporary worship songs, neither of which she liked! Mum always read, and in recent years, would go along to her Book Club fully prepared, with research notes and questions ready for discussion. Teacher habits die hard! Thank you, Val, for reading to us so beautifully just now, and to all the members of the Book Club, who’ve shared such happy and hopefully stimulating times with Mum. One or two of you have known Mum since you were members of the National Housewives Register, set up – and you’ll smile at this – ‘for housebound women with lively minds’ – and I’m glad that you’ve helped keep Mum’s mind lively right to the end! Mum was also an excellent German speaker, and in the 50s, as enthusiastic members of the Anglo-Austrian Society, she and Dad would take groups of children on walking holidays with their Austrian counterparts, doing their bit to heal the rift caused by war. Mum always kept in touch with her German and Austrian friends, and later with their children. Her view that we are all citizens of the world prompted Mum and Dad to answer a plea for help in 1956. A call went out for German speakers to meet Hungarian families, who were being housed as refugees in Styal Children’s Home – now the prison. They’d walked out of their country during the Uprising with nothing more than the clothes they stood up in. Petrol rationing was still on, but Mum and Dad saved their allowance to go and visit them, and at Christmas, brought two families to their flat for the day, leading to more lifelong friendships. Decades later, Mum’s Christmas Eve parties brought friends and neighbours together, with Dad in his Father Christmas hat stirring the mulled wine, and many said that event marked the real start of Christmas for them. We’re so grateful to those neighbours for the way they’ve in turn shown great care for Mum in so many different ways, including keeping her beloved garden looking so beautiful.
Gardening was something which occupied hours of Mum’s time after she retired, although you can imagine her face when Dad used to tell admiring visitors that “she’s had no formal training, you know!” She also took up German again, really enjoying her lessons with former-Parrs Wood linguist, Malcolm, and another great teacher friend, Maureen – and she never failed to do her homework! Her interest in languages was part of the reason she loved to travel, and she and Dad travelled widely, throughout Europe and beyond to Russia and Canada, and to the Far East and Australia on their way to visit Janet when she lived in New Zealand. Mum always made a photo album-slash-scrap book afterwards, with maps and leaflets and concert programmes, if it had been one of those fabulous music holidays with John Whibley, and wherever they went, Mum would try to learn some vocabulary and have her phrase book to hand – she really didn’t mind having a go, if it meant she could communicate just a little and understand the culture a bit better.
Let’s face it, Mum was very outgoing – she loved connecting with people, she loved to laugh and anyone who’s been to the Hargreaves’ New Year’s Eve shindigs will tell you how she’d throw herself into the party games. She was a great conversationalist, jumping from one topic to another totally unrelated one without so much as a breath. Did you get left behind? Well, too bad – she knew what she wanted to talk about! One of the things I’ve really come to admire about Mum is that, for someone of 95, she had a remarkably wide circle of friends, who spanned the generations, from the little girls at the end of Wingate Drive and her pen-pal at the Church of England Primary School, to those cherished friends of her own age – more or less – like Auntie Kath or Auntie Diana. Mum never forgot a birthday and although her honest and forthright nature did sometimes rub people up the wrong way, she cared deeply about people. She looked after her own mother for many years, right through into our 20s, balancing work and family in the most remarkable way and never once making us feel that she didn’t have time for us. Just reading one of her Christmas newsletters is enough to make you exhausted – how she fitted it all in, I’ll never know. “Your mother is a FORCE,” is how Ian described her, and I have to say that in the way she cared for Dad, especially since he had his strokes, she was an amazing force for good. It was so important to her that she and Dad were together. She wrote in the account of her life which she’s left for me and Janet, that when they went on their honeymoon to Conway, ‘it meant as much to us, if not more, as flying off to the Maldives or Bali, as they do today. We were together and that was the main thing’. She said the same when he was sitting with her very recently – ‘The most important thing is that we were together – for a long time – and it was good’. Dad, we’ll miss her hugely, but we have no doubt how much she loved us.
The evening before she died, Mum said to me: “Why am I still here? I’ve sat in this chair all day and I’ve done absolutely nothing!” That just didn’t suit Mum and she wouldn’t have wanted life to continue in that way. Her approach to matters of faith was quite complex – she was very positive about Jesus, because of his love for others and his vision for social justice, but she was critical of aspects of the Bible and the Church, which she felt didn’t treat women quite fairly. When it came to eternal life, she told me she definitely didn’t believe she’d be “up there somewhere, sitting on a cloud” – and I agreed! But if there were any truth in that image of heaven, then I think by now, Mum would have sussed out which angel was the best harpist and she’d have signed up for lessons!