Sunday, 1 November 2020

Remembering my mother

Lucie Katherine Sanders 17 Oct 1914 - 1 Nov 2000 

Today I am remembering with love my mother, Lucie Katherine Sanders, née Waller, on the 20th anniversary of her death on 1st November 2000, All Saints' Day. I particularly love the sparkle in her eyes in this photo.

Here is the eulogy I was privileged to give at her funeral - one of the hardest things I have ever done:

First of all, I want to thank you all on behalf of the family for being here with us today to say goodbye to my mother Lucie on her last journey.

I’m sure that she would feel embarrassed to be talked about as I am going to do now. She would have claimed to be ‘just an ordinary woman’ who didn’t merit any fuss. But all of us know that she was really a quite extraordinary woman, a special person, and I want to take a few minutes to celebrate that.

Lucie was born on 17th October 1914, at the start of the Great War. She was the second of three daughters of Jocelyn Waller of Prior Park and his wife Faerie (née Devenish) from County Roscommon. Her sister Sally was two years older than her, and Cicely was two years younger. My mother was a premature, sickly baby, and she was not expected to live. But her mother, my grandmother, refused to give up hope. In those days before incubators, in that large draughty house, keeping her warm was the difference between life and death. My grandmother insisted that she be laid on her breast to keep warm, and kept her there for several weeks, until she started to thrive. My mother grew up into a fine strong girl, and the big strong woman we remember. Strong mentally, but also physically. Well into her 80’s she could pull the cord to start a lawnmower that defeated both her sons!

The younger of us here may not realise it, but my mother Lucie was a fine all round sportswoman in her youth. She was an accomplished horsewoman who hunted and rode in point-to-points. I’ve been told that she was in great demand in the district to show off a horse for sale. No doubt an attractive young woman with a good seat was worth a few guineas on the price! Later on, in Egypt with my father after the war, she even won a camel race, to the great surprise of the men in the regiment, who hadn’t been able to bring themselves to put their money on the Padre’s wife! She also played hockey and lacrosse at school, and tennis. And she was a very good swimmer—I believe she swam in competition for TCD.

But perhaps throughout the years sailing on the Shannon was her first sporting love, no doubt because it was so important for her parents, who had met sailing on the North Shannon. The three sisters were given a present by Tom Towers of Castletown of a SOD dinghy, which was christened Surprise. She sheeted Surprise for many years. She taught Tom and me to sail in her. And she watched her grandchildren sail in her, too.  I think my grandparents must have been rather liberal parents for the time, because the three girls were allowed to travel up and down the Shannon on their own in their houseboat the Pink’Un to the different regattas. That’s a sight I would love to have seen myself. She still sailed occasionally when she was well past 70, and she was very proud to see her son as Commodore of the Yacht Club, as her father had also been.

But, as well as being a fine sportswoman, she was also clever academically. She had her early education just a few hundred yards from this church in Kilodiernan rectory, where Rev. Mr. Burroughs taught her and Cicely, together with his own sons Walter and Jerram. Earlier this week, Jerram was telling me how Lucie used to drive to school in the pony and trap, at a great rate so as not to be late. She then went to French school in Bray. I remember her talking about meeting WB Yeats there, who had come to tea with the Miss Frenches. She was quite unimpressed by the great poet, who made rather little conversation, but ate a lot of scones. From there, she went up to Trinity College, where she studied history and took her degree. She kept up an interest in history throughout her life, and when she returned to North Tipp she was a keen member of the Ormond Historical Society. She was very proud to be the first woman in the district to go to University. This was during the depression and economic war, when money was very scarce on a farm, and I am very proud of her that she worked her way through college.

After leaving Trinity, she knew she needed a professional training to be able to make her own way in the world. She went to train as a caterer at Athol Crescent in Edinburgh. With this behind her, she took a job as the Burser of St. Mary’s College, Durham—an amazingly responsible position for a girl then in her early 20s. Later, during the war, she did another very responsible job. She managed catering for the Transmission department of the BBC. She was responsible for scores of canteens all over the British Isles, and hundreds of staff. Much of the time she was travelling, living out of a suitcase. I remember her talking with horror of trying to sleep in a blacked-out train stopped in sidings during a bombing raid.

She married my father Derick Sanders in 1946. He was then serving as a chaplain to the forces. She joined him in Egypt and later Cyprus before he was demobbed. They must first have got to know each other years before in Durham where my father was teaching at Bede College at the same time as she was at St. Mary’s. But my mother always claimed to remember meeting him for the first time at Prior Park when she was only 15 and he was brought to tea by his old friend Thora Trench of Laughton. He always denied any memory of this, but a young man of 23 would hardly have noticed a 15 year old girl, no matter how lively!

Their marriage was long and happy. Tom and I, with our families, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she loved so much, are the testimony of their love for each other.

In 1948, they moved to Landbeach, just outside Cambridge, where he was Rector, and my mother settled into the life of being the rector’s wife. In 1959 they moved on to Stalbridge in Dorset, where they stayed until my father’s retirement in 1978. She is being remembered in prayers in both parishes today. I imagine the transition to being the rector’s wife must have been difficult for her at times, after the independence and challenges of her own career. But she buckled down and loyally supported him, while also raising Tom and me, and finding time for her own interests. She was active in the Women’s Institute, the University Women’s Association and started a Young Wives’ Club.

Throughout my childhood, she had the knack of making both Tom and me feel very close to her and loved. Even when we were away at boarding school, we each got a long letter every week, and a fruit cake every fortnight through the post. We shall miss her reassuring presence very much.

My mother Lucie was always very clear about her roots. She saw herself as an Irishwoman, and brought her children up to be proud of our Irish heritage. So it was natural that when the time for retirement came, she should bring my father back to her own place in North Tipperary, to the Skehanagh Point house which she herself had chosen for the Shannon views that both of them loved so much. Retirement was anything but restful for her. With my father she planned and made a fine garden out of a potato field. She drove him all over the diocese to take services in parishes where there was no priest. And she nursed and cared for those she loved. When my father fell ill, she cared for him 24 hours a day for more than 10 years. And when he died, and her sister Sally was ill, she nursed and cared for her too, until her death. As she had done before for her sister Cicely and her own mother.

When her own strength began to fail, she continued to fight tenaciously to maintain her independence, and to live in her own home as long as she possibly could. We will all miss her deeply. But at the same time it is right for us to celebrate and give thanks for her long life, which she lived so well. She really was an extraordinary woman and a great spirit.

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