I wrote this eulogy to deliver at my aunt’s funeral, which was today at Vinters Park Crematorium. She died on May 1, 2012.
Lily was a lovely, lovely lady.
That’s what Paul Chisholm, a friend of my father’s from New Zealand wrote about Aunt Lily after he heard the news of her death. Paul met Lily and her husband Joe Parkes in London through my mother and father in the 1950s.
Lily and my mother had met in 1947 when they were working as maids in a rooming house in the Holland Park area of London.
The two were like sisters and as young women were almost inseparable. Lily often talked about how my mother would mysteriously procure a delicious punnet of strawberries and block of ice cream even before rations were lifted in post-war Britain.
My mother often tells tales of sitting “up in the gods” at many West End theatre productions, thanks to free tickets from producer Bill Linnet, for whom they each worked in home services at different times.
Although my mother moved to Canada in 1968, she and Lily remained in constant contact over the next 43 years by post, telephone and many transatlantic visits.
To my sister Tracey and I, Auntie Lily was magical – an angel, a fairy and a friend all rolled into one – her unconditional love most prized throughout both childhood and adulthood.
It’s unlikely anyone would contest Paul Chisholm’s view of Lily – a kind and gentle person who loved flowers, animals, children – and even adults.
No doubt the patience acquired during her years working as a telephonist and supervisor with the post office helped give her the ability to put anyone at ease in an instant.
Auntie Lily’s calm determination gave her the fortitude she needed to at times carry the weight of working, maintaining a household and looking after Joe Parkes, who suffered from tuberculosis and at times was unable to work.
She often put her own interests second in order to help others. Not only did she and Joe warmly welcome my Canadian father Carl when he and my mother became a couple and then married in 1959, but she also extended her friendship to my father’s colleagues, friends and family who came to England.
For instance, my Canadian Aunt Bettie gave birth to her eldest daughter in 1964 in Little Hadham, some 40 miles from London where her husband, my father’s brother, was working as a teacher. As a foreigner, she wasn’t expecting any visitors, but Lily made the trek from London more than once to see her. Bettie and Walter never forgot her kindness.
Perhaps one of Lily’s most remarkable attributes was that despite the hardships she endured, including the loss of Joe, she never became bitter. Maybe partly because of the great support she received after his death from Joe’s sister Doris, her brother-in-law Cecil and her brother Fred.
Throughout her 90-year-long life, she continued to develop important, meaningful relationships, including the one she had with Rob Tagg, whom she married in 1978, almost 10 years after Joe’s death.
With Rob she gained a step-daughter, Lynne, and two step-grandchildren, Nick and Melanie. The all-important Prince – her much-loved dog — also came with that marriage, which unfortunately ended four years later when Rob passed away. Some 30 years after that, Melanie and her husband Lee produced baby Sienna.
But there was another side to Lily – her resilience.
Her self-professed “Foremanism” – a playful reference to her maiden name and a strong streak of independence she considered part of her genetic make up – could also come into play.
Among the caring friends and neighbours who looked after her in her latter years, it is Dennis Edwards who tells the story of returning home from work one day to see her dangerously perched on the roof of her car port blithely painting her window frames – already well into her 70s.
His concern made her more aware about when she did her chores, and she would always giggle as she undertook a dangerous task, saying, “I hope Dennis isn’t watching.”
Lily’s legacy is the kindness, love, helpfulness and friendship from which we all so fortunately benefitted and which brought us here together today.