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3rd March 1943 - 23rd May 2015
On Thursday 15th October, 2015, at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving and celebration for the life of Carole Seymour-Jones, biographer, was held at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.
The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the bidding:-
We are here to honour the memory and to celebrate the life of Carole Seymour-Jones - a woman who was much loved, who was greatly respected in her field, and who will be profoundly missed by all who knew her and whose lives she touched.
As we remember Carole with thanksgiving today, we give thanks for all that she has meant to us, and for all that she was.
Neil McKenna & Ania Corless
Edward, Lucy and I would like everyone to make today a celebration of our mother’s rich and wonderful life.
Mum was born in 1943 during the war, in a small village in Wales called Towyn.
Although many would view this as a punishment - she was proud to be one of the daffodils - and much to my son’s amusement, she even pretended to know a bit about Welsh rugby… and, of course her staple diet was bread of heaven and lamb.
In 1945 her father returned from the war, where he had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. - They moved back from Wales to the United Kingdom,- to Southsea, on the Hampshire coast… there she blossomed.
Her father, Tony Seymour Jones was a well respected, cultured and charming Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, who had been a classics scholar at Caius College, Cambridge – and, Elizabeth, her mother, who had been a Nightingale nurse was the darling of the social scene.
The combination of the best of both her mother and father meant that she was considered quite a catch at the local sailing club! ….
Mum grew up with her younger brother and sister, -
Nick and Louise -
living by the sea, it was a very nautical upbringing.
By all accounts she was quite a tomboy, - swallows and amazons had nothing on her!
After one of her many expeditions - taking Nick and Louise across the Solent, to the Fort on No Man’s Land - her distraught parents finally alerted the coast guard, - who much to Mum’s excitement ferried them back to the main land. - The month’s gating was worth every minute of it!
Mum went to St Mary’s Calne in Wiltshire to board when she was 11. It was no St Trinian’s but she had tremendous fun there and made many life long friends.
Despite the social distractions and a slight rebellious streak she loved to work hard and was very proud of her academic achievements.
She always retained enormous affection for her old school, returning there recently to talk to the girls about her last book - ‘She Landed by Moonlight’.
Inspired by her father’s achievements at Cambridge, Oxbridge was in her blood - and she made it her goal to get there. - To much excitement she was awarded a place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to read History.
During her first winter at Oxford in 1961 - she went on a skiing holiday with her best friend from school, Kate Trevelyan. - The swinging sixties hadn’t yet swung that far and although both mum and Kate were adults they were chaperoned by a sailing friend of her parents. - Also in the party were a group of handsome young men, one of whom took a particular shine to her - Robert Bigland. The attraction between Mum and Dad was instant, and mutual.- Trying to balance the requirements of her University studies along with the excitement of new love left Mum exhausted and began to take it’s toll on her health.
Mum was too young to make a rational choice - but the decision was taken out of her hands by her parents – who were very concerned for her welfare - so she took the path to the altar
Leaving Oxford was a moment that changed the whole direction of her future - and left an unfulfilled void that she would regret for the rest of her life.
Mum moved to Surrey, where she settled into a comfortable life as the wife of a successful city stockbroker - and mother to her four young children - I arrived first followed by Sophie, Edward and Lucy - Tragically Sophie drowned just before her 4th birthday. - This was a loss for which the scars would never heal.
Domestic life continued but it wasn’t long before her overwhelming desire to study resurfaced - She was determined to complete her History degree - so she began studying with the Open University when I was 7 - all I remember was a dining room table covered with study books. - She would be up in the middle of the night, watching Open University programmes. - This made for some exciting car journeys to school, mum on a few hours’ sleep, weaving round the Surrey lanes, a cup of strong coffee in one hand and the wheel in the other - and often with another car’s wing mirror attached to her bonnet.
Having completed her Masters at Sussex University, she continued to study -, qualifying as a teacher and then working at a girl’s school in Surrey, where she taught French to GCSE and History to A Level. - She was extremely proud to be able to help a few of her students gain places to Oxford to also read History.
But life was not all study and dirty nappies … Mum was a party animal. - Both Mum and Dad were extremely sociable so weekends were filled with entertainment and a house full of fun and the sound of popping corks. She would come downstairs …. looking gorgeous, and smelling beautiful ready to either go to a party or receive guests at home. Many a night was spent listening to the clink of glasses and raucous laughter downstairs.
Sadly this wasn’t to go on forever - When mum asked for a computer for her 40th birthday dad said - “Well, that’s the end of our marriage…” and so it was.
With her customary bravery, mum entered the singles scene and it was not long after - while away on a creative writing course in 1992 -that she met Geoffrey Parkinson - He was a handsome probation officer and successful radio playwright - who soon became her literary soulmate - He gave her the confidence to finally embark on her writing career that for so long she had craved.
Mum and Geoffrey spent many wonderful happy years together -discussing books and pouring over scripts. - They married finally in 2012 when Geoffrey became ill with Parkinson’s. She nursed him lovingly and devotedly until he died last year.
To the three of us, she was the most wonderful mother – thank you letters and no spelling mistakes, together with a have a go attitude - to be brave, and not to worry about getting the odd thing wrong - We told her everything and one of the hardest things is missing her wise advice and her constant reassurance.
This unconditional love and support for us was also shared with her 6 grandchildren – Hannah, Lydia, Rory, Arthur, Wilf and Elspeth – who also received her unfailing support. Granny would do anything to help from finding a World War II shell for Rory to take to school, to enthusiastic advice on the phone and sourcing the books that would prove so helpful, she was an amazing motivator. Any academic problem in our house would always be resolved by a quick call to Granny - she really wanted you to do well - We called her the talking encyclopedia. -
For Arthur, Wilf and Elsbeth Granny was always there for bathtime, bedtime stories and lots of cuddles.
Mum was a passionate and very brave sailor - the sea was her first love, and she adored the freedom of the ocean. She often sailed with her great friends the Singers, - they recalled how she preferred the more challenging and adventurous trips. - She sailed with them on many occasions, and she could be relied on in a crisis not only to do the sensible thing but to remain calm and keep them all cheerful with her lovely sense of humour.
One of these such moments was when she sailed with them from Greenland to St Kilda, completing a sub artic journey of more than 1,000 nautical miles. - They were suddenly engulfed by a dramatic storm. - In an article that she wrote she described the excitement -and danger of this trip, and how their adventure became a struggle for survival as they were twice hit by violent gales … Titled, ‘Feel the Fear’, she wrote about how they felt they were being nailed into their coffin.
In the article she described how by nature, she was a risk taker and the feelings that she felt having lost her child...
‘Memories of Sophie, the child I lost, and can never forget, left me frequently haunted by sadness. - Family and work had to some extent eased my depression - but there were times when I questioned my right to existence - and felt that I placed less value on life, my life, anyway – than formerly.’
Skiing was also a great love. - She was as gutsy on the slopes as she was in other parts of her life, although, she never let a good mogul field stand in the way of a large glass of gluhwein.
If she was not participating in a dangerous sport, - and I include in that her regular ladies tennis 4, - she could be found visiting art exhibitions, book fairs and museums - She was also passionate about opera,- thank goodness not as a participant - as if anyone had the misfortune to hear her sing would know.
Mum managed to pack more into 24 hours than most people do in a week - as well as being an adored and active mother, grandmother and wife,- a successful and well respected writer and human rights campaigner, - she also managed to be a fantastic friend to so many of you here today. Having talked to some of you recently I realize that she will leave a huge hole in your lives as well as ours with her great sense of humour and distinctive chuckle. - She was always mindful of other people’s problems - ready to listen and to offer advice – and, if you were lucky, or unlucky, - as the case may be, - read your palm over a late night glass of wine.
Mum was so youthful both in years and in her positive and passionate approach to life that her journey feels incomplete. -Having nursed Geoffrey though his illness she was just starting a new chapter in her life - and had so much more to achieve and give. - I think we all feel so privileged to have had her in our lives. - I am really proud that she was our mother, - but still so sad - as our worlds have all shrunk without her.
Cherry Clarke read Revelation 21: 1-5
21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
Edward Bigland read Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
Lucy Keaveny read Dear Mummy by Luck Keaveny
So dear Mummy, that time has come,
when we no longer sit side by side as one.
Where once warm skin on skin,
holding little fingers and limbs,
You held onto us so tight, safe and secure from within.
Now like a bird you’ve taken flight
In a heartbeat you switched off the light
A single moment transforms life forever
All we can do is try and piece it all together.
Always present, always listening on the end of a phone
your voice immediately comforting, no longer alone.
Patiently offering advice from boys and clothes
to more enlightening literature and prose.
Sound words, interested ears, we took you for granted all of those years.
Grace, wit, wisdom and respect,
you gave and drew from the people you met
Devoted to life, love and laughing,
your sparkly eyes and wonderful smile, never said no to partying.
Overwhelming sadness sits here like a dear friend
Like a comfy blanket, solid till my very end
Dear mummy, we can only hope you are now at peace
In the light,
When your boat took flight on that summer’s night
Sail on now to Sophie and hold her in your arms
Finally together again, surrounded by peace and calm
We are blessed to have had you all of these years
Now it’s her time to have your presence so near
Your beautiful spirit is around us and lives on,
The cycle of life will continue to sing your sweet song
We will all hold you in our hearts together
Dear Mummy you will be in mine forever.
The choir & organist of St Bride's performed the following anthems and songs:-
The Irish Blessing - Chilcott
Suo Gan - Welsh arr. S Cleobury
Beati quorum via - Stanford
Mein Herr Marquis - J Strauss (sung by Lydia Marshall)
Homeward bound - Keen
All Things Bright And Beautiful
Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind
Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer
If I should die before the rest of you
break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
nor, when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Joyce Grenfell (1910-79)