This much I know about…a eulogy for my sister on her 60th birthday

Beverley Ann Refoy, 23 August 1957 – 5 July 2017

“Bev” was the first word I ever said. Bev was six when I was born and I must have been an absolute gift to my big sister. Imagine it. A dolly to play with that had real tears and real nappies; a dolly she could feed with a real baby’s bottle.

Bev was the pioneer for the five of us. She worked hard and was bright.

For me she was so important, because she was the first one to have a stab at taking A levels. I can remember the pain-staking attention to detail of her project on the Abolition of Slavery. I can still see the drawing on the project’s front cover in my mind’s eye.

And off the back of her education she was one of the youngest trainee managers at Tesco’s. She was certainly one of the very few female trainee managers in the late 1970s. For me and the rest of us in the family, she was the first one who thought there might be something more to life beyond our council house on School Hill.

We were always so very proud of her.

When Bev left primary school she was awarded the The Maresfield Bonner’s Bible for industry and diligence. Back in 2013 she made the bible a gift to Chloe, her god daughter. She loved all children, but especially her nephews and nieces. It’s no surprise the NSPCC is her chosen charity. When Chloe secured a new job Bev wrote this on her Facebook page in tribute: “I am so proud of my god daughter, Chloe West. She is to start her new primary school teaching post in September. Lucky children of Buxted. Chloe, I am sending lots of love and hugs, you little minx! By the way, I must apologise to our neighbours for our musical celebrations!” Bev certainly liked her music loud…

In this Bible, she cites the maxim, “Diligence is the mother of good luck”. She never shied away from hard work. She was gutsy. As she was dying, she began writing an account of her life. It captures her kindness and her work ethic. If Bev was anything, she was diligent. At her best she was profoundly kind. She wrote:

“Everything I have worked for I did with pleasure – there is no better feeling than knowing how hard you have worked. The feeling of achievement and to be proud to have that feeling is really good. Self-motivation and high self-esteem spur you on to the next stage of your life. I have enjoyed my life and I am surprised how quickly it has passed – my working enabled me to meet many different people, some of whom I am still in contact with. I have played many roles from management to cleaning old ladies’ bottoms – I found working in an old people’s home the most rewarding – (and I think this final line says a lot about Bev, about someone who struggled, really struggled, at certain times in her life) everyone will be old one day and need someone to simply give them a smile and treat them with respect regardless of their situation… someone to simply give them a smile and treat them with respect regardless of their situation…”

But there her account of her life stopped. It was cut short. Not everyone gets to be old Bevvy.

Bev really loved our dad. When I was writing about dad a couple of years ago, she wrote to me about him and I just want to read to you what she wrote, because, somehow, it is hard today to talk about Bev without talking about our dad. This is what Bev wrote:

“Dad was always there for each of us as we grew up. He took Dave and me for long walks in the country and knew everything about nature. He helped me with my stoolball, helped me ice and decorate my Christmas cake, and even tried to teach me how to hit a golf ball!

“Luckily for all of us his job did not interfere with home life. Once he clocked off he’d finished until the alarm went off the next morning. He was able to enjoy his post round out in the countryside, and was a valuable member of that community. He helped feed the lambs at the farm, took an old lady flowers and eggs, posted her letters and was the only human contact that she had.

“Every March he would pick the first primroses of the year and send them to Auntie Nancy. He was out in the fresh air every day, observing all four seasons, not confined to four brick walls like the majority of us are.

“I see dad in his own way as a teacher. He was not well-educated – through no fault of his own – but he taught us right from wrong. He showed us how to respect the countryside, kindness, honesty, stoicism, love and gratitude. Above all he was able to give each of us his time, a gift more precious than status or money. He was a very wise man.”

On one of the occasions I came down to Weymouth to see her recently, she gave me this, a small shield that she was awarded for taking six catches in a game of stoolball.  She had played for the women’s team when she was only 14. Stoolball’s a traditional Sussex game played by women, which is a bit like cricket, with the same positions for fielding. The shield is in perfect condition and she treasured it for well over 40 years. As she lay there in great discomfort unable to move on her hospital bed, she told me about how she won it, how our dad had come to collect her at the end of the game and how Rose Groves, the team captain, had said to dad, “here she is Harry, Miss Sticky Fingers”. The joy in her voice was as fresh as it was on that evening, all those years ago, when she was a winner.

On the way back to York on the train that evening, I wrote a sonnet for Bev and her stoolballing exploits.

 

 

And that’s how I will choose to remember Bev. I will look at this shield and imagine her, deep in the Sussex countryside, running around the stoolball pitch, taking catches in the late evening’s summer sunshine, her face lighting up as she shows our dad her trophy. A smiling free spirit, with everything to live for, and not a care in the world.

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
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4 Responses to This much I know about…a eulogy for my sister on her 60th birthday

  1. Kelly L says:

    A very fitting and loving tribute to someone who sounded like quite an inspiration. Much love to you and your family John, my thoughts are with you all at this difficult time. X

  2. I am so sorry for your loss, this must be such a difficult time for you, she was your childhood. What a beautiful eulogy John, thank you for sharing with us.

  3. bocks1 says:

    ‘Tis a special pain left by the loss of a big sis which I know only too well. My heart goes out to you. Stay well.

  4. debrakidd says:

    Oh John – I’m so sorry you lost her. And really glad you shared her story with us – she sounds like an amazing woman.

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