|Birth: ||Jul. 12, 1935|
Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales
|Death: ||Feb. 11, 2013|
Departement de la Creuse
My amazing, talented, witty and wonderful mum passed away peacefully in the early hours of Monday February 11th at a hospital near her home in France after a valiant two year battle with cancer with her husband and partner of almost thirty years by her side. She took life as it came and dealt with everything as it happened, never bore a grudge and always tried to make you feel everything was fine, even when you knew it wasn't.
Mum was born at home in the small town of Rhydyfelin in South Wales, the only child of Walter and Beatrice Francis. By 1940 they were living on Lafone Avenue in Bedfont, Middlesex, where they had moved to be near other family members. After several near misses in the Blitz, including a high explosive bomb which fell just yards from their home, Walter sent his wife and daughter back to Wales to wait out the war while he was drafted into the Army. Towards the end of the war, Mum was struck with a paralysing disease which caused her to lose the use of the right side of her body. Although this ultimately proved to be temporary, she was hospitalised long-term and missed many months of school which she was never able to catch up. After her illness she had to have a speech therapist as a result of which she learnt to speak again but without her Welsh accent, although she said she still continued to think with an accent! Oddly, her father was hospitalised at the same time, suffering from wounds received in action, and father and daughter formed a strange bond by attempting to transmit messages and pictures back and forth telepathically, with the recipient drawing or writing what the sender was thinking. She retained an interest in the supernatural and uncanny throughout her life, believed in signs from beyond the grave and was particularly fascinated by spontaneous human combustion.
As a young girl in Wales she performed with family and friends in local talent shows, with admission fees donated to charity. One notable show required the performers to appear as the most unlikely character possible. Mum appeared in blackface as Paul Robeson singing "Old Man River", brought the audience to tears, won the competition and even did an encore of "That Lucky Old Sun".
After WWII, the family were reunited back in Bedfont. Mum's ambition was to be an artist but at the age of 15 she took an apprenticeship in the more lucrative field of technical art, later becoming a full fledged and well respected draftswoman. At various times in her career she worked for British Railways, EMI, the British Standards Institute and ERA Technology, whose Ground Penetrating Radar device was probably her most notable project. She also worked on drawings for the double decker and advanced passenger trains, and modifications to the "Black Bomber" aircraft at Vickers-Armstrongs, where she got to know Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb. In a break from drafting, she was an accident assessor for Staines Council and also worked for Kennings Car Rental, variously as driver, mover and instructor. One aspect of Kennings about which she enjoyed telling tales was as chauffeur to the stars, carrying such luminaries as Richard Attenborough, Margaret Lockwood (a favourite of hers) and Shirley Eaton (who she described as "vulgar, with big arms"!)
Mum's lifelong love of motoring began in the 1950's, both motorcycles and cars, and she built her first car herself. She rode a motorcycle on and off from around 1953 to a few years before she died, although she never actually held a motorcycle license. She was a regular at venues such as the Bunch of Grapes and the 2-I's and rode up Box Hill and down to the Brighton beaches.
Mum was married for the first time in late 1959, to a Jack Harvey, although the marriage was short lived and ended in divorce. She took up skeet shooting and bar billiards, winning various trophies and awards in both. Her skeet rifle also served another purpose as, when living in a rented apartment above a jeweler's store, Mum heard someone break into the shop and went and confronted the robber at gunpoint! The would-be thief fled empty handed.
In 1967 Beat, Mum's mother, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Treatment for advanced cancers was still quite primitive and Mum nursed Beat through her illness to the end.
My Mum and Dad married in 1969 and took up residence at Fangrove Caravan Park in Lyne, Surrey. They became active members of the Fangrove Drama Group community theatre players, appearing together in plays like "Still Life" by Noel Coward, "Brief Encounter", "The Devil's Four Poster", "Doctor In The House" and was the drummer for "Drums of Deliverance". Mum also edited the Fangrove Residents' Association newsletter. I arrived in 1971 and Mum then became active in the local Young Mothers Association. To bring in some extra money she took up teaching knitting. She did quite well at this for several years. One of her last clients was a resident of the magnificent old Gayhurst House in Buckinghamshire prior to its redevelopment and we enjoyed many visits there. She als did two stints as an Avon lady, first in the early 1970's and again ten years later. As I got a little older, Mum went back to outside employment sporadically but also started taking piano lessons. She attained Royal Academy Grade VIII in piano, which ironically also earned her an O-level substitute pass in Music – her first (and last) ever formal education qualification. She also started working on her crafts with earnest in the 1970's.
What can I say about Mum's craft work. There is not much she couldn't do. She could paint (oil and watercolours), sew – from clothes and accessories to cross stitch and tapestry, by hand and by both manual and electric machine – crochet, knit – again, by hand or machine – tat, do macrame, make lace in several different traditions, weave (hand and industrial loom), spun her own wool from scratch, made rugs (hook and weave), make plush, woven and yarn toys, christening gowns and most other yarn and fabric crafts. She could bake, sweet and savoury, canned fruits, made jams, jellies and beverages. She grew herbs for both culinary and medicinal purposes (lavender was her favourite). Her creative output over the years must have been phenomenal as she made things for her family, for charity, to sell or to give as gifts.
In about 1979 she became Brown Owl of a local Brownie Pack. She was a popular leader, doing particularly well with the special needs Brownies, and as I was a Brownie in a different pack we enjoyed a little family rivalry at Brownie gatherings as our packs went up against each other in competitions.
Mum and Dad parted ways in 1984. By this time Mum had become involved with the Isetta Owners Club of Great Britain, whose newsletter she edited. She had owned an Isetta for many years, which we took great pleasure in riding all over the place. She was also involved with the Register of Unusual Microcars (RUMCars), whose newsletter she produced. When the Isetta became no longer practical as a family car and needed too much work to keep on the road, Mum picked up an old Austin Allegro. She responded to an ad in a classic car magazine for an Austin Allegro Owners Club and, enraged on finding out the ad was a joke, resolved to form a real club for Allegro owners. This she duly did in 1990, and the Allegro Club International thrives still. Moving on from the Allegro club, Mum acquired a classic D1 Bantam motorbike in poor but restorable condition in lieu of payment for a job, and restored it to show condition herself. She then threw herself into volunteering with the Bantam owners club as newsletter editor. When the original club folded, she founded the BSA Bantam Owners Club, which is also still a very active enthusiast club. She took off briefly to Holland in 1987, volunteering to collect one of a number of Suzuki Jeeps being imported by a small local company who found themselves short of drivers. Despite struggling with thyroid disease at the time, she viewed the trip as a challenge and an adventure.
In 1991 Mum married for the third and final time. At last she had found someone who shared her interests and dreams and who would be her best friend and partner until her death. Together they amassed a huge collection of antiques and collectibles with the intention of one day opening a museum. In the interim, they periodically opened the lower floor, garden and garage of their house, set up as a temporary museum showcasing their "Bygones", charging a small admission which was donated to a local charity.
In 2009, Mum fell in love with a house in France. Set in 2 acres of land, it comprised a house, barns and an abandoned watermill dating from the 18th century. It was a huge undertaking to sell the family home, pack and store their belongings and move to another country.
Just before Christmas 2010, Mum was taken to hospital after breaking a leg. There it was discovered that the bone had been weakened by cancer. A diagnosis of metastized kidney cancer followed. Mum was offered a promising new drug which had only just been approved which had proven to halt the spread of advanced cancers and possibly even reverse them in some cases. Mum accepted the offer, signed the waivers – the drug was so new, it still could not be prescribed without the patient signing a legal waiver to cover the event of unforeseen side effects - and continued with her life. She did very well for a long time. For a year she lived a fairly full and active life. Around Christmas 2011 she started to suffer from more severe fatigue and an episode in hospital marked the beginning of a decline. She was still determined to move to France and in May 2012 she finally got to move into her dream home.
I visited her just before Christmas 2012. Her spirit was still strong. On the morning I left to go home to America she started to say goodbye but the stopped herself and said "No, I won't say goodbye; I'll just say ta-ta for now - I'll see you again. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere".
What kind of a mum was she? She never believed in "because I said so". She always felt that even the youngest child should be given a reason for why they had to or why they couldn't do a thing. She insisted on politeness and respect but she gave it in return. She never walked in my room without knocking, or opened my mail, or went through my stuff even when I was little. She thought you should give your child the chance to have a go at anything possible, whether it be as simple as helping make a pudding or story time at the library, or something bigger like a holiday at the seaside or a day trip to a wildlife park or unusual museum. She enthusiastically encouraged all my strange interests and activities. She instilled common sense and responsibility in me as a child and trusted me as a teenager not to do stupid things, and consequently I respected that trust and didn't do stupid things. Her tastes in music and theatre were eclectic and thus as enjoyable to me as my own; we went to the opera together, and to rock concerts, mystery theatre and pantomime. She was my teacher, mentor and best friend and I am blessed to be able to say I don't have a single bad memory of my mother. It's all good.
A few little stories in closing to illustrate the kind of person she was. First, "Little Steven". Little Steven was a child who went to the same infant school as me. Unlike most of the other kids, there was never a mum waiting outside for him at the last bell, nobody to walk him home or buy him an ice cream from the ever present Tonibell van. Little Steven was rumoured to not have anyone who cared much for him and none of us had ever seen him with anyone who seemed to be family. My mum wasn't going to see him left out so she started meeting him outside when she picked me up and made it her duty to make sure he got his ice cream along with the rest of us. He'd walk part way home with us until our paths diverged. He was very quiet and shy but he always had a smile for my mum.
Around that time was the height of the glue sniffing phase. We lived in the corner house on a fairly busy intersection, as busy as it got in the town I grew up, and my parents were always chasing them off our front steps late at night. I remember one night a couple of them got a bit belligerent so Mum got the iron fire poker and chased 'em down the street with it! But another night there was a big crash and the fronts doors shook and Mum went out to make sure there hadn't been an accident... and came back in with this tall youth smelling strongly of solvent with a walloping great gash on his head. Walking but very dazed. He was just letting her lead him by the hand. He had no idea where he was. She called an ambulance and made him a cup of tea and sat with him to make sure he stayed conscious until the ambulance got there.
When a lady from the Jehovah's Witnesses came calling, Mum made it clear that, although she was not interested in being converted as she had her own strong beliefs which were not up for change, she would be more than happy to talk theology with her over a cup of tea. This they did and, despite their beliefs being about as far from each other as could be imagined, their chats became a regular event and involved lively but very civil debates on everything from the miracles to the birth of the universe.
The one that stays most vividly in my mind though is the day Mum saved an injured bee. She found a big bumble bee on the path in the back yard one day. It was in obvious distress, probably got stepped on or something. She found a match box and a bit of cotton to make a bed for it and mixed up some honey and water and fed the mixture to the bee on the point of a pin. I kid you not, I watched this. And eventually the bee perked up a bit and finally it buzzed a bit, shook out its wings and flew away.
It's so hard to believe this amazing woman is gone. There will be no more glittery socks or funny elastic toys or handmade cards, I will never hear her funny accents or impressions or her laugh or see that mischievous glint in her eyes. I wish we could have had one more Christmas – nobody did Christmas like Mum – and I wish, how I wish she could have been around to see the grandchild she longed for grow up. But she lives on in the people she influenced and inspired, the clubs she was a significant part of, in her creations, and in those of us she leaves behind.
Frederick Walter Francis (1910 - 1991)
Beatrice Mary Bowden Francis (1913 - 1967)
Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend.
Created by: Mount Hope NY
Record added: Feb 10, 2013
Find A Grave Memorial# 104961441