I first met Gill at a Riverside North Friends of the Park Meeting in 2013. It didn’t take long for me to realise that she was a determined woman who was not to be cowed by anyone. She seemed to relish her role holding those in power to account, even if that was just lowly Bewdley committee members and councillors.
It wasn’t long before Gill sent me an email asking for a meeting. We met in the memorial garden around the corner from my house. She explained the history of the garden to me and asked me if I could make a website for the garden like I had done for Riverside North Park. It was while we sat on a bench on a grey and windy day that we became friends. We discussed politics, Bewdley and shared information about out pasts. We discovered we had a lot in common; that we both mistrusted the motives of many public servants, and that we both felt a strong connection with Bewdley.
One story Gill related to me made me laugh. Many years ago she was keen to rear animals. As was her way, she plunged into the obscure depths of local by-laws. It seemed that chickens and sheep were prohibited but that she had found no mention of a ban on goats. I can’t remember whether she ever got a goat – seeing someone walk their goat around Bewdley would have been something to savour – but I do remember that mischievous twinkle in her eye as she recalled her small victory.
And that was Gill. Once she set her mind to something she wasn’t going to be deterred, and she wasn’t going to defer to anyone. She was a true fighter.
In 2014 my wife, Waka, discovered she had cancer. All the treatments followed and my wife was declared as ‘all clear’ the following year. That only lasted a couple of months before the doctors discovered that the cancer had reappeared in her lungs, and that she was terminally ill. Gill was always there ready to lend an ear to my sorrow and to offer practical advice.
When Waka died in August 2016, Gill sought me out and offered to babysit for me. She would hobble on her sticks from Beale’s Corner to Brunel Mews to sit on my sofa while I closed the hall you sit in now. In return I would cook the occasional meal for Gill.
The help Gill gave to me in my first few months of grief is something I will never forget. And I find impossible to repay. It hit me hard when Gill told me that she too would soon have to start chemotherapy. She told me that she didn’t really want the treatment but to honour the memory of Waka and to fight the good fight for her family was her duty.
The cancer treatment deprived Bewdley of one its notable sights: Gill struggling over the bridge to pick through the 5 pm bargains at the Tesco Express. I only saw Gill twice after she started chemotherapy. Both times she was in remarkably good cheer. She never moaned about her pain or her lot in life. She never lost her enthusiasm for Bewdley and the well being of its inhabitants.
I leave it to others to recount all of Gill’s achievements in life. For me she remains the dear old lady round the corner who made sure she could help me. While others offer vague promissory notes of help to the those in grief, Gill acted unilaterally to ease my burden. For that I cannot say thanks enough.
My heart goes out to Gill’s family in their time of grief. I am sorry I could not attend her memorial service as I only found out accidently about her passing just a few days ago. For me grief is a deep wound that time may heal but never eradicate – the scar remains. Remember the scar is a potent symbol of love.
Gill – John and Sophia miss you, and we will never forget you. Rest in peace.
Since I wrote this for the Memorial Service at St George’s Hall the family sent me a picture of Gill with her goats.