A copy of Rear Admiral Paul Boissier’s “eulogy” to Jo, given at her Thanksgiving Service on 7th July 2006
For fifty-odd years you have been there for Wendy and me. Always proud, always supportive, always accommodating – accepting us for what we are – and always giving us your love. It’s been fun. You brought us up in a home that was safe, and warm, and loving surrounded by dogs and laughter, and in my memory it was always full of sunshine. You asked much of us and you gave us much in return.
For the last half century, Wendy and I have been blessed with parents like no other. Larger than life, intensely curious about the home life of complete strangers, impervious to embarrassment and unfailingly welcoming, they were never what you would call ordinary parents. How often have I heard Mum turn round to strangers at the next table in the pub and ask them in a falsely disapproving voice whether they were living in sin? I can even recall one epic afternoon at Lords when she got about three rows of avid cricket fans involved in a discussion about the sex life of one hapless individual whose only crime was that he had been allocated the seat directly behind hers – and it was a measure of her warmth and character was that they all took it in good heart and laughed along with her.
That’s the thing. No-one who met her will ever forget Mum. Whether as a housemaster’s wife, a mother or grand-mother, an aunt, a friend or merely an acquaintance, she has changed lives and affected thousands of people with her sense of fun, her utterly open inclusiveness, her lack of stuffiness or pretence, and her boundless willingness to help those that she considered less fortunate than herself. No-one will forget her: she will be remembered with endless affection, and with a smile – and if that is what it means by the spirit living on after the flesh has given up, then Mum’s spirit is still alive and kicking to-day.
Mum was undoubtedly a character. But she was also a fighter. The stroke which attacked her in the ‘90s would, for so many other people, have meant that they would never walk again, but Mum brushed it aside through sheer force of character and stubbornly refused to be beaten. Right up to the end, she could be found walking down the passageway at Eastbury House, on her way to dinner, muttering “bugger, bugger, bugger” under her breath, and spurning any offers of assistance.
Her last 2 years, after Dad died, were difficult for Mum, but I prefer to remember her in her 30s and 40s, when she and Dad were a bright, cheerful and gregarious couple whose doors were always open, their table full, and their house ringing with the sound of laughter. Everyone, whether it be the postman, a bishop, a schoolboy or the man behind her at Lords, was – in her eyes – a part of her extended family. On holiday, more often than not, we were joined by an extraordinary variety of people … goodness knows where they came from. But I remember a monk, a young Polish refugee, a South African boy with no-where else to go for his summer holidays and many others – and they were all made to feel included, valued and happy, except when they committed the cardinal sin of beating Mum at Scrabble.
And the most remarkable thing about being the son of these 2 remarkable parents is the sheer number of people who have come up to me over the years, asked whether I was their son, and proceeded to tell me how wonderful, or generous, or eccentric, or enjoyable they were. And then they have gone on to regale me with a Pete story, or a Jo story.
Mum, I will miss you, Wendy will miss you, Susie and Malcolm will miss you, and Alice, Sarah and Georgie will miss you. But so will hundreds of other people who you have brought into your life and loved.
You and Dad were a pair together. And you are back together now; out of pain, with your worries left behind and with the prospect of eternity ahead of you. Dad with his brandy and ginger, which he swore would never make him tipsy, and you with an endless supply of strangers to charm, and to laugh with.
You were a wonderful wife, a brilliant Mum and an unforgettable friend. Put your feet up now and rest. You have earned it.