I first met Jean in February 2010 when I started a weekly Bible Study and Prayer Group at the Leonard Cheshire day resource centre in Randall Close, Battersea. We began with a Lent course and, with the centre being for adults with physical disabilities, the discussion was rich and deep with much honesty about times of feeling lost, in the wilderness and separated from God. It was also rich with gratitude with members of the group having a real sense of the presence of a loving God in their lives.
Jean was a regular member of the group and an enthusiastic contributor to discussions. We studied bible passages, lives of saints and other significant people, prayer and other aspects of our faith. The group has a mixture of those who are exploring faith, Christians from various denominations together with those with backgrounds from other faiths
I remember Jean being fascinated by the life of William Wilberforce and his links with the local area which was news to her – she was slightly indignant nobody had told her of this link before! As Jean was unable to see the handouts I prepared I usually encouraged the others to describe any pictures that were in them. This was an interesting exercise as it made people look deeper into what was in each picture to enable Jean to imagine it as they saw it. We in turn gained much from Jean as she was able to see God’s presence at work in the world in ways which so many of us who have physical sight may miss.
I had the privilege of hearing and sharing Jean’s journey of faith in her discipleship conversation with me. Her strong and unwavering faith cut through many of the complicated arguments people produce when they lose sight of the basic call to love one another – with Jean this was central. One week at the group there was a lively discussion about Jesus as our friend and brother. Jean had difficulty with the idea of Jesus as a brother but was absolutely sure of Him as a friend. The words of her favourite hymn, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’, sums up Jean’s faith and we all gained richly from her insights.
In addition to the weekly bible study sessions at Randall Close our vicar at the time, Paul Kennington, used to come and lead a service for Easter, for Harvest and for Christmas. Jean said to me one day she would like to come to St Mary’s. I contacted Diana Goodwin who lived near Jean and who was already taking another church member on Sunday mornings. She kindly agreed to take Jean too and she soon became a regular member of St Mary’s congregation. Jean also went to home communions held in people’s houses. She was visited by members of the congregation and during the past year this included Emrys, our newsletter editor, who would go round and read the newsletter to her.
Diana said in her tribute at Jean’s funeral:
“Jean had been coming to St Mary’s for over 4 years which she said brought her great happiness. The Vicar, Simon, referred to her as “that Jean” and she used to retaliate with “that Vicar”. She loved the sound of the bells ringing and she would complain if we could not hear them when arriving for church – didn’t the ringers in the belfry see her coming? She made friends with many people and I was often asked “where is Jean” if she was not in church. She enjoyed staying for the Parish lunch each month and was sad if she had to miss it. However church came in second place to a regular monthly tea party on a Sunday afternoon”.
Jean lived in Battersea for most of her life. She went to a school for partially sighted children when she was 11 years old and worked in Battersea until her sight made this no longer possible. Her final job was running the baby clinic at the Doddington Health Centre which she did for many years. She loved this job and often shared stories with the group
Jean had lived at Joan Bartlett House for over 20 years and went daily to Randall Close which she considered as her second home. She was a very sociable person and enjoyed outings both from home and from Randall Close. One of her closest friends at Randall Close was Phyllis, also a member of our group, who always ensured Jean had what she needed. They had been friends for over 20 years and every week I shared lunch with them both. Jean had worked as a pastry chef in her younger days so the kitchen staff needed to get their pies right!
The last time I shared lunch with Jean at Randall Close she was in good spirits despite being in some considerable pain. There was all the usual lunchtime banter – including her telling one of the care staff to shut up singing! I remember the words she said to me on that day “We’re a cheerful bunch seeing what we have to put up with”. How true that was and what an example to us all.
Although not many people at St Mary’s met Jean’s family they were very much part of her life – 2 daughters, 7 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Jean was very proud of them all and they were also devoted to her as can perhaps be seen in this picture of Jean with her granddaughter Emma.
Diana says of Jean’s two daughters:
“Susan and Clare were a great support to Jean and ensured that she would never be hungry or short of clothes. As Jean used to say regularly – they have brought enough food to feed an army and enough clothes to fill Marks and Spencer! Never mind all this food to choose from, fish and chips on Friday night won the day every time, the treat of the week”.
When Diana and I visited Jean in hospital the Sunday before she died she was propped up in bed singing. Clare was delighted when I told her she had been singing ‘You are my sunshine’ a song they shared so it seems appropriate to finish with those words which were played at her funeral in December, sung by family members:
‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are grey.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, Please don’t take my sunshine away’
We miss you Jean and we think of you every week.