There has been a spate of residents in the Parish and congregation of St Helen’s who have recently died. It is our privilege to publish obituaries of these folk who have often been born and bred or lived a great deal of time in the parish.
James Edward Gracey (81) 18.5.18
Jimmy was born in Whitehaven in Cumbria as the oldest of 3 children – with his brother George and sister Barbara – to his parents James and Martha. The family moved to Morecambe when he was little and then to Askern when his dad got a job at the pit. Jimmy first went to school in Woodlands to St Joseph and St Theresa’s but, being a bit of a tearaway, he didn’t like this and ran away. He then went to Moss Road school and on to Sutton Road where he met Ria. Jimmy started work at 15 at Askern pit but then served in the York and Lancs in 1954 marrying Ria in 1956 when he left.
However, the army had a clear attraction for him so that in 1962 he re-enlisted as a territorial in the Parachute Regiment and then as a Sergeant transferred to the SAS Reserves serving until 1973. Jimmy was self-employed doing contract work as a steel-erector and rigger. A measure of his character is that in 1974 he broke his back in an accident at work but by sheer force of will overcame this to be back at work 18 months later.
As I said he met Ria at school through Ria’s brother. At first Ria wasn’t so keen but Maurice coaxed her which clearly worked because they were engaged at 17 and married in April 1956. They had 4 children Neil, Janine and Ian sadly Antony died when he was only 14½ months old. Neil told me how he regarded his dad as his mentor and followed him into the army and then into construction.
Ria told me how Jimmy was proud man who retained his military bearing throughout his life in the way he stood but also in the in his appearance ensuring he was smartly turned out with military precision. Jimmy was handsome man who was often mistaken for Tom Jones in his younger days. Neil and Ian told me how Jimmy’s perfectionist nature came out in his sayings. “Measure twice and cut once.” This also meant that anything he made tended to be over-engineered – just in case. Jimmy rebuilt the water tower at Askern and many people remember his loud voice booming out. The family told me that me that he was a man’s man who loved to tell stories and jokes and who was a very loyal friend: telling people he was pleased with; “You are all on my Christmas list!” Throughout his life Jimmy did his best to keep fit – still managing to conquer 3 peaks in the Brecon Beacons in his 70s. Although he had a heart attack in 1994 this did not defeat him. Ria told me how theirs was a very happy marriage and clearly Jimmy knew he had met his match telling people that, as far as Ria was concerned, “I’ll never win!” They spent a number of years in Spain living atop a hill in their house which Jimmy named Valhalla – Perhaps a nod to the Regimental March of the Parachute Regiment – The Ride of the Valkyries – and then, more recently, returning to Doncaster.
Jimmy was a loving grandfather often joking with Rory, Laura, Jay, Lauren, Keel, Jordan and Curtis and he was especially proud of his great grandsons: Callum, Ashton, Josh, Harvey.
For a man who had always been fit his final illness was difficult and frustrating for him. He was an impatient patient – a determined man who never gave in. There was also a side to Jimmy that people didn’t always see which was as a man of faith. Brought up a Catholic he would light a candle in church, attend midnight mass and pray every day. It sustained him in times of adversity.
The Christian belief is that death is not the end. In Jesus, God became like us. He died as we die so that we might rise as he rose. That is the faith that Jimmy kept throughout his life. Today I commend him to God’s eternal care – safe in the arms of his heavenly father. In our prayer we say, “Remember for good this your servant Jimmy as we also remember him.” And there is much good to remember in Jimmy’s life: A loving Husband, Father, Grandfather and Great-grandfather, a man who worked hard and was good friend and comrade, a man of faith who served his nation well.
We celebrate Jimmy’s life, a life of action, of love, of faith and some adventure.
May Jimmy this day rest in peace and rise in glory.
Fr Richard Walton
Christine Parkinson (81) 17.4.18
As many of you will know, Christine was born at Cusworth Lane where her parents Leslie and Betty lived. Christine’s sister, Hilary told me that Christine’s was a difficult birth and that she was not expected to live but the doctor manipulated her back in order to save her life. Christine was rather older than her sister Hilary who told me that she acted as a second mother to her and, when Christine decided that she was going into teaching, she felt that she had already cut her teeth on her.
Christine herself went to primary school in Bentley which meant that in those wartime days she walked there on her own carrying her gas-mask and crossing the great North Road twice a day. As Christine herself told me this sometimes involved avoiding the long army convoys that passed by. I got a strong impression that Christine had a somewhat idyllic childhood riding her bicycle around the fields at Sprotbrough and Cusworth.
It was as a child that Christine showed the first signs of becoming the devoted Churchwoman that she was. Apparently, when she was still quite small she was sent off with a friend to the Methodist Chapel only to come home and tell her parents, “I’d like to go to the proper church.” By which she meant St Leonard and St Jude where later her father made the altar and her mum the altar linens for the new church It was at church that Christine’s abiding love for music was first nurtured where she began by playing the piano.
Christine was a bright girl passing her 11+ to go to Percy Jackson Grammar school. Jean Gray told me how with Sheila Whittaker she was part of the Languages group studying for her scholarship and was part of that group of young intellectual women who would enjoy playing word games and with language together on the school bus. From School, Christine went to train as a teacher at St Hild’s at Durham which was also where she was schooled in playing the organ at Durham Cathedral. Once qualified as a teacher, Christine came back to Doncaster to teach in primary schools in Adwick, Armthorpe and Highfields doing a job she really loved. She took particular delight later on in being recognised by adults she had taught as children and whose children she had gone on to teach.
Christine had very much an independent spirit. I got the strong feeling that music was her first love especially playing challenging pieces in the recorder group with her friends Pat and Sandra who are here today. She played the guitar and adapted music for the children and for the church choir which she led for many years as well as playing the organ here. But music was not the only string to Christine’s bow, she was a very accomplished photographer with a strong technical knowledge and a preference for 35mm slides. She had acquired this interest from her father to whom she was devoted. I am told that Christine also had a longstanding interest in cricket and would, as a true aficionadawould watch the match on TV with the sound turned down so she could listen to the radio commentary on Test Match Special.
Christine would speak with great pride about the achievements of her family and clearly loved being an aunt to Susan and a great aunt to Freya. Hilary told me how, in her younger days, Christine had travelled on holiday with the family to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and how later she travelled abroad. She also told me how Christine’s life was transformed by surgery on her eyes – a cure which Christine always regarded as miraculous.
As you will all be aware Christine remained very active until recent years when she began to slow down as arthritis took its toll. She coped with leukaemia well especially the rhythm of regular blood transfusions. But as time went on she became physically unable to play the recorder and the organ. It was then that Christine got great fulfilment from teaching Rebekah the organ and it was particularly pleasing to have Rebekah play for the service of reception into church yesterday.
Christine’s final decline was more rapid than we expected. She had spent a short time in hospital and I had the privilege of being asked by Hilary and Malcolm to visit her as they made their way to the hospital. I prayed with Christine and anointed her and helped give her her last meal. But clearly, she was very tired and fell asleep as I left never to wake again in this world. It was a gentle end.
So today we have all done our best to ensure that Christine’s careful and meticulous wishes have been fulfilled. When the service ends please go with the family straight to the Burghwallis where you are all invited for light refreshments.
We give thanks for Christine’s life as a devoted and faithful Christian and as a woman who has served the wider church and this parish especially throughout her life. For me she was a trusted friend and churchwarden – a font of knowledge and wise advice. Christine has earned the peace into which she now goes. May she rest in that peace, and may she rise in glory.
Fr Richard Walton
Florence (Gwen) Cocking (93)
Gwen was born at Crabgate Drive as the youngest of three children to John and Winne and it was where she grew up with her sister Nancy and her brother Jack. It was a very close family since her dad’s brother Jim married her mum’s sister Amy and lived next door to each other for many years. So, growing up was a time of great happiness for Gwen.
When she left school, Gwen went to work in the offices at Bullcroft Pit. As I got to know her in later years, it was clear that Gwen was possessed of a remarkable memory so that she still could remember the ‘lamp numbers’ of many of the miners even after she had left the pit to work in the Coal Board offices in the centre of Doncaster. She retired from the coal board in 1982 when she was 57.
Gwen lived for many years with her closest friends in the bungalow on Mill Lane and was a woman of many interests and talents: she loved gardening, tennis, reading, ballroom dancing, music – especially playing the piano and writing poems. Indeed, she regularly composed poems for special occasions for family and friends recently a collection of these was published. Gwen had suffered for many years with poor eye-sight eventually going blind. It was much to her credit how she coped with this disability deriving great pleasure from the talking books for the blind service.
Gwen’s deteriorating health meant that she could no longer stay at home and it was great sadness to her when she left Mill Lane to move into residential care at Skellow Hall in 2005. The family have asked me to thank those members of staff there who have showed her particular care.
Whilst in residential care, Gwen was always very grateful for the many friends and neighbours and family members who came to visit her regularly which helped to ease the difficulty of her daily life. I can testify to the stimulating nature of Gwen’s discussions and her encyclopaedic memory which showed the keen interest she took in the world around her. I would often learn more about the parish on visiting Gwen than I would from anyone else because her comments were always filled with interesting details of family life or local history. I believe that same can also be said from Fr Chris’s visits to give her communion.
A particular pleasure for Gwen was visits from younger family members. She loved hearing from her great niece Hayley about her wedding or the achievements of John and Caitlin and she gained great amusement from anything said by her great great nieces and nephews: Archie, Owen, Oscar and Sophie especially if this contained a little mischief! It saddened her that she could not see their faces but she loved those moments of closeness when they would stretch out their hands to play ‘round and round the garden’ which always ended in gales of laughter.
Gwen was very grateful for everyone who had telephoned or visited simply to keep her spirits up – enabling her to keep up to date with their lives.
Along with Fr Chris I visited Gwen on many occasions and was always astonished by how bright and optimistic she was and how her faith shone through in everything she said. It was a great privilege to be able to pray with her and to anoint her as she was dying. It was obvious that she was very frail, but it was also clear that she was conscious of the prayers that were being said during those last rites – joining in as best she could. Gwen was never a fair-weather Christian. It was clear talking to her that her faith sustained her throughout especially through the darkest of times when her sight was failing and her health was deteriorating.
Gwen died peacefully in her bed. On that last day, as I was leaving Jo was just arriving: part of that large family that has cared for Gwen and loved and supported her throughout her life and especially during her time in Skellow Hall.
The Christian belief is that death is not the end but a point of change. When we die we fall asleep for a while to wake up changed and reborn in God’s presence. Today I commend Gwen’s soul to God’s almighty keeping. Gwen has fought the good fight in this life and now lived in the presence of God her maker, redeemer and friend.
May Gwen’s soul this day rest in peace and rise in glory.
Fr Richard Walton
Edmund and Ruby Wood
When I spoke to Eddie and Ruby’s family about them; what I heard was really a love story in which their lives have been entwined right up unto their final days, which they spent in hospital together where an enduring theme of closeness seems to have permeated their lives from the very beginning.
Eddie was born in Balby where he lived with his sister Maureen and his parents Laura and Cyril. He passed his scholarship to go to the Central School and then went on to train as an apprentice electrician at the plant. Always keen on sport, Eddie was an enthusiastic cricketer in his youth. Eddie’s national Service was spent in the Royal Navy serving on the light aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance in which he travelled the world including the Arctic which was for him an experience he treasured.
By contrast, Ruby’s early life was spent at No 1 Park View where she was born to Foord and Martha as the youngest of the family with her sisters Mary and Mabel and her brother Foord. They then went to live at Scorcher Hills. But, during the war Ruby joined the Fire Service being promoted to Leading Firewoman Newton and serving in Kent which was known as ‘Bomb Alley’ at that time because it was the main point of entry for the Luftwaffe and so a busy and dangerous place to be.
Eddie and Ruby met through Vi Smith. Apparently, Eddie would go to the shop where he would meet Ruby and clearly some matchmaking took place. It was a whirlwind romance especially after Ruby had moved to Shelf near Bradford. They married in 1953 early one morning then catching the Pullman to London for their honeymoon. Bradford became their home and their place of work. Eddie worked first for Brown Muffs and Ruby as the managing director’s secretary at Simon’s the big clothing manufacturers.
While at Brown Muffs Eddie became a floor manager then a buyer. He was an expert in soft furnishings – with that well-turned out demeanour that made him somewhat reminiscent of Capt Peacock. He rose to became the store manager for Rackham’s in Skipton. Indeed, the only significant time that Eddie and Ruby were not together was when Eddie travelled to Sweden as a buyer. Ruby’s position at Simon’s meant that they both had access to the best clothes which meant they were always very well turned out – Ruby very much the elegant businesswoman and Eddie always dapper in a dark suit shirt and tie and with manicured hands.
Eddie and Ruby were a devoted couple who lived a long and happy life together. They were both keen on sport and would often watch; Leeds United from the Directors’ Box, test matches at Headingley, and going to the races. They travelled widely all over the world regularly visiting Spain and Malta but always coming home for Christmas. They loved going to the casino – especially abroad – where it was clear they had a lucky side. This travelling meant that they had many friends around the world so that Eddie’s address book looked like the League of Nations with its many friend and contacts listed there.
What came across strongly to me was that Eddie and Ruby simply were a lovely couple: warm and hospitable to all. Although they did not have any children of their own they were a doting aunt and uncle: spoiling the children and being especially loved by babies. Theirs was clearly a life surrounded by much good humour and laughter. They loved entertaining, especially at Christmas where Ruby’s gift’s as a hostess and Eddie’s skill as a cook very much came to the fore. As a couple they were always very attentive to the needs of others.
It is good that we have the choir singing today. Ruby sang soprano in the church choir and Edie was a chorister at St James’s where he received a medal from Sir Sydney Nicholson the founder of the Royal School of Church Music to which this choir is now affiliated. Both are indicative of the Anglican faith that was at the bedrock of their life.
We can often be tempted to think only of recent times, when Eddie and Ruby were unwell and those days at the end when they were in the same hospital ward together. But we can see that their life together has been much more than this. Each was successful in their work, each the main support to the other. But not insular and inward-looking rather they were warm, affectionate and hospitable people who treasured the love of their families and the closeness of their friends.
In this season of Easter we remember that Jesus died as we die so that we may rise as he rose. That is the Christian hope that death is not the end but a point of change, of transformation. The prophet Isaiah speaks of our faith in terms of putting on a new garment.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. (Is. 61.10)
It is my prayer that now before God, Eddie and Ruby may cast off their old clothes and put on the garment of salvation united forever in the presence of their heavenly Father.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Fr Richard Walton