Parish of Leatherhead - Dr Elizabeth Hallifax 1919-2009

At Elizabeth Hallifax’s funeral at the parish church on Wednesday 28th October, Canon David Eaton said: I have a number of tributes to read from other people. Linda has written the following tribute to her mother on behalf of the whole family, which was also used at Elizabeth’s 90th birthday celebrations.

Linda writes:

This story starts in Scotland in 1919 where a post-war baby named Elizabeth was born and brought up by the Clyde, to an unusually varied life following the fortunes of her father – a great entrepreneur and enthusiast of life. His tendency to go to sales to buy a fish kettle and return with a Bechstein grand piano may give a clue to Elizabeth’s ability to take whatever life threw at her and enjoy it! She lived for a while in South Africa during her childhood and then went as an au pair to Berlin – shortly before the outbreak of war – assuring her highly anxious parents that she was fine! She even attended an address given by Hitler, at which her 10yr old charge advised her it would be best if they didn’t speak English!

At first Elizabeth trained as a PE teacher, but developed such an interest in the workings of the body that she decided she really ought to study medicine! She qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh despite the war, her studies including a spell in Dublin delivering babies in some very adverse conditions. Her medical career focussed on family planning (a then very unfashionable and under-resourced area) and counselling, developing her already formidable listening skills. Her focus in life has always been outside herself on those around, a truly selfless interest which encouraged trust and love in those she met across several continents.

Then came marriage to James in 1948 and the arrival of children – Dickie and Peter, followed rather sooner than expected by Linda – and godchildren, most notably Leslie who has been a constant and much-loved family member. By then the family were moving around following James’ Royal Navy career, fro Devon to South Africa to Surrey, which became finally a place to stop, although travel was by then in Elizabeth’s blood as shown by later trips to California, Mexico, Spain, France and Belgium.

Music became a central thread during this time with at one time all five members of the family being in the Leatherhead Choral Society, taking part in the Leith Hill Festival and Elizabeth becoming chair for many years of the choir committee. This proved the connection to a previously unknown cousin – Gill – as we met in a combined choir rehearsal!

Elizabeth loved her garden – providing enough beans and tomatoes for a small army! She was a great believer in using what was available – family picnics always included gathering blackberries, apples or whatever else might be growing around! She also supplied the entire extended family with elderflower cordial and marmalade for many decades.

More recently several old interest have re-emerged in a new form: having finally decided to retire fully at the young age of 79 Elizabeth’s well-known artistic ability with oil paints took a new turn – having said many years ago that she couldn’t do watercolours as the technique was much too difficult, in her 80s she decided to try, and the results were an outstanding success. She felt she needed to broaden her literary knowledge so she joined a reading group. She then decided her French needed touching up and has been attending French classes for the last few years, attending regularly even up to the week before she died.

I think it is fair to say Elizabeth lived both long and well and used her adventurous spirit to the full, giving much of herself to those around and receiving long-lasting friendship in return.

Elizabeth’s god-daughter Lesley says:

Elizabeth’s sense of humour is definitely worth a mention. That twinkle and ability to tell a story, with tears of laughter flowing down her face. Her ability to communicate with ALL generations. She never talked down to anybody, whatever age.

Everything was always up for discussion and she would cunningly guide us in the right direction so we thought we’d come up with it. Smart people do that. And there was never a subject you couldn’t touch. Kitchen was always the heart of the home. Home fires always burning, i.e. always welcoming. Generous of heart and spirit, she gave, never took, and always so positive.

Lesley concludes: in my case, for forty years she was the therapist I never had to pay for.

Helena Hill says:

Elizabeth, whom I have known for 45 years, was a lovely friend who was always there for you. She has been amazing in the way she has kept going through Parkinson’s, without complaint, and winning painting prizes in her dotage on the way. She was always very patient with herself. We shared a weekly reading group, which she loved. She was the most delightful person.

David Eaton:

We can see from all these tributes what a fine person Elizabeth was. She was in her way a “Renaissance Woman”, having real knowledge and ability across a whole range of subjects and disciplines and activities. In this sense she shows us what being human really means and how there lies in each one of us a rich seam to be explored and mined. The phrase developing “your full potential” is glibly passed around in education these days, as though there is a button to be pressed, and up to comes.

Elizabeth shows us what that actually means in practise; yes, it means hard work and determination, but it also means a love and life and people; it means letting a spark inside you fire your inspiration; it means lateral thinking and stepping outside the box; it means letting the creative juices flow and enrich all aspects of your life and living.

For Elizabeth all this is within the context of a sincere Christian faith. She had found a spiritual home in this church, and towards the end of her life has made considerable effort, against the ravages of time, to get here and be here. As you know, Elizabeth wasn’t the kind of person to let ravages have their way, at any price. I don’t think she was particularly hard on herself, she wasn’t stoical exactly, it was just that she enjoyed life, and liked to live it to the full.

She knew that in life she had received a gift from God, and she also knew that the gift was given for joy. Sadly religion often creates the opposite impression, as though life is a burden and hedged about with over many rules and regulations. There is something to be said for the straight and narrow way, but there is also something to be said for dancing and feasting and rejoicing; for enjoying the company of friends and family; for plunging in, heart and soul. That was Elizabeth to a T.

These are foretastes of resurrection, of being with God and each other in another dimension we call heaven. It is to this inheritance we commit Elizabeth today without hesitation, deviation or repetition, because she is welcome there and fully at home. She has enriched our lives and will always live in our hearts, as a person whose life we should like to emulate, for its richness and humanity; for its service and selfless endeavour; for its creativity and love of living. Today we lay her to rest with her husband James.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

from the December 2009 magazine
Dr Elizabeth Hallifax With the death of Elizabeth Hallifax at the age of 90, we have lost a much loved and loving friend, and a remarkable person who truly lived life to the full right up to the end. She had been a member of our congregation for many years and attended the 10.30 Eucharist only two weeks before her death. Professionally, Elizabeth specialised in Family Planning, and was for many years a valued counsellor in personal and family problems.

Despite progressive disability from Parkinson's Disease, her days were full of interests, activity and fun. She loved her garden and pottering around on her walking frame, watering the greenhouse, picking beans and tomatoes – as much to give away as for the house. She hosted a small reading group whose weekly meetings were as full of interesting and enjoyable chat as of reading! She recently took up water-colour painting, and last year submitted a picture for a competition run by the Parkinson's Disease Society, and was amazed and delighted to win an award. She also attended French classes and made yet another group of friends.

Having been a longstanding member of the Leatherhead Choral Society, she faithfully attended their concerts and especially the annual Leith Hill Festival competitions and concerts.

Her family was the centre of her life. She held a 60th birthday celebration for her elder son, Dickie, just a few weeks before she died. There were constant contacts with, and visits from, her son Peter and his wife and twin granddaughters who live in the USA, and of course with her daughter Linda who is a GP in Lichfield.

One of Elizabeth's greatest gifts was of hospitality: one always felt the warmth of welcome, be it to an impromptu meal, Sunday lunch, or a special occasion. Her annual New Year soup and cheese gatherings were a great tradition. In recent times a piper played for some brave souls to dance an eightsome reel on the chilly terrace outside the sitting room windows!

Over her last years Elizabeth was able to go on living in her own home only with the assistance of resident carers, who changed over every two or three weeks. She always treated them as part of the family, and some who returned often became close friends. I was full of admiration for her acceptance of the constant changes to regime and of her good-humoured tolerance of the inevitable foibles of some of the characters who came to care for her.

Throughout her long and varied life Elizabeth made many, many friends who enjoyed and valued her friendship. We rejoice that her final illness was for only a few days. She was able to complete her full and unique life without having to give up her home. Her philosophy of life is beautifully summed up in the last three lines of her own poem, read at her funeral:

Joy is the prize which journey's end is holding,
Life's to be lived with boldness and with striving,
Departure lights the pathway to arriving.

Helena Hill

Page created 1 Nov 2009, with thanks to Alison Wright for the transcription of David Eaton's notes.
last updated 1 Dec 2009
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