Parish of Leatherhead - Jill Leach

Jane's tribute to Mother 1st June 2007

My Mother was born Jill Mary Guest in Penarth, South Wales on 25th June 1920 to Howard, a tax inspector, and his wife Elsie on their 2nd wedding anniversary. They gave her, her strong sense of duty, an excellent Maths brain and a delight in laughter and company. 2 years later her sister Annette was born and 10 years after that, her adored brother Harry. Mother felt that her birthday was on the best possible day, being 6 months each way from Christmas and she was very proud of her Welsh ancestry.

At about 9 months old she received a smallpox inoculation which turned out to be from a tainted batch. She developed encephalitis which resulted in infantile paralysis down her left side. It’s a testament to her personality and her upbringing that she felt herself lucky as other children had died, and she never let it affect what she attempted to do.

Mother started school at 7 and learned looping copperplate writing but when she was 14 the family moved to Cheam and she went to Sutton High School which insisted on Italics. Hence the extraordinary handwriting that was the trademark of her enormous correspondence.

She adored her time at Sutton High, making many life long friends and becoming vice captain of both hockey and school. At 18 she followed her cousin Sheila into Housing Management and trained at Islington and Finsbury Housing Association under Miss Upcott who’d herself been trained by Octavia Hill. The war broke out when mother was 19 and she helped with billeting and re-housing as well as volunteering for other war work. At one time she was in sole charge of a train of 500 mothers and babies that arrived at a destination in Leicestershire to find that the village had been expecting unaccompanied boys. A challenge for Mother but one that she rose to as she always did.

She moved to Mitcham Borough Council where she passed the Chartered Surveyors’ exams for Housing Managers and received the extremely accurate reference “Miss J Guest has dynamic energy and enthusiasm. She is excellent with the tenants and shows a judgement of people far beyond her years”. This helped her achieve a new position at Chelsea B.C where she joined the Society of Women Housing Managers and met many of the friends that meant so much to her and became so important to us as children, most importantly Elizabeth Harland. She and Elizabeth shared a top floor flat in Powis Square because the rent was cheap and no-one else wanted to be that close to the air raids……….

Elizabeth Harland already knew a tall, dark, handsome man called Tony Leach and she introduced him to Jill. Hardly a whirlwind romance as Father took over 3 years to propose but eventually they married and settled in Surbiton Hill Park.

Jill & Tony's wedding, 1949 (via John Leach)

In 1951 they visited 29 Kingston Road and Mother told the owners how much she liked it while Father tried to hush her in case they looked too enthusiastic. The asking price of 4000 was daunting and they spent an anxious afternoon writing figures on the paper tablecloth in Lyon’s Corner House to see how they could manage but they did and stayed there happily for over 55 years. The house was full of original features including a complete bell system. A young neighbour suggested that Mr Leach could sit in the Drawing Room and when he wanted a cup of tea he could ring the bell and Mrs Leach would bring it to him from the kitchen. You can imagine what Mother thought of that…………..

Mother gave up work after marriage and looked after Robert, John and myself but she was always busy with voluntary work and regular house fulls of friends and relatives. She welcomed our cousins Richard and Antony to stay for a couple of years and many other overseas guests. One night, Father forgot that a visitor was out and locked the back door. Unable to rouse anyone the enterprising man squeezed through the larder window to gain access. Next day he left a note saying “Thank you for your hostility“ - we dearly hoped that it was a spelling mistake! She met her best friends waiting outside Ryebrook, Downsend and The Lindens for us to come out of school and stayed fit by carrying us in a little chair on the back of her bike.

Mother’s teas were legendary and all our friends remember her fruit cake, Victoria sponge and chocolate crispies. In the end she tired of putting the latter into cake cases for voracious teenage boys to tear apart and just put a giant bowl of the mixture on the table and gave out spoons.

After we all left home she continued with her voluntary work but this was curtailed after she fell in the garden and broke her hip. Unfortunately it was her weakened side and infections prevented a successful hip replacement so one leg was left considerable shorter than the other. At the same time it was discovered that she was diabetic so life became very different as she began to wear a built-up shoe, use a walking frame and self-administer twice daily injections.

Over the next 20 or so years my parents gradually and gracefully accepted the restrictions on both their lives as they had to give up driving, going to church, visiting friends or even going shopping. Mother was one of the few people I knew who really loved shopping in Sainsbury’s. “Isn’t this Fun?! “ she’d exclaim every Monday as I pushed her in her wheelchair and trolley attachment that had the turning circle of a small oil tanker.

Mother loved the phone and her greatest deprivation in the last months was not being able to keep to her schedule. Once mother decided that you were her type of person then she wouldn’t let you go and she so enjoyed asking “tell me, what news?” Enquiries about her own health were politely deflected and she never complained about her immobility or the pain that she was in. Her grandchildren and great nieces were a constant source of pride and joy to her and she loved to see them grow and progress.

There’s a china coaster by the side of her chair which reads “Give me Patience, Lord, but Hurry ! “ and she would often say to Father in exasperation that she couldn’t see why patience was a such a virtue. "No, Jill, you wouldn’t", he replied. However, recently she was very patient indeed as she waited to be re-united with Tony whom she missed so much.

Here’s a very little of what Mother taught me:
- be generous
- the importance of making your children laugh each day
- that you should always try to catch the train BEFORE the one that you need
- and that if you’re kind to people they’ll generally be kind to you back.

This last point has been amply proved as Mother was nursed at home and cared for with so much love by all the doctors, nurses, carers, friends and family. Carolyn was an angel and the rest of us were lovely, lovely.

She enjoyed these lines from a 19th century epitaph “Don’t mourn for me now, don’t mourn for me never, I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.”

But somehow I don’t think she will.

Robert's tribute to Mother 1st June 2007

Anyone who knew my mother and my father was struck with the contrast between them, and mother often talked about this during her last year without him. Yet I realised this week that they had something profound in common. I was looking at the words of the Pentecost hymn, Come down O Love divine, and realised that my parents shared a humility, a 'true lowliness of heart which takes the humbler part'. And this quality bound them together and helped to make them so united though such different people.

Mother was often extreme, while father was usually moderate. He was cautious while she was passionate. He closed the room doors to keep out the drafts, and she opened them to make sure everyone could talk to each other. While father would present himself as a mixture of Eeyore and Wise Owl, mother was more like a Tigger.

Boundless energy, short attention span, huge benevolence and huge aspiration to do good in the world. She was Vice-Captain of hockey at Sutton High School despite the paralysis affecting her left arm and leg. She brought up three large and difficult children, shopped on her bicycle, took us for walks on Saturdays and to church on Sundays, wrote for the blind, worked in the night shelter, took an active part in the Mother's Union, sold cakes for the Queen Elizabeth Training College fete. Her pragmatism was such that she always chose the cake stall, as the cakes sold quickly and we could pack up and go home before the crowds.

The church, the arts and politics also united mother and father. While father was good on committees, mother was more of a doer - up for most of the things in church life. They both enjoyed the National Theatre and the Thorndike, but mother was keen on poetry while father loved classical music. Mother's taste in music was more the post-war American musicals - Annie Get Your Gun, ("Anything you can do I can do better"), South Pacific, and most of all Oklahoma. The organ will play us out with some of this kind of music and send us to the church hall for tea and sandwiches.

Mother was unfailingly cheerful and interested in everyone and everything they did. She said she could forgive someone anything as long as they made her laugh - and if she was not laughing, she was smiling, and if she was not smiling, she was talking, telling stories, or asking for the latest news of children or friends or relatives or jobs. An encyclopaedic memory of people and their connections. We felt as children that we knew her childhood friends like Pauline Gye (killed by a flying bomb in the Guards Chapel in 1944), and her nanny Minnie (from Penarth), her cousin Binky killed at Dunkirk, her aunts Gwen, Vi and Lottie, her friends in the Blitz and her many relatives.

Mother was a true internationalist, with a joy in travelling abroad. We had Dutch and Austrian au pair girls looking after us, organized by Mother's wartime friend Janna Sauer who has come from Holland to be here today. Mother loved little details of Dutch life like St Nicholas Day, appropriate in this church, speculaas biscuits and Droste chocolates. She fostered the connection with the Appia family from France who passed summer exchanges with us to the third generation. Frank and Isabelle Appia are here with us today on a one day dash from Paris and back by Eurostar. Mother loved the scene in Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle where the bourgeoise lady turns on the front garden fountain only for guests, and is discomforted when she sees that she has turned it on for the dustmen. Mother would turn on fountains for dustmen and duchesses.

Mother was a strong supporter of the NHS, despite her experiences at Epsom hospital, and a strong believer in vaccination, MMR included, despite her own unfortunate childhood vaccination which lead to paralysis of her left side. Still, she believed in honest dirt - no excessive cleanliness or houseproudness. And she had an unerring instinct for 'side' as she called it - hypocrisy, condescension, snobbery.

No royalist, she did like the romance of aristocracy and her mother's claim to be descended from Owen Glendwr and Llewellyn the Great. She hated with passion most politicians, and had a good rant with David Eaton the Monday before she died about Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Iraq. She liked other Tonys - Tony Leach of course, Tony Benn, Tony Crosland - plus Nye Bevan, her Welsh hero, and a few chosen women politicians like Barbara Castle and Mo Mowlem.

Nick Guest, mother's nephew, wrote to us with his memory of a typical teatime conversation in our house.
Mother: "We must get British troops out of Northern Ireland at once!"
Father: 'Nonsense'.
Then without a beat mother changed the subject. We used to cover a lot of topics at teatime, all very briefly.

What an incredibly regular timetable she had. Everyone had their timed telephone call, daily, weekly, fortnightly even. As children we always knew that supper was at seven and that the menu of breakfast, lunch, tea and supper followed immutable laws based on the day of the week, and whether it was term-time or holidays. Later on she became very interested in clocks, and had three or four within earshot.

Mother died on 19th May at about 4 in the morning. She used to love Dylan Thomas, especially Under Milk Wood, but she disobeyed his instruction ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. She had a very peaceful and gentle two months at home with Cal looking after her. She was cheerful and happy to see her visitors, always interested in their doings and unfailingly kind.

Her face was peaceful and gentle when she died.

Most of all, mother loved her family and friends. And her children’s and grandchildren’s friends – some here today and a surprising number have written saying they think of her as a second mother. We are so grateful to you all for how much you cared for her and kept her going, particularly in this last year without father but also very much so in the twenty years since she broke her hip and was on a walking frame. She missed coming to church intensely, and wished she could have come here last March for a service for father.

But you kept her in touch with Leatherhead and the family and friends beyond, and she felt all the time that she was part of your lives - and you were vital to hers.

She was great at endearments - everyone was darling, honeybunch, my favourite. And she was not bad at telling us off either - I will miss being called a fathead, or a great gump. And everyone was 'dotty'. She would think we were dotty for going on like this - but as she would say, you are all darlings, and she loved you very much.

Read by John at Mother's funeral 1st June 2007, The Glorious First of June:

Mother enjoyed Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as do I so I am going to read just a few verses:

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And now some A.A. Milne - a bit of a contrast...

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier's life is terrible hard,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
"One of the sergeants looks after their socks,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea,"
Says Alice.

Recently I've thought of Mother as an acrobat, somersaulting through time and space, so to end with a few lines from her brother Harry Guest from his radio play The Emperor of Outer Space

I head at last for an unknown meeting place:
bright jagged hills
beyond a tilted lake
iced yellow with pale wisps of steam
uncoiling from its surface.

a tall cathedral of black metal.
Two shafts of light falling on the carved red throne.
And at my coronation
to be placed upon my head
the crown of moons.

Canon David Eaton's Address

The last time I saw Jill she kept moving about.

She was in bed and the bed was one of those that lifts you up and lies you flat, as you please. She kept going up and down. Being a bit slow I couldn’t work out what was going on. But of course, it was Jill, at the controls, under the covers where I couldn’t see, operating the switches. A small deception. But it made us both laugh.

As we have heard, laughing is something Jill was good at and revelled in. Jill was good company to be with, to the very end. She was enthusiastic and engaged; pleased to see you, hardly ever talking about herself, always more interested in her visitors.

Before I came to this parish, Jill and Tony had already been at the centre of church life; they were key players on whom the life of the church turned. They were perfect foils for each other: Tony the professional from the world of local government and education: sanguine and restrained, diplomatic but with an innate sense of knowing what was good or best.

Jill: the enthusiast, heart on sleeve, genuinely concerned about other people and their well-being, outrageous but sound as a bell, good as an angel. Church life was different then, the introspection and neurosis hadn’t set in! We weren’t preoccupied with numbers, targets, action plans, quotas.

There was still an underlying confidence which didn’t depend on a tighter and tighter definition of who was in and who was out. It meant the church sat comfortably in the community. It knew it was there to serve. Jill came to church life with just that sense of service, for no better reason than she enjoyed it.

She enjoyed people and making community. Other people willingly got caught by her enthusiasm and gave themselves too. It all sprang from her faith and belief, but, mercifully, it wasn’t this she was selling, it was rather a joy in life, being together and relishing the moment.

Jill and Tony represented the best in public service as an ethic to live by, but also a way of life to wrap yourself in. A “me-me” culture doesn’t understand that so well or even recognise it. Duty and service aren’t in fashion. They can be deadly when they come from obligation. But when they are inspired by conviction and enjoyment they hold something essentially Christian at their heart. It was this Jill personified and for which she rightly deserves to be remembered.

Her faith was always practical. She could smell out empty theory. She liked faith down to earth, at full volume, and in touch with real life. There was never anything small minded, only an enormous hug for the world. She had a way of drawing people in and making them feel wanted and valued and at home.

Home was very important. Her identity was wrapped up in 29 Kingston Road and it breathes her presence. It is fitting that she not only lived there all those years, but died there too. Thanks to the considerable devotion and love of her family which made it possible.

It is a house with many memories, including being the Labour Party Committee Room whenever there was an election. The Red Flag, at least metaphorically, flew from the roof top. Blood and Fire was the order of the day. It had the feel of War Cabinet meetings at Cherkley Court. Guess who was Winston Churchill, or should I say Clem Attlee!

It all appealed to Jill’s sense of justice and a fairer and more equal society. This was fuelled by her experience in housing, but also her innate concern for the well being of other people. It was on the back of this she organised letter writing for residents at the Blind School. She was an inveterate letter writer and card sender herself. Birthdays and Christmases never passed without a trip to the post box – sometimes for people she may only have had a slight connection with, as well as established friends and family. Book tokens in plenty were included.

She could only do all this because she was well organised, a fact sometimes screened by her bluster. But certainly in early retirement the days were mapped out and well ordered, as if Tony was still off to the office and the family to school. It was later, as she became more confined to barracks, that she became a provincial office for Reuters. The phone was her lifeline. She was a mobile phone user before they had been invented! She knew before almost anyone else what happened and who was involved. Some of this was laced with love and concern for people up against it, some were practical matters involved in church life and keeping us on the road, and some was the joy of gossip - an indiscretion in later life I very much look forward to emulating.

In fact, the practical way she arranged by phone those who would read and intercede and present the offertory at the altar, was a great help to me. She could always be relied on; and they always turned up. No doubt the wrath to come from Kingston Road if they didn’t was a stimulating influence.

Jill was a voracious reader and did book reviews regularly for the magazine. She leapt through books in the way other people put away large dinners. It was born of love for life as well as her natural intelligence and good taste. Jill delved into the nuts and bolts of church life at every level: arranging flowers, making coffee, delivering magazines, cleaning brass, preparing lunches, being Mothers’ Union.

Jill and Tony 1988 (via Alison Wright)

sharing a joke with Horace Wright 1988 (via Alison Wright)

But at the heart of it all was her faith in God. That faith found its richest expression in the celebration which was her life and daily living. She was a dance and a party, a poem, an exclamation mark, and a sunrise, because that’s the way she believed life should be lived and the way God intended. She was able to be herself without apology but without being egocentric either.

Exasperating at times, no doubt, but it didn’t matter because she was married to a saint. She loved God and she loved life and it was enough and she knew it. Those of us who make life a lot more complicated take heart: remember Jill and keep it simple, be yourself as God intended. Which doesn’t mean she didn’t know life’s cutting edge too. She said: “Getting old isn’t for wimps!” It isn’t, and she knew it; and she wasn’t. It didn’t make any difference because her spirit was irrepressible.

There’ll be laughter in heaven now for sure.

Jill Leach - from the July 2007 Parish magazine
On 1st June, three weeks before her 87th birthday, well over 100 of us, family and friends, gathered to give thanks for Jill's life and to remember how she had meant so much to each of us. For over 50 years she and her husband Tony had been vital members of this Church and of an ever-widening circle of friends. Tony was the committee man, while Jill was the one who sought out and linked up with people, always ready to welcome newcomers, making friends whom she would encourage and support, unfailingly interested in their concerns.

Because of a childhood infection, Jill was partially paralysed on the left side, but she never allowed this to affect what she did, becoming vice captain both of the hockey team and of the school at Sutton High School, flogging round bombed London housing estates throughout the war years as a housing manager, then bringing up her family in the three-storey house which she loved, and delighting in holiday travel abroad.

In recent years, when she became housebound because of a broken hip, she organised the rota of readers and leaders of intercessions for the weekly services at the Church, and kept in touch with people and events, constantly welcoming visitors and making regular phone calls to a huge number of friends. Whatever her own difficulties she was always cheerful.

Jill was a voracious reader, and for a time wrote book reviews for the Parish Magazine. The Times she devoured daily, though when they were young she had felt she should provide other opinions also for her children to read. She remained a committed Labour supporter, inviting the local Labour committee to meet in her house at election times. Most of all she loved to talk, to hear the latest news and to share a good laugh.

For the past year Jill has been without her dear Tony while Jane, Robert and John and his wife Carolyn have lovingly provided the care that she needed. Now that we believe she is reunited with him we extend our sympathy to them and all the family and we give thanks for their devotion and for her indomitable and generous spirit.
Christine Bryant

Jill's funeral took place on 1 June 2007: If you have any memories of Jill please contact Frank Haslam, the editor of these pages.

see also Tony Leach MBE

last updated 1 July 2007

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