Parish of Leatherhead

Rene Vokes
14 July 1919-31 August 2007

A large congregation reflecting her many interests attended Rene's funeral on Friday 14 September 2007 at her beloved Parish Church.

The service was taken by Canon David Eaton. The Director of Music, David Oliver led the choir.

taken at the wedding of grandson Ben & Vivienne on 7th July 2007
and used on her order of service: family

Rene's flowers: Haslam

Rene had provided careful instructions on the service she wanted.
The hymns were O Jesus I have promised and Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy.
The readings were No funeral gloom, my dears by William Allingham (A favourite poem of Dame Ellen Terry, Actress) read by Rene's daughter Joan:

No funeral gloom, my dears, when I am gone,
Corpse-gazings, tears, black raiment, graveyard grimness;
Yours still, you mine, remember all the best
Of our past moments, and forget the rest,
And so, to where I wait, come gently on.
William Allingham, A Diary (1907).

and What is death? (Death is nothing at all) by Canon Henry Scott Holland, read by Rene's former neighbour and family friend, Jane Haslam.
The Psalm was Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; the Reading was Revelation Chapter 21 vv1-7.

The family tribute, of recollections by Rene's daughters Joan and Hazel, was given by Joan:

Joan’s Memories of a dear Mama: Hazel and I had a very happy childhood. Memories of playing board games, card games and doing jigsaws on winter evenings, and picnics in the park after school in the summer. All jolly occasions which Mama enjoyed as much as we did. I also remember large family gatherings with assorted aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying tea and sandwiches in our garden at Cheam. We were fortunate that the weather was always fine on these occasions.

In those days, Mama enjoyed knitting and many of our garments were hand-knitted, including SWIMMING COSTUMES , which when wet, travelled southwards, ending up around our knees as we emerged from the sea!

Mama was a wonderful Grandmother, much loved by my three sons. She was at the birth of my middle son, Justin, and stayed with me for a week afterwards, cooking me liver for lunch every day as it was ‘nourishing’. (A favourite word of hers). She took her Grandsons’ teasing in good humour and enjoyed their visits enormously, and they loved her coming to visit us. She followed their progress through school and was interested in their careers when they were older.

We often laughed when some words were muddled up. I remember when Mama phoned me after she’d been to see Hazel and John’s Peaslake house for the first time. “They have a Suzuki in their bathroom!” she excitedly announced. What she meant was - they have a jacuzzi!

For over 40 years, Mama had travelled far and wide to watch me act in various amateur dramatic productions, always giving praise, even on the times I knew I hadn’t been so good.

Many things were bought in threes - one for herself and the other two for ‘us girls’. The latest thing was some face cream that had been advertised on television. She wondered afterwards why she had bought the cream as she said her wrinkles were beyond help, and ours were non-existent! (This was BEFORE her cataract operation)!

I feel so grateful to have such happy memories of Mama. These I shall always treasure. Above all, I know that she loved her daughters as much as we loved her.

Hazel's memories: When we were small children, she was always there for us: she hugged us, cuddled us, cared for us, played with us, sang to us: ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ being one of my particular favourites. She was always so proud of our little successes and achievements, and also our failures! Coming last in a Brownie swimming gala, she still said I’d done very well - after all, someone had to come last!

Throughout my adult life she has supported and encouraged me. She entered into the spirit of everything and loved to be included in many of our activities. Our friends have marvelled at her enthusiasm and love of life.

Her positive approach to life stayed with her to the end. Her calendar was crammed with events and activities: she looked forward to and enjoyed every occasion, whether small or grand - and had a wardrobe full of fashionable and smart clothes to match! For someone in their late 80s to live life so much to the full is an inspiration to us all.

Just a couple of months ago she had her second cataract operation on her eye, after which we took her back home to London with us for the weekend. Although a minor procedure, most 88 year-olds might welcome at least a quiet evening to get over the ordeal. But our mother not only enjoyed the car ride into London but tucked into a full plate of fish and chips on arrival plus a couple of glasses of wine!

We all love and miss her more than words can tell but thank God we were fortunate enough to have such a wonderful mother who was able to get so much out of life right to the very end.

The Address was given by Canon David Eaton:

Joan has given a fine and deserved tribute to Rene. I used to think that Rene had the elixir of eternal youth. She always looked the same and much younger than she actually was.

She was a great and loyal supporter, that was her style and her intent. You could always count on Rene being there. This was certainly true about her support for the Thorndike. She had been in on the initial fund-raising for the newly planned theatre. The Thorndike came into being because of local enthusiastic support. Rene was a prime example of many local people who rallied to the cause under Hazel Vincent Wallace’s leadership. When it opened Rene then became one of the staff. She started in the mailing office and then moved to the Information Desk. She was to be found there for at least 20 years until her retirement. After which she became one of the band of volunteer supporters again and served on the Friends of the Thorndike committee.

When she retired the theatre workshop gave her a silver telephone they had made in her honour. Perhaps it was to phone the noble band of former Thorndike staff and supporters, of which she was a key member, which continued to meet and talk over old times once the theatre had closed.

Nick Cressey, who was front of house manager, remembers Rene as setting the tone for the public face of the Thorndike: she knew everyone and wanted to help them have the best experience possible of what the Thorndike had to offer. Her passion for the Thorndike was communicated with ease and grace. She always wore a smile and had a kind word.

Nick also recalls that Rene could be unconsciously amusing, but was good-hearted enough to appreciate the joke when it was pointed out. He says: “The code for a fire in the building was ‘Mr South’. I once told Rene that ‘Mr South’ was backstage – meaning call the Fire Brigade and evacuate the building quietly. She insisted that nobody got backstage without her knowing (which was true) and Mr South had not presented himself at the desk. When reminded that it was a code we both laughed so much it was a mercy that it was only a fire drill.”

Her loyalty to the Thorndike was matched by her loyalty to this church. The last Sunday of this month is Back to Church Sunday when people who have become detached from church life can be invited to return. Jane Haslam recalls Rene was an early example of someone who was pleased to respond positively to Jane’s invitation. She never looked back or went away.

She was the most energetic and faithful of church members and she was in the midst of church life. I worked out that in the weeks if not the days before her death she had been to a 70th birthday party and a 21st and also supported the Friends’ of the Parish Church visit to Wimbledon for a tour and a cream tea.

She was without guile and had a way of looking at you which came close to wide-eyed innocence. She was just good company and fun to be with.

Mind you, she could wrinkle up a bit and had a nice line in mild indignation. That was especially true if you sat in her seat in church. But Rene wasn’t here to stake a claim but to pray to God. Her faith was real and true and in many ways this was the back-bone of her life. It wasn’t paraded but simply part and parcel of who she was and what she did. Her death has robbed us of a person whose energy and presence has been at the centre of church and community life got many years.

We extend sincere sympathies to Hazel and Joan and their families today.

Revelation’s vision of the after-life is of a place where sorrow and pain have been replaced by joy and laughter. That contrast is also very near at the heart of theatre life, where the two marks of sorrow and laughter were a badge worn by the Thorndike and many other provincial theatres around the country.

Comedy and tragedy are the bread and butter of plays and productions. Church and theatre share a common cause because at the heart of faith is the great sorrow in the death of Jesus but great rejoicing in his resurrection. Perhaps it was this which attracted Rene to both. She saw in both a resonance of life as she experienced it. She knew it was often life’s cutting edge that lead to the breakthrough from darkness to light. She had faith that it had been so for her and would be again.

Rene, August 2004: Haslam

So it is with sureness and certainty we commit Rene to God’s safe keeping today. He will bring her through to a new life in a new dimension – the tears of her departing giving way to laughter in heaven on her arrival.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.


The funeral service was followed by the committal, attended by family only, at Randalls Park Crematorium. A Reception took place at Woodland Park Hotel.

L-R: Hazel, Beverly Mehta an old family friend from pre-Leatherhead days, and Joan: Haslam

L-R front: Vivienne, Joan, Hazel
back: Ben, Simon, Jane Haslam, John, Richard, Robert Haslam: Haslam

14 Sep 07 Meg Brett: This picture was taken on 24th July 2007 at a 'Thorndike' Re-Union.We shall continue with our re-unions, which Rene started, for as long as we are able.

L-R: Jan Stratford, Gordon Stratford (former Thorndike Theatre Administrator), David Brett (Chairman of the Leatherhead Drama Festival),
Colin Burgess, Rose Willis (Theatre Wardrobe), Ann Fehrenbach (Theatre Information Desk),
Rene (Information Desk), Lucy Franks (Box Office).
We were at the home of Greta Cresswell (Theatre Costume Hire).

This picture of Rene with Colin Burgess, behind Sir Michael Caine was taken by Andy Newbold at the Leatherhead Drama Festival on 19th May 2007:

16 Sep 2007 Jane Haslam writes: Frank and I first met Rene and her second husband, Len, when we moved into no.89 Windfield in May 1979, a month after our wedding at Holy Trinity, Tooting. They lived next door in the top flat which overlooks the 'entrance' to Windfield from Epsom Rd. They saw us struggling up the flights of stairs with what little furniture we had, and immediately offered us tea and whatever help they could. This became the pattern of our friendship.

As months became years, they took our milk in and put it in our fridge – we were both out at work all day. Rene worked part-time at the Thorndike Theatre, while Len was retired. My mother became ill and we brought her to our flat to recover.

Our family doctor (recommended by Rene) looked after her and Len and Rene spent time with her, checking to see that she was OK and making sure she ate during the day. Typical of them both.

photo: Rene, Dr Alan Prowse, Len, after James' christening, 1983: Haslam

We soon discovered areas of mutual interest, especially our love of the theatre, and I often visited the Thorndike with them. Rene was always cheerful, interested, made friends with all my friends, unfailingly helpful, thinking of ways to help we hadn't considered.

When I became pregnant and had James in 1983, Rene became no.1 granny and by then she was my Leatherhead Mum. She looked after James (8 weeks old) when we moved into no.56. She popped in to see me at least every week as I stayed at home to look after first James, and then Philip and Robert.

The boys and Rene had a mutual admiration society. As they grew up, their friends all got to know and love Rene, as did mine.

Our successors at no. 89 received similar love and care from Rene, as did so many of the 'flat' residents – Gwen, Betty and Malcolm were particular friends, with Rene enjoying Scrabble with the first two on a regular basis. All the 'flat' residents enjoyed the fish and chip suppers in the gardens and everyone knew and loved her.

'Aunty' Rene with James Haslam, Sep 1985

In 1987 Len died suddenly of a heart attack – Rene cried on my shoulder, one of the few times in our life together that I saw her less than happy – and she got on with her life. She had lost the love of her life, Alf, in 1969, when she was a mere 50. Her daughters, Joan and Hazel, gave her enormous joy. She was so proud of them and of Joan's sons, Richard, Justin and Ben. She was devastated when Justin died 10 years ago in a car accident, a sadness that never left her, but she continued – she made the most of what she had. She adored her sons-in-law, John and Simon. She was a family person who made room in her life for everyone.

After Len's death, Rene joined the Parish Church of St Mary & St Nicholas in Leatherhead and was an avid supporter of everything that happened. Her faith was quiet, but very real. She lived her life as a true Christian and took our Lord's commandment to 'love one another as I have loved you' to heart.

She enjoyed life to the full, and in her last month she joined the Friends' trip to Wimbledon, attended 21st and 70th birthday parties, spent the weekend with Hazel and John and had a busy diary with excursions almost every day.

photo: Rene, in front of Jane, listening intently to Philip Haslam in the Museum at Wimbledon during the Friends' visit on 5 Aug 2007. Philip spent over a year working at Wimbledon with the Head Coach as part of his degree. He had just returned from coaching some children off-site: Haslam

We loved Rene and always will. We are so grateful to have known her and to have had her in our lives.

Please, can I be Rene when I grow up? Rene & Jane, August 2004: Haslam

If you have more photos of Mary or further remembrance to add, please contact Frank Haslam, the editor of these pages.

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page last updated 17 Sep 2007