L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

20 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

Jean Constance Lucy Turner

28 January 1929 - 20 December 2008
My mother was a teacher, missionary, devout christian, wife and mother.

She was born in an Army encampment, the daughter and first child of Lieutenant A J Macdonald (Royal Engineers) and Dr S C C Macdonald. I am not sure where (I would need to check) though it may have been Gibraltar. Army life means of course frequent transfers and wherever she was born, she was taken to a variety locations as a child. The family moved to Malta when she was quite small. After some years her father was promoted to Captain and transfered to the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers - again records that I don't have here would be useful to confirm the dates. Her father died on the Franco-Belgian border during the 1940 blitzkrieg.

She attended Godolphin school for girls in 1940s and went up to Cambridge shortly after the end of the war. At Newnham college she read English and took her BA. She then extended this with a teaching certificate and, having gained that took up a teaching job in the south of England. At some point in the 1950s she had either a long holiday or a temporary job in Paris. There she was once accosted by soem Americans who begged her to guide them to "Lez Champps Eelaizees" a place that no French person recognized. In the late 1950s she, and her mother (my grandmother), decided to become Missionaries. My grandmother as a doctor, my mother as a teacher. They joined CMS and after language training embarked on a ship to India. They arrived there in about 1960 and my mother taught at Sarah Tucker College for girls in Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu.

So far as I can tell she was a dealy loved and valued member of staff there. She became reasonably fluent in Tamil and, perhaps thanks to her mother's medical outreach, active in more than just the college itself. In about 1964 she and her mother had a long furlough back in the UK and her mother decided to remain there. My mother went back, which was a very good thing because she met a nice missionary priest at the nearby male college. He was a few years older than she was, but he too was single, and in the small missionary community there they were really the only unmarried people of roughly similar age. Love blossomed, despite the various roadblocks of various Indians who seemed to feel that impropriety would result from their getting together and in 1967 they returned to England to get married. Initially I believe they intended to return to India again but firstly I was born and secondly my other grandmother was getting a little frail so they settled down in the UK as parish priest and wife, first in Dagenham and then in Weeley (near Colchester).

I of course was busy growing up at this time so my memories are limited but I know that my mother threw herself into the life of "Mrs Vicar/Rector", joining and helping to run the Mother's Union, the Women's Institute, church flower rotas, choirs and so on. I have always wondered how unmarried priests manage the burden because a conscientious parish priest never seems to have a spare moment and that's even with his wife to shoulder part of the load. My parents worked as a team and I believe their parishoners appreciated my mother just as much as my father.

My parents lost their mothers within 3 weeks of each other in 1978 and not too long after that my father sought an alternative to parish priesting. He found his alternative at St Deniol's Library in North Wales where he became subwarden and my mother also become part of the library staff there. She may not have been a trained librarian but that may actually have been a benefit because the library is catalogued under a scheme which is best described as "idiosyncratic". They both enjoyed themselves very much there and my mother in particular enjoyed the chance to pick and choose her commitments. I don't think she was any less busy than she had been before but now she was able to skip the groups that she had felt obliged to join because of beng "Mrs Rector".

Eventually my father decided to retire and they moved to his mother's former house in Frinton-on-Sea, a place famous for it's level crossing, lack of pub and the graffitied advertising slogan "Harwich for the Continent Frinton for the Incontinent." In the 20 years or so that they were nominally retired there I don't think they noticed retirement other than as an excuse to not do things they didn't like. My mother, as in North Wales, joined all the local groups that interested her and, since I'd left home, she found the time to become more spiritual. Beyond that they travelled. To the Soviet Union, as it was the first time or two, and then to Russia as it became. To the holy land. To visit me in Japan and California. Mostly they travelled together but my mother returned to Sarah Tucker College for its centenary celebrations on her own and also, separately went to Kerala. They also visited Italy, Greece and Turkey and were quite interested to go elsewhere. Many of their trips were partially religiously inspired but they also took a lively interest in the tourism opportunities.

One of their peculiarities is that they liked to use publisc transport, even when this seemed less than completely sensible. When they went to the Holy Land they used Tel Aviv central bus station which is not something the average aged tourist visits and thereby caused the nice security people in the airport to wonder just what they were doing.

Gradually my mother became feebler - my father too but he has so far been far more healthy - needing to perform various exercises in order to stay reasonably fit. Three years ago she had an accident with her bicycle - she didn't fall off it, but she managed to get it to fall on her while she was opening the gate - that caused her to fracture her hip. She had a hip replacement and, although she recovered enough to get back on the bike, she always seemed frailer afterwards. Mind you there are degrees of feebleness and she was never bedridden until the last week or so.

I don't know all of the details but a week ago my father called to tell me she'd caught this winter's stomach flu bug and that she was suffering (emabrassingly) from diarrhea. I talked to her on Sunday or Monday and she sounded weak but not particularly ill, when I asked if I should come to visit before christmas she said no but that she was lookign forward to seeing me. On Thursday the illness had weakened her so much that she stayed in bed. Various doctors, nurses and so on visited. More visited yesterday and this morning my father reported that she seemed to be improving. She wasn't. In the afternoon a doctor was scheduled to visit at 4pm and when he arrived a few minutes late he found that she had weakened even more. He immediately called for an ambulance but it was too late. She died at about 4:30pm before the ambulance could arrive.