Mum was born on the 25th April 1945 to Tom and Elsie Heeson in the village of Carlinghow, near Batley. When thinking of mum, her Yorkshire roots were such an integral part of her, my brother and I fondly remember her Yorkshire burr, both thinking ‘herry up’ was actually how you told people to move along a little quicker.
Mum spent her first few years there, before moving to Selby. After time at the local village school, mum sat the 11+. Only she and one boy sat the exam, apparently doing the exam behind a set of cupboards to separate them from the rest of the class. Mum, obviously, did very well, and her results took her to the local grammar.
Mum never elaborated much on her school days, but she did tell me it was her key to gaining the best life she could: She desperately wanted to be university-educated and to become a teacher. And true to her dreams, she did both.
After A Levels, Mum made her move to the Midlands, which would become her home for the rest of her life. Mum gained her teaching qualifications and began teaching within the primary sector. I loved the tales of my mum at university: from protesting and ‘sitting in’ at demonstrations to going to see live bands, such as The Who. When asked what she thought of them, she said ‘b***** awful’. She also mentioned once or twice walking around barefooted … well it was the 1960s.
It was around this time, that my mum was to meet my dad. Of course, there are two different versions of the story: According to Mum, she met Dad at a dance, according to Dad, Mum was second prize in a raffle. Whose version you choose to believe is totally up to you. Within a year or so, Dad, the old romantic, had proposed to her whilst sitting in the car, in a car park.
Mum and Dad were married in August 1970 in the rather grand Selby Abbey. Shortly after marrying, Mum and Dad decided to move out of Birmingham to Stourbridge, which felt like a country idyll after living in the city. I, personally, am forever glad they chose Stourbridge. It was a wonderful place to grow up (even if I didn’t always think that whilst i was actually growing up) and it has provided me with a wealth of lifelong friends. Even though ‘home’ is now London, Stourbridge will always remain my true home, as it will for David.
Mum taught at St James’ and still to this day, former pupils from that time remember her. And of course, the length of her teaching career within Stourbridge meant she also taught some of THEIR children! She loved this, and loved reconnecting with people.
In 1973, their first baby was born: David Lewis. A bonny, bright baby who lit up their lives. However, they hadn’t quite reached perfection, so they decided to have another baby and along I came in 1976. I joke, but I know my arrival heralded a very happy period in my parents’ lives with their two small children.
My mum always said that they didn’t have a lot when we were little, but we really did: We had all the love, affection and devotion any child could want or need. The photo albums are rammed with pictures of ice-cream smeared faces on the Gower coast, trips to the Severn Valley and playing in the garden. Apparently, according to Mum, we were at our happiest on cricket club days playing in the fields with a bag of crisps and a bottle of vimto, whilst she helped make the cricket teas.
Of course, school soon reared its head for my brother and I, and it also meant Mum returning to work. I cannot talk about Mum without talking about her illustrious teaching career.
Mum started off teaching again at Stourbridge college, with a few day shifts and also working at the night school. Although this wasn’t really what she wanted to do, it fitted well with her young children and also meant she could provide the extras for us, like canvas holidays in France and trips to London to see the sights. This was mum to a tee – making sure she gave us all she could.
In the mid-80s Mum moved to work as an English teacher at Longlands. Mum flourished here: She loved the school, the pupils and the parent body. These years, were some of her happiest teaching. I remember her enthusiasm for bringing in drama and her pure passion for her subject which was so evident in her teaching. A passion the pupils would develop themselves.
Mum then moved to Ridgewood when Longlands merged with High Park. Here, her career took off, and she eventually became head of english. I’ve yet to meet a pupil who was not inspired my mum: whether it was further studies of English or just a love of reading, or just helping them be the best person they could. Teaching is a vocation and I feel that my mum really embodied this and was quite the most remarkable teacher. Bev, a former pupil, recently wrote a tribute in the Stourbridge news, and it was shared on Facebook 100s of times, Wendy went viral!
I received the following tribute about mum from a former pupil who is now an english teacher:
“she was a master craftsman, with passion, with patience. I vividly remember the magical worlds she would create when we studied poetry. Whenever my students struggle with words I remember the sheer joy of Mrs Gwynne’s classrooms. The way she gave flavours and colours to words just by speaking them in her funny accent’.
In addition to ‘going the extra mile’ as a teacher, she also directed the school plays. Over the years she helped put on Bugsy Malone, Wind in the Willows, Singing in the Rain, Oliver, Grease but to name a few. Again, her drawers are rammed full of cards thanking Mrs Gwynne for all her hard work and how much they’d enjoyed the show, and how they never knew they could act and sing and how much they had loved it. Mum made school a fun place for the kids, and not only that, helped they discover new talents and better themselves.
Of course, this didn’t stop David and I eye-rolling every time she told us about the latest success story of a pupil. So much so, we invented ‘The Wendy Gwynne Success Story’ – ‘well, I had a pupil who spoke no English when he came to me. Five years on he got 2 As, then an A at a level, a first from Oxford and is now the leading specialist on First World War Poetry and it’s all down to me.’
But I jest, Im yet to meet a pupil who didn’t just love her.
One thing has struck me as an adult, especially now I have my own family. My mum worked full time, not just going and doing her job, but really putting her heart and soul into it, she was also a very present mum and wife. Every night at 530, a home cooked meal was on the table and she was always there to help with homework. Well, not the maths, she left that to Dad …
During her time at Ridgewood, Mum also became very involved in the exam board. Firstly, becoming an examiner and later a group leader and also visiting schools who were using the exam board. One of the things she loved most about working for the exam bpards, was going to Manchester as part of the marking team. She loved the social aspect of these times, and made a great group of friends. In fact, even after she retired form classroom teaching, she carried on working for the exam board until 2011.
Of all the roles Mum had, her most treasured role was that of being Grammie to Caitlin, Josh, Meredith, Beatrice, Edward and Stephen. You children were the light of her life, and she loved you all unconditionally. When I gave birth to Caitlin in 2005 and then Josh in 2007, Mum and Dad visited very frequently, determined Caitlin and Josh would not only know them, but also love them and be comfortable with them. There were so many wonderful afternoons at Tooting common with ice creams, fruit pastilles and playing at the park. As they got older, my children would go and visit individually, where mum would quite frankly ruin them. They’d sleep in her bed, come home with bag full of tat, I mean wonderful gifts and have trips out to all their favourite places. I really hope your heads are full of these wonderful memories she strove so hard to give you. She was the most wonderful grandmother and her heart burst with love for you all. As you all grow, I will be looking for signs of Grammie in you all; whether it be a love for reading or gardening or just for shopping in TKMaxx, but most of all I hope you carry on her love and kindness for all people.
Of course, there was also her favourite grandchild, Otto the dog, who insisted on being here today. I would never call my mother scheming apart from when it came to Otto “you sound ever so busy, shall I pop down and get Otto for a few days?’
Overhearing a conversation with my husband: ‘I just want a small dog, who sits on your lap and follows me about’ ‘Wendy, you are not having Otto’.
Of course, Otto loved her, and would growl if you tried to move him off her lap, and he would readily run to her on any given occasion. Personally, I think it was the endless treats and ham sandwiches she gave him that may have influenced him …
I don’t think I can talk about Mum without mentioning kindness. It was almost mums reason for being here. Only a handful of people know this, but she was also a volunteer for the Samaritans. After a full working week, she often used to go and man the phones for a nightshift on a Friday. She was a volunteer for at least 30 years, if not longer. Her kindness didn’t stop there, Mum often took communion out to people unable to attend church and I know she was more than someone giving bread and wine, she a contact to the outside world and a friendly face.
Mum was always very helpful when she came to visit both David and I. We were both very grateful for how she’d rifle through our cupboards to see what food stuffs we were short of, and she’d quickly slip on her coat and ‘just pop out’ as she’d noticed we only had a few grains of couscous left. It didn’t matter we weren’t planning on cooking couscous anytime soon, she just wanted to make sure we were fully stocked. it did get her into trouble once though, when my dad mistakenly put couscous into their coffee thinking it was brown sugar.
But Mum just loved caring for us and looking after us. Any trip to Mums was filled with food. Often as the last mouthful of breakfast was being chewed, she’d be onto what you wanted for lunch and supper. She always cooked our favourite foods that she would have nipped to Waitroses to get, and even a short month before she died, she cooked us a roast dinner, she just couldn’t help herself.
Mum also was Dad’s main carer during his illness. True to her marriage vows, she looked after him in sickness and health. The stoicism she took on during that time were nothing short of heroic. Dad wanted to die at home and mum made sure that this happened.
When I visited Mum in hospital, the nurses knew who i was as soon as I walked through the door: Mum talked about us all so much. I am thrilled that as her daughter, I made her proud. It’s my biggest achievement. In the months before she died, she told me your children only become your friends in adulthood, and indeed, we had become the very best of friends. I’ll treasure our trips to art galleries and the theatre, and of course to certain shops that may sell fashion at a discounted price. Not to mention our texting during strictly come dancing – we were team stacey. Although, in true mum fashion, she always praised how lovely Kevin was and how he was so generous to Stacey, letting her take all the glory when in fact, he’d done all the work.
Mum wasn’t just about people, she also had wide-ranging interests. From constant listening to Radio 4, reading and she loved a bit of tele. I’ve talked about Strictly, but she also loved Bake Off, any property programme and a good BBC drama. Reading was an integral part of mum’s life – and she often gave me recommendations which ranged from Margaret Atwood to Helen Fielding and anything in between. In fact, Tom and I are a little worried that we are going to have to start buying our own books … She was always up for a conversation on a book, and even in her dying days she managed to read a novel by Sebastian Faulks.
Of course, Mum just loved people … and also their houses. She was forever on rightmove, particularly if a house on her road went on the market. She just loved looking at houses. She’s been known to walk into lampposts whilst looking at houses and one time she got on her hand knees in the middle of Wandsworth so she could have a better look at someone’s basement conversion. Tom, my husband, quickly worked out it was better to walk ahead with my Dad … She even confessed to me she was walking in someones front garden in Norfolk so she could have a peer in their lounge when they suddenly appeared in the room ….
And Mum loved going to different stately houses and gardens and having a good old nose with her partner in crime, Sheila. They liked nothing more than having a good look at the plants and getting ideas for their own gardens. One of mum’s great loves was her garden, and for those who saw it, will know it was nothing less than a triumph. It looked utterly beautiful at all times of the year and she took such time and energy to keep it looking as wonderful as it did. She also loved, that just over the fence, Sheila would also be gardening, and the two of them would frequently stand by the fence for a gossip, or is it called ‘Neighbourhood watch’? Sometimes, gardening would move to the front garden, and Im sure the binoculars were just to look for those difficult weeds, weren’t they? I know Sheila you have many memories to treasure of Mum, and hers of you were full of laughter and love.
Lastly, I want to touch on her faith and how much she loved the St Thomas’s community. Her faith gave her peace in her final days and it also completely took away her fear of dying. As her daughter, nothing comforted me more. I would also like to thank the people of St Thomas’s for your unwavering love, support and prayers during this very difficult time.
Mum, Wendy, Mrs Gwynne, Grammie, Granny, however you knew her, I think we can all agree she was a truly marvellous woman who will be immensely missed.