We held a wonderful thanksgiving service today for my mother Barrie Ledingham who died on the 8th February 2009. I gave this eulogy.
Barrie was named after her father’s favourite writer J. M Barrie who wrote Peter Pan, sometimes known as “The boy who never grew up”.
In a peculiar way mum lived up to her namesake’s central character, as she always managed to maintain a wide eyed wonder of the world and saw it afresh every day. It was this innocence and openness that made her such an attractive character and one who made lifetime friends with such remarkable frequency.
Her character was undoubtedly shaped by her experiences in Malaya before the war. Living an isolated and colonial existence on a rubber plantation deep in the Cameron Highlands she depended upon her lively imagination to create friends and play worlds. Her parents were both in their forties when she was born yet she cherished this time with them both and the enforced separation from them when she returned to Scotland was only endured through her capacity to always see the best.
When Singapore fell and her father was taken prisoner the family went two years without knowing if he was alive. Barrie worshipped her father and used to tell the story of of him eventually returning to Scotland and getting off the train – 8 years after she had last seen him and 8 stones lighter.
Mum’s personality which could best be described as fun loving, warm and exceptionally generous. These qualities were underpinned by her less obvious, but no less strong, gifts of an incredible inner fortitude, a sense of duty. and self sacrifice to others needs.
Her early life both abroad and in Scotland followed by qualifying as a midwife, her achieving rank of Lieutenant in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, her time in Germany all prepared her for her her greatest achievement.
Mum and dad had fallen in love at first sight in Alford, Aberdeenshire. That love had endured and grown throughout their training and separation due to national service, through to their marriage in 1957.
And so they were ready for their ultimate challenge – something that both of them had unknowingly been working towards throughout their lives up to that point. When they bought 26 Duddingston Crescent, Edinburgh and dad put his plate up on the wall it needed two exceptional people to make it a success – and a success it was. In a time now when doctor’s practices are governed by strict working hours and appointment systems – we were brought up in an environment where duty and service to the community came first, last and always.
Mum’s inner strength and ability to sacrifice her own needs ensured that the community and her family were well served – all done with an amazing sense of fun. Yet for all the hard work that this was mum could still look back on this time as one of the happiest in her life.
As a mother mum sacrificed her own needs. She always attended everyone’s parents’ evenings,watched us play rugby and hockey. She was our greatest supporter – regardless of how poor we might have been. I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we owe her so much. Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing. If you can imagine her trying to keep three teenage boys in line – never mind a wayward daughter brought it’s own difficulties. One day over dinner she was berating all of us with equal venom – when my brothers and I decided we’d had enough. So we picked her up and sat her on top of our old style American fridge. There she sat helplessly shouting at us as we went about eating our tea.
Yet mum was no softy when direct action was required. As a sneak thief learned one day to his cost when he tried to creep through an open window. Mum – at that time in her 60’s – took immediate action and grabbed him by the leg. So there they were, a stalemate – with him half way out the window and wee old woman determinedly attached to his leg. He shouted and swore but he really should have known better – mum’s never let go of anything in her life. Eventually he wriggled free leaving behind his shoe – which mum kept as memento of her struggle
To have the security provided by mum and dad was a fantastic. They were a truly remarkable pair who depended upon each other fulfil their own dreams and ambitions. Yet on dad’s death mum set about making her own life. She always saw everyone else’s problem as being so much greater than her own. In fact she always talked about how lucky she was – when in so many cases – particularly about her own health – she was so unlucky. But that was mum for you. Her sense of duty saw her go out to complete her voluntary service work at times when she should have stayed at home.
As a grandmother and mother-in-law she extended her family and embraced everyone as an individual. There were no favourites in mother’s heart – there was more than enough space for everyone.
Yet it was her capacity to make instant positive contact with people that probably marked her out so much. There was something about her that people warmed to. Perhaps it was because she had an aura of honesty – she didn’t know how to tell a lie? Perhaps it was because she always expressed such interest in other people’s lives and didn’t start every sentence about herself? Of perhaps it was because she had retained her child like love of the world.? Not for her any world weary cynicism or natural distrust. Perhaps her father did provide her with her greatest legacy when he named after the creator of Peter Pan? For she only ever saw the world through the eye’s of an optimist – someone for whom things would always get better. Even in her darkest days – she only saw the light.