Kate Woodruff: eulogy
Mum was an utterly. excellent. mum.
Yes, she was endlessly supportive of our choices in terms of education / travel / careers / relationships. Obviously. But it’s the little details that really demonstrate it - She would not just write with love, but all love at the end of every letter, email or text message. She was respectful of our musical taste, even if this was a bit dubious at times. Ellie and I got a christmas stocking every year, until probably only 2 years ago when we had to suggest we were too old. Whenever I came home, there’d always be a small bunch of hand picked flowers in my room, to make it feel homely…
We knew mum was outstanding as a mum before, and it remains unchanged. What I want to share are a few details I’ve gathered, that show mum was extraordinary in all corners of her world, not just the ones we might know best.
She was born in Leicestershire, so that’s why if we bought pork pies they usually had to come from Melton Mowbray. Only the best.
She had a scar on her knee from where, as a child, she had attempted to ‘rescue’ her beloved siamese cat Tao from a tree.
Musically, mum started out by playing the oboe in school. Singing was originally a sideline to secretarial training in Loughborough. But her talent obviously took root, as mum went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. It was during this period that mum married our dad at the tender age of 21.
She became a music teacher, first at City of Leeds, then at West Leeds Girls, and then at good old Abbey Grange – always putting in more than might be expected, with extra curricular activities coming out of her ears (as we’ve already heard). Concert band. School productions. Denmark trips. Her effort, enthusiasm and the results acheived, left a positive influence on the people involved for years to come.
At the same time, mum was singing as part of St. Peter’s Singers, and as a soloist in venues across the country, giving memorable and admired performances, notably, in singing Bach Cantatas or Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, hence their inclusion in today’s music.
In 2001, mum took a bold step and left full time teaching. That’s when her life became the vibrant myriad of activity that still makes me wonder where she got her energy from.
Making music in one form or another was at the core.
She continued at Abbey Grange as a peripetetic singing teacher. And was employed to do similar at Ampleforth College. Dewsbury College was added to the mix for a bit where mum made music with adults with learning disabilities. She also had private pupils in both singing and piano at home.
Many pupils have expressed heartfelt gratitude to mum for her part in their development, be that in relation to breathing control, her use of visual metaphors or in confidence building. It seems she was instrumental in starting musical careers, helping people succeed in exams / auditions, and in just generally enabling people to love singing.
She had a similar impact as the conductor at Horsforth Choral Society, where for over 10 years her musical expertise and commitment has been highly valued, as has her manner, in terms of her sense of humour, her patience, her ability to remember names and her bumble bee warm ups.
As an ongoing soloist, as a member of Tom Havoc folk band, and with her singing partners in crime as one of the Three Altos, mum has delighted audiences with her voice, receiving glowing reviews, such as in one performance, being, and I quote: “technically utterly brilliant, assured and controlled, burning with spirituality at every corner".
Church was always a big element to her life, from smiling over the top of the piano every week at St Paul’s, to planning celebrations, sharing new hymns, joining trips to Taize and Shepherds Dean, making hot cross buns with children at the Good Friday workshops…
Her belief in God was pretty solid; not without question, but she had an inquisitive attitude toward God in an attempt to deepen her connection. Following lots of contemplation and encouragement, she even started the application process to become a vicar. And despite being knocked back, she maintained her faith, continuing to share her compassion, warmth and generosity through countless voluntary activities - Helping organise and run multi-sensory days, the food bank. Giving home communion. Fundraising for Christian Aid. Running a singing for the brain group at a local care home. Being the only person in the kitchen at the community café who would make an omlette on request…
She was completely faithful and caring with our Dad throughout his difficult and for a long time undiagnosed condition. Visiting him every week once he moved into care, taking him ice creams to satisfy his sweet tooth. And after he died, mum did not hesitate in caring for her own mum, our Grandma, with her dementia.
In what little free time she had, she loved gardening, reading, trying out new recipes, baking, attempting the crossword in the Sunday paper with radio 4 bumbling on in the background. She was part of a walking group, a lace group, recently finishing a tablecloth that her mum had started, She enjoyed meals out and theatre trips with friends. She had relatively recently rehomed 2 cats. She loved Puffins. Collected jugs.
Inspiringly, she adventured around the UK independently, heading off on holidays such as to the hot air balloon festival in Bristol, into Scotland all the way to John O’Groats, visiting National Trust properties along the way, attending local theatre productions, drawing pencil sketches of her locations...
For her 60th Birthday, Ellie, Mum and I went to India to visit where her mum grew up. Not an easy destination. But Mum held her own in the adventure stakes, getting up in the middle of the night to go on a tiny boat on the Ganges. She even gave an impromptu singing lesson to a Japanese man whilst lost in Jaipur in a tuktuk.
In March this year, Mum (and Ellie) visited me in New Zealand, enduring a near 30 hour flight, to then impressively keep up my tight schedule of zooming around the country visiting geothermal parks, glowworm caves, Middle Earth… She was a more than willing explorer, an adventurous eater and just excellent company.
Overall, this is just a snapshot of activity, but it hints at just how much she packed into life. She probably could have retired already, but she didn’t want to. She loved what she did and gave everything her all, without expectation of praise or reward, enriching the lives of those lucky enough to be around.
I am profoundly grateful and proud of her.
I hope that in reflecting on some small details, we can feel her love radiating throughout everything she did. I hope that her presence will continue to make itself known, through the voices she nourished, the skills she shared, the notes she sang, so even though we’ve been shortchanged by her death, we can hold onto her love.
I’m going to finish by reading something back to mum, that she wrote to me on a little wallet sized card with a small picture of an English landscape that she gave me before I went off on a long trip. I’ve carried it ever since. And it says - If ever a day goes by that I don’t say I love you, know always I do. Be courageous, Be aware, Be safe, Be at peace, And Be loved.
Lauria and Ellie Woodruff