It is with the deepest sadness that I have to let everyone know about the death of my mum, Valerie Janet Finch. She had Christmas 2018 with her family in Scotland but returned home in Lincolnshire on the night of the 28th. She died at home with her husband Tony at her side on the morning of the 29th December 2018.
Her funeral was on the 24th of January at 10.30 am at the Parish church of St Michael and all Angels in Billinghay, followed by a short cremation ceremony at the Crematorium at Alford in Lincolnshire at noon. We did not expect flowers and several mourners preferred to give donations to the Stroke Association via the direct link here that allows donations to be made in her name. The service and committal was followed by a reception at the The Ship Inn in Billinghay, Lincolnshire.
Below I have placed the eulogy read by Adrian, the poem read by Tony and a copy of the photo gallery that was presented at the reception.
Val was born as Valerie Janet WARD in 1945 during the final months of the Second World War. Val’s Mum, Gladys, was evacuated from the family home in Brockley in South London and Val was born away from the bombing at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Val’s father, Norman, was an engineer and he bought a family home in Rosenthal Road in Catford when she was about 11. She was successful at school, looking to take A-levels but there was little enthusiasm at that time for a woman to follow an academic career and so she left school aged 17. She met Tony in the same year in a Butcher’s shop in Camberwell in South London. The cashier, Flossie, was Val’s friend and Tony who worked there said ‘I will take her out one day’. Floss didn’t let Tony forget his promise and Val and Tony were together from then on. In their early years, Val would ask Tony what he saw in her and his reply was always ‘I see a decent, respectable person who I feel is a class above me with a heart of gold’. Tony says that Val didn’t drink, swear or have any vices until she met him.
Tony and Val married in 1965. A year later Adrian was born, a son of whom she was always very proud. She worked at the Imperial War Museum but quickly moved on to the Royal Greenwich Observatory where her office was in the iconic tower with a time-ball on the top, falling every day at 1 pm. Her work at Greenwich involved indexing original manuscripts and she learned to read the scribbled handwriting of the 17th Century. She also became aware of how much research needed to be done to understand fully early British Science and acquired a lifelong interest in clockmakers such as John HARRISON and Thomas MUDGE.
Val was fiercely loyal to friends and family, as on the occasion when Adrian and his cousins were refused entry to Adrian’s School disco. When she found out, Val had her coat on in an instant and at School encountered a condescending teacher with an unfortunate name. The teacher tried to explain the situation but made the mistake of appearing superior and so triggered the wrong end of Val’s formidable temper. Adrian’s relationship with Mr Pratt was never the same again.
Val had learned German at School but had had little chance to practice it. In 1986 at the age of 41 she decided to travel abroad for the first time and she chose Germany as the destination. Added to that, she had always wanted to see a famous timepiece by Thomas Mudge and this became the excuse for a driving holiday across Europe. But the destination was Dresden, which was, at the time, in communist East Germany behind the iron curtain – not your average holiday destination. It reflected Val’s determination that, once she had focussed on the idea, she would not be deflected from it. Whilst in Dresden, a note was attached to the car saying they wanted to know more about the West. Val was insistent that she would write back and thus was born one of the most remarkable friendships across the biggest political chasm of the age – Val, Tony and Adrian in London with Lutz, Margitta and Dirk in Dresden – a friendship that has in time outlived the Berlin Wall itself.
Val used her skills in reading old script to research her own Family History, a pastime that became her life-long leisure activity. What attracted her was the sense of discovery and the human stories that lay waiting to be uncovered. One example that she talked about often was the life of her great-grandfather, James Honeyman Bull, who worked as a Merchant’s Clerk in Coventry before he stole £21 from his employer – equivalent to nearly his annual wage. When he was caught, he expressed his remorse and offered his apologies to his erstwhile employer. James completed his sentence – a year with hard labour in Coventry Gaol – but was then reemployed by the same man he had embezzled and he also married the girl next door to where he had worked. Val was fascinated by what this told us about the characters not just of James’s employer, but also that of James himself.
After leaving the Royal Greenwich Observatory, she worked for the Wellcome Foundation in Beckenham in Kent where she became Quality Controller. Much of her work was confidential but she said that she had to handle the cases of several profoundly ill people, many of whom were children. She described afterwards how upsetting but important her work at Wellcome’s had been.
After retirement, she tried working as a Professional Genealogist but this was a financial failure because she became personally interested in all of her cases and then did extra research for which she was too embarrassed to charge. Val and Tony travelled in Italy and Germany and she met John Reavy, Adrian’s friend, when John’s Dad died in London. Val was there helping John during that sad time and John then became like a second son to her. From times with John, Val liked Ireland to such a degree that she bought a house in Ballynoe, Co Cork. She had 15 wonderful years there with her neighbours Catherine, Seamus, Bernie, Mike, Eileen and Billy, who welcomed her and made her one of the family.
In 2003, Tony took early retirement and Val and Tony sold their house in London. They came here to Billinghay because they found a lovely house in a quiet peaceful setting. Val felt they were lucky to find such a house with such wonderful neighbours. In 2004 and 2006 her grandchildren, Louis and Eleanor, were born and, proud as she was of Adrian, she was even more devoted to them.
In June 2014, Val had a stroke which left her with difficulties in communication. But as her stroke restricted her speech, so did it liberate her to say things as she saw them. After you have faced death, everyday situations are no challenge at all. When the prices in shops are outrageous, you and I might look slightly embarrassed and turn away but, Val simply said ‘How much? I don’t think so’. And when the food in a restaurant is substandard and the waiter formulaically asks how the meal was, Val would say ‘it was terrible’. Val saw no reason to pretend or stand on ceremony.
Her stroke did not stop her research into family history and clockmakers of the past. Over the years Val accumulated a significant volume of important new material, with the plan to write a book. After her stroke, she realised the book was too big a project, so instead, Val, Adrian and Tony started writing individual articles from key parts of the research. A two-part article about the clockmaker Edward EAST was published in 2017 and another was accepted the following year. The East article won an Award for the best article of the Year from the Antiquarian Horological Society, but sadly, due to Tony’s ill health, she was unable to collect her award. Adrian and Tony will collect it for her in May, aptly at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, where her interest in History of Science was kindled.
Val was a generous person who would help anybody who needed it. Many of you here will have had your family history researched by Val, such was her enthusiasm for the roots that make us who we are. You will remember her tenacity, her sincerity, her empathy and support; her willingness to help and guide those around her and her love. But however you remember her, as a friend, aunt, sister-in-law, nanny, mum or wife, Val will have influenced and touched all of you. She will be remembered and missed by all of us who knew her.
The Rose Beyond The Wall – A. L. Frink
Near a shady wall a rose once grew,
Budded and blossomed in God’s free light,
Watered and fed by the morning dew,
Shedding it’s sweetness day and night.
As it grew and blossomed fair and tall,
Slowly rising to loftier height,
It came to a crevice in the wall
Through which there shone a beam of light.
Onward it crept with added strength
With never a thought of fear or pride,
It followed the light through the crevice’s length
And unfolded itself on the other side.
The light, the dew, the broadening view
Were found the same as they were before,
And it lost itself in beauties new,
Breathing it’s fragrance more and more.
Shall claim of death cause us to grieve
And make our courage faint and fall?
Nay! Let us faith and hope receive–
The rose still grows beyond the wall,
Scattering fragrance far and wide
Just as it did in days of yore,
Just as it did on the other side,
Just as it will forever-more.