Obituary, February 20th 2007, by Reverend Terry Louden
Marjorie Lambert was recently described to me as ‘the nearest thing to a saint’. She would have disagreed very firmly with that assessment, pointing out her personal shortcomings, and saying that in whatever she did she was only doing her Christian duty.
Duty is today a very unfashionable word. The trend in society is to be more concerned with rights rather than with responsibilities and duties. Duty carries the hint of obligation, of doing things because you have to rather then because you want to. But duty really means giving other people their due (God included) and duty embraces ideas and concepts like honour, respect and love. Throughout her long life, Marjorie gave others – patients, colleagues, family, friends, neighbours – their proper due.
Marjorie died six weeks short of her 90th birthday. She was born in Westbrook Cottages, the only child of a tenant farmer, who was one of three brothers who worked Duncombe Farm. She never forgot her family background, and although she spent nearly 40 years working in London, she was always tuned in to the cycle of the agricultural year, and those who worked on the land, including her own family, who were always close to her heart. Typically, she insisted that she did not want to die during lambing, as she did not want those making arrangements to be put to extra trouble. Her wish was granted.
A week or so before she died, at her bedside in the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, Marjorie reminded me that it was in the same hospital, over 70 years before, that she had started her nursing training. By the outbreak of the Second World War, she was a Staff Nurse, earning £90 per annum. In 1940, Marjorie went to Guy’s Hospital in London to begin midwifery training, taking a substantial pay cut in the process. I don’t know why she decided to specialise in mums and babies, but it was certainly highly appropriate for someone born on the 25th of March, the Feast of the Annunciation, nine months to the day before Christmas. Some of her work in London was as a district midwife, out on a bicycle in the Blitz, helping to bring new life into a world of war. In 1943 she was sufficiently experienced to become a teacher and trainer of midwives in the Bermondsey and Southwark areas. By 1946, she was back on the maternity ward at Guy’s, and the following year she was promoted to Sister, often on duty at night.
In 1948, Marjorie was appointed Superintendent Midwife of the South London Hospital for Women, in charge of a unit of 50 beds and a district midwifery service covering Clapham, Balham, Battersea and Brixton, as well as teaching and training 50 pupils every year. In 1957, she was joined in this work by Eileen Alston, who is here today.
In 1962, Marjorie moved a little further out into the south London suburbs when she was appointed Superintendent Midwife of Mayday Hospital, Croydon. Mayday’s maternity unit was large, with 150 beds. Marjorie continued teaching and examining in the midwifery training school. The 60s and 70s were an era of great change for midwives, with new job titles (Senior Nursing Officer) and suits rather than frilly caps. Marjorie admitted that the last ten years of her career were difficult, with a very demanding job, and family responsibilities for her mother and her aunt, both of whom were in poor health. Marjorie retired in 1977, when she was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for services to midwifery. The MBE, which she would have said she didn’t deserve, but of which I think she was quietly and properly proud, was awarded some years later.
So in 1977, she returned to the village where she had been born and brought up. Marjorie had not neglected East Meon during her London years. Indeed, she had been known to cycle here from Croydon to visit her mother. It has been East Meon’s privilege to have her living at the centre of the village for the past 30 years.
Those 30 years were years of much activity. There was the regular Saturday visit to the family at Stoneylands Farm. There was the Lunch Club, where Marjorie, as she used to joke, was eventually older than most of the members. At Lunch Club we all observed Marjorie’s attention to detail – the flower arrangements, the menus written in that wonderful hand, the cards sent to the unwell and the housebound. There were all the village activities, the Country Fair and the Fetes, and the human fruit machine. Marjorie, though a single woman, was a strong supporter of the village school and its children. There was this Church. Marjorie was the most faithful of communicants. If Marjorie was not in church on Sunday, or at weekday services, it was because she was not in the village or she was unwell. Her Christian faith was a foundation of her life. For many years she looked after the church’s linen and vestments. If we wanted to know what she was like as a trainer of midwives, we need look no further than the thorough, precise and painstaking instructions, complete with diagrams, that she gave to those preparing and setting up for church services. She prepared for this service, of course, by choosing the bible reading and the hymns. For years she was a sidesman at church funerals and memorial services like this, welcoming and gently consoling the bereaved. There was Marjorie’s hospitality. How many cups of tea and coffee and biscuits have been offered and served in Woodford House over the years – always with a good-humoured smile and even sometimes a raised eyebrow and naughty glint in the eye, always with a genuine interest in the visitor, a funny story to relate and a bit of wisdom to be dispensed. Marjorie was a keen and gifted photographer, and her photos, which we often saw at the Garden Club Show, illustrated the range of her interests, and especially her love of the outdoors.
There was also a great deal of unseen and unsung activity on Marjorie’s part – regular visits to the housebound and the unwell – meals prepared, shopping done, errands run – often for those who were not Marjorie’s closest friends and acquaintances. I remember an occasion only last summer, when Marjorie herself was not at all well, when she went by bus to the hospital in Winchester and back to visit someone, because she knew that person was not having many visitors. That was a typical example of her generosity of time and spirit, a mark of her Christian love and what she would have regarded as her Christian duty. In Marjorie we saw an old fashioned virtue called constancy – a faithfulness and a reliability which made her so attractive as a sharer of personal joys and sorrows.
Marjorie had her own idiosyncracies, just like us all. She had likes – flowers, especially garden flowers, chocolate éclairs (I think) and she had dislikes, of which untidiness was certainly one. We have made sure that the linen altar cloths are straight today. She had firm opinions, but they were always expressed with politeness and graciousness, which made you respect her even more. She had a strong element of stoicism, perhaps as a result of things she had seen and been part of in her working life, and in recent years you sometimes wished she would actually admit to the pain and discomfort she was in. She gave so much to others, but she would not always allow others to help her, because she felt that was not important. With those who knew her well though, she did enjoy ‘an hug’ now and again.
Marjorie’s funeral was on 27th February, the day in the Christian year when the Church remembers a man called George Herbert. George Herbert lived about 400 years ago. He was a poet and a hymn-writer and a Church of England vicar. There is even an East Meon connection. Most of what we know about George Herbert’s life is because of his first biographer, the man who wrote his life story. That man was called Izaak Walton.
I mention Herbert today because so much of what he believed about the Christian faith and Christian love can be seen in Marjorie Lambert’s life.
Take some words from the hymn ‘Teach me my God and King’.
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see;
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.
All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean
which, with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine;
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.
I think that sums up Marjorie so well. Her strong Christian faith was the background to her long life of practical service, both as a midwife and trainer of midwives, and for all that she has done in the past thirty years living in East Meon for family, friends, and neighbours. Even those of us who knew Marjorie well know only a fraction of what she did on behalf of others – the many generous kindnesses, unsought and unlooked for. She would do anything for anyone, if she could. Nothing was too mean for her, to quote Herbert’s words.
Today we mourn the loss of a relative – cousin, auntie, dear friend. We are sad, and there will be a huge space in our lives, and in the life of the village, because Marjorie has died. But we are also immensely privileged that we knew her, that she was our companion and friend, and that she was a shining example throughout her life of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be a channel of his love and care and peace. And if that is what a saint is, then Marjorie is to numbered among that great cloud of witnesses by whom we are surrounded, and by whose prayers and Christian example we are inspired.
Tribute by Denys and Rosemary Ryder, from Meon Matters, April 2007
To try to emulate the address (reported elsewhere in this edition) given by the Vicar, Cannon Terry Louden, at the Memorial Service held on Saturday 10th March, for Margery Lambert, would be an insult to his words. However I would like to add my own thoughts to the many that I have heard people express about her over the last few days.
I was so pleased to be able, in the last issue of Meon Matters, to be able to tell the story of Margery’s Grandfather who was one of the village Postmen at the turn of the last century. Since Margery returned to the village in 1977 after over 40 years of acting as a nurse and midwife, that, whenever we met, she was always ready to talk about my family, and in particular our children how were they getting on, and about what they were doing. Rarely would she talk about herself. On occasions I would enquire about her life and what she had done during her career, and she would tend to say “ Oh, I’m of no interest to the village, other people around the village have had far more interesting lives than me”. That of course was the essence of Margery. She didn’t only ‘have time’ for people, she ‘made’ time for people and was always thinking about others never about herself.
Her life had been dedicated to her chosen profession and her nearest relations Joan and Winifred Walther from Stonilands Farm have given me permission to reproduce here, a photograph of Margery taken when she was 18. Of the many that Margery had in her photo album going back to her Great, Great Grandmother Gladys Moorman in 1831, together, Joan, Winny and I chose one taken in 1935 of Margery in her nurses uniform when she was 18 and starting her career at the Eye and Ear Hospital Portsmouth. To me it shows that one lasting memory of Margery that I so admired, her lovely smile, which was her hallmark whenever you met her. Although slightly less upright in her later years than in the picture, she would always greet one with her head tilted to one side and that lovely open face and impeccable dress sense that she had, as can be seen in the picture of her.
It was reported in an article produced in 1977, that her friends and relatives were not in favour of her choice of career. “They told me it was not the thing for a girl like me. They said: ‘You’ll never stand it’.” She recalled. “So I stuck it”. Sticking to it meant that she was given the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for more than 40 years service. “When the medal came through the letterbox in its official envelope, I thought it was something to do with pensions” Margery said at the time, “ When I found out, I kept quiet about it. I think it was for my services to Midwifery”.
That was typical of Margery and her attitude to her achievements in life. However in 2006 I was so very pleased to get a call from Margery at the time I was arranging a display about East Meon to be shown in the Petersfield Museum, to say she had drawn a map, with coloured crayons, of East Meon as she remembered it during the 1920s, when she was growing up. Would I like it for the exhibition? I quickly recognised that her work was a priceless visual record of life in East Meon at that time. The map, which is on A3 size paper, shows where the Midwife, Doctor, the persons able to offer Herbal Advice, the Layer-Outer and Undertaker lived as well as the Grocers, Butcher, Fishmonger, and Dairyman. Saddler, Chimney Sweep, Cobbler, Wheelwright, Blacksmith and Carrier all are shown on the map, as well as the Pubs, Post Office, Churches and Chapels. All written in her beautiful handwriting. Margery’s relatives have also given me permission to have a limited number of copes made of this unique map for sale to those people who would like to have a copy. They will cost £10 unframed and £20 framed with all funds going towards Margery’s chosen Charity, All Saints Church, East Meon. Anyone wishing to have a copy made in memory of Margery should contact me (01730 823 271) by the end of April 2007 and they will be ready for collection a week later. They can also see a copy of the map on the village notice board out side the shop.
In the opening lines of Terry Louden’s address at her Memorial Service, he said “ Margery Lambert was recently described to me as ‘ the nearest thing to a saint’”.
Well even people who are ‘the nearest thing to a saint’ have their faults. If there is one thing that can be levelled at Margery it is that she had a rather poor sense of direction when coming to draw maps. She drew the road leaving the village for Petersfield as going straight north through Park Hill. If that Margery is all we can find at fault during your life then all the people you have served during your working life and those many friends you have made in the village of East Meon during your retirement are so lucky and privileged to have known you. Her map will hang on a wall in my study as a reminder of Margery and all that she meant to our family. We, as a family, shall miss her. I’m sure many in the village will do so as well.
Click here to see Margery Lambert’s map and Denys Ryder’s notes on the contents.