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OBITUARY – Margaret Clarke (23.10.1939 – 31.10.2010)

Margaret, born Margaret Reynolds, was the second child of Jack and Nora Reynolds. She started life in Hull just as the Second World War began. She became the middle child of three, born close together, wedged between a bossy older sister Anne and her brother David who tragically died aged 17 in a traffic accident.

The Reynolds family lived in a rented house with a garden, at 152 Spring Gardens, Anlaby Common, in the suburbs of Hull, where despite the war Margaret had a very happy childhood. Dad was at work in a firm of accountants, Goldie Campbell and Robins, and sitting further exams to become a Chartered Accountant, also serving in the Home Guard. Accountancy was a reserved occupation so he didn’t have to join up as did his brothers Harold and Eric. Mum was at home taking care of the family. The children had a weekly treat cleaning Dad’s army boots, getting more blacking on themselves than on the boots in the process.

Dad grew vegetables “the best you ever tasted” and tomatoes which he fed with “bull’s blood” - which seemed a bit gruesome. They collected frog-spawn from nearby ponds in the springtime, and watched it hatch. One year the tadpoles got names. – a smooth one which Margaret called Mary and a big crested one called Grandad. It was a family tragedy when Mum accidentally added bleach to the bucket – clearly not a family to keep pets!

The children attended Anlaby County Primary School and Margaret’s  favourite  teacher, Mrs Moser, made this a happy time. They came home for dinner across the fields, which was an adventure. Hull was badly bombed in the war so air-raids and air-raid shelters became another excitement for the children, trouping down to the communal shelters at bedtime at the bottom of the garden. Mum made special pyjamas with a trap-door arrangement at the back for emergencies. Hearing a neighbour shout, as he dived into the shelter beside us “This one’s ours!” was a regular occurrence.

The war ended in 1945 the family had to move house as the owners of 152 wanted to move back there. Mum and Dad Reynolds chose to move to  Hessle,  a village  5  miles west of Hull, and bought no 8 Station Rd, a big Edwardian house with 3 bedrooms.  Margaret and  Anne shared one bedroom, first in a double bed, where they read under the blankets with a torch, when supposed to be getting to sleep. They had porridge in the mornings made in a big steamer on the coal fired range and ate it with treacle or sugar if they could sneak it in. Mum rose at 5am on Mondays to do the weekly wash in a brick copper and dinner on those days was always cold meat and chips. She was in bed when the children came home from school and they got tea ready themselves. There was a big family Christmas and holidays were with the extended family from both Mum’s and Dad’s side.

The children attended Hessle County Primary School, and when the time came for Margaret to sit the scholarship exam, before it was called 11+, David also sat it the same year. He was a bright scholar and Mum and Dad wanted him to try for a place at  Hymers College, an independent school in Hull. The day of the results came and David got home before Margaret to break the news that he had passed and Margaret was not on the list. Margaret was devastated, trailing home, and angry that David had got home before her.  She did get a place subsequently, at Beverley High School for Girls, but that experience sharpened her resolve to prove her worth. She did well at school, gaining entry to the London College of Speech Therapy, and a profession which she loved. She proved her IQ for herself by getting a rating from MENSA .

As each of the 3 Reynolds children now went to separate schools, the joint story ends. Margaret went to school every day on the school bus from Hessle Square to Beverley. She and Anne both left home for college the same September 1959, she to London and  Anne to Manchester. In April the following year the tragedy of  brother David’s death hit the remaining sisters – now their parents had nobody living at home.

Margaret qualified and got her first job as a speech therapist in Derby. She was then to return home to have her first child, Neil.  She got a job at Hull Royal infirmary and Mum helped to care for Neil. Some time later (in 1972) Margaret and Neil moved Manchester where she had a new job.

In 1972 she also had the good fortune to meet Paul, which was the beginning of a new, exciting and very happy chapter of her life.  38 years of happiness, fulfilment and mutual devotion very sadly ended with Margaret’s early and untimely death in 2010.  Margaret and Paul married in Hessle Parish church in 1975, a very happy family occasion, though Mum was sadly not there to see it as she had died of a heart attack a year earlier.

In  August 1972 Margaret was on a walking holiday with her first son, Neil, in the Lake District, staying at a CHA guesthouse (Stanley Ghyll House) in Eskdale.  Paul (from Sheffield) was also staying there and they became firm friends.  A few weeks later Margaret moved to temporary ‘digs’ in Manchester, having taken up a new job with the School Health Service. The job had school holidays, so that Margaret could be with Neil outside term time.  Very soon Margaret bought her first house, at 12 Dalny Street, Levenshulme, a substantial end-terrace on a tree-lined cul-de-sac, with pleasant, helpful neighbours and a good primary school for Neil (Chapel Street) just around the corner.  

The relationship between Margaret and Paul blossomed and they soon became ‘an item’. Three years later, after many happy times together (including holidays and weekend breaks walking in the Peak District, Lake District and Wales, camping by the sea at Aberdaron in North Wales  and similar enjoyable activities) they were married in Hessle Parish Church on 16th August  1975.

After a brief but enjoyable honeymoon at the Crown Hotel, Helmsley (chosen by Paul mainly because it served a passable pint of Real Ale and was close to good walking country) the Clarke Family settled briefly at Paul’s bachelor pad in North Sheffield, before moving to their first family home  - 10 Brightholmlee Lane, Wharncliffe Side (6 miles north west of Sheffield). This location was chosen because of its scenic rural situation on the edge of the Peak Park, and the proximity of excellent walking country.

After a happy first few years of marriage, during which time Neil attended Bradfield Comprehensive School and Margaret worked for the Health Service in Sheffield, second son Stephen was born (in February 1978) at the Jessop Hospital For Women (where Paul had also been born 35 years earlier!). 

On arrival by car at the hospital with Margaret (already in advanced labour), Paul was told to go for a walk and come back in half an hour. He returned 30 minutes later from the nearby cafe where he’d enjoyed a bacon sandwich and a coffee, to find he was already the father of a healthy and very handsome baby son, Stephen.

Margaret and Paul were so delighted by Steve that they decided to have a third child, Helen, born  just under 2 years later. This was a difficult pregnancy and shortly before Helen was due to be born Margaret discovered a breast lump. The lump was surgically removed at the Royal Hallamshire, Sheffield, but the operation precipitated labour, so that Margaret had to be taken on the very same day to nearby Jessop Hospital, where Helen was born a few hours after arrival (in December 1989).

The lump was fortunately pre-cancerous but Margaret,  sadly, had to have further major surgery (for various reasons) over the next few years. Fortunately here was no further incidence of cancer until last year, 30 odd years later, when her brain tumour was discovered.

Margaret gave up work to care for Steve and Helen, and by doing so sacrificed her career for the sake of her new young family. She wanted to be in full control of the bringing up of her own children, having seen so many instances in her professional life of children damaged by inadequate early-years care.

At Wharncliffe Side, Margaret was very active in the community. Addressing the lack of facilities for her two young children, she set up a mother and toddler group which proved a big success and made her a well known village figure. She was always busy, dashing around everywhere in her little green car (a Mini).  She also studied for and obtained an Open University degree, whilst caring for the small children.

The two younger children were brought up from the earliest possible moment to walk, rock scramble, swim and cycle (being carried up mountains before they could walk)!  Stephen climbed to the top of Snowdon under his own steam aged only 4 and Helen (aged just over 3) amazingly got to within 200 yards of the summit before falling soundly asleep on her mother’s lap. Thus Margaret and Paul ensured both they and their family led healthy and interesting outdoor lives, which foresight has paid enormous dividends over the years.

After 13 very happy years in Wharncliffe Side, including lots of active outdoor holidays plus camping trips at home and abroad, Margaret got a job with the Health Service in Huddersfield and the family moved (in 1987) to Upper Denby (10  miles nearer her work). Denby is a truly lovely place on the edge of the Pennines, with lots of good walking/biking country nearby (always an important factor with the Clarke family). It was a place Margaret never wanted to leave and it is therefore very fitting that she was buried in Denby Churchyard on 8th November 2010.

Margaret took early retirement (on health grounds) from her NHS work in 1992 and subsequently  became deeply involved in village life, serving for many years as a Parish Councillor and becoming Chairman of Denby Dale Parish Council for the year 2000 (which coincided with the baking of the most recent Denby Dale Pie). She found the chain of office very cumbersome but enjoyed the experience, on balance!

Margaret was passionate about the education and welfare of children. She served on the Governing Bodies of several local schools and was particularly anxious to see improvements to Upper Denby Recreation Ground (adequate funding was finally achieved, though with immense difficulty). This sense of duty and responsibility also showed itself in her weekly visits to see Aunty Mollie during her last few years at home and frequent visits when she finally moved into care.

Throughout her married life, she enjoyed walking with Paul, with friends and family and subsequently with  various local walking groups in the Denby area – including the Parish Walking Group and the women’s “Thursday Group” - many members of which continued to be most supportive of her and Paul during the last difficult year. 

She loved cooking, making jam and chutney and wonderful quiches, whilst her nurturing instincts carried on in the garden, where she could often be found, accompanied by her able assistants the cats, Martini and Minstrel.

She also followed Paul into choral singing (principally with Sheffield Oratorio Chorus and Holmfirth Choral Society) and returned to taking part in productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas with Huddersfield Gilbert and Sullivan Society (this interest began whilst she was living in  Hessle).

Margaret was the very proud Grandma of Jonah and he lent her his special Unicorn to guard and keep her healthy when she was in hospital and nursing home.

During Margaret’s tragic and premature final illness (she was found – totally out of the blue -  to have an incurable and very aggressive brain tumour in mid-2009) Margaret and Paul  have both been well  supported by choir members and by friends near and far, together with many members of the Reynolds clan.

Whilst her last year was extremely sad and difficult, filled with hospital visits and unpleasant treatments, there were good times and many happy memories persist (backed by numerous photographs) – for example her 70th birthday celebrations (which the family thought would be her last), another Christmas (sadly her last) with the family, Stephen's marriage to Vanessa in June 2010 year and their subsequent visit to see her, choir rehearsals/performances attended as recently as June 2010 and walks in her favourite places for as long as she could manage. As recently as November 2009 Margaret was walking the route of the proposed Pen-Den Trail in preparation for a published walk leaflet (devised by Margaret and Paul - and bearing her name as co-author).

Margaret’s final months, which sadly had to be spent in a nursing home, were very, very, unhappy for all concerned. This once extremely fit and active person became increasingly physically disabled and at the end could hardly move – an appalling fate, especially as her mind appeared clear for much of the time and she was aware of what was happening.

To watch her suffering so much was unbearable for friends and family alike, who visited her with great diligence and regularity (she was by far the most visited person in the nursing home and was genuinely loved by staff and residents alike).     

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Margaret was loved by everyone who got to know her. She in her turn loved life and loved the human race. Her kindness and gentility will be remembered greatly missed by all.

Hers was a life well lived and ended too soon. She was a unique and irreplaceable person – leaving behind totally grief-stricken family and friends.

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