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Obituaries

Obituary: Johnny O'Keeffe war veteran & former town cryer has died aged 93

Johnny O'Keeffe - merchant seamanJohnny O'Keeffe - merchant seamanMarlborough's former Town Cryer, Johnny O’Keeffe who spent much of his life on the high seas with the Merchant Navy, but always returned to the town where he was born, has died at the age of 93.

Mr O’Keeffe who died on November 19 donated his body for medical research and a gathering in his memory was held at Marlborough Conservative Club.

His father was an Irishman who married into the Dunford grocery family in Marlborough and Mr O’Keeffe’s grandparents ran Dunford’s grocery shop in the High Street with his mother. Later she continued the family business in The Parade where, during a break from his Merchant Navy service, Johnny O’Keeffe opened a grocery store.

He was born in The Parade and went to St Peter’s Boys School before joining Marlborough Golf Club as an assistant to the professional.

Amazingly for a man who was to spend so much time at sea, he became a scratch golfer and his love of the game remained until the end of his life. Daughter Angela Dodman said: “After his wife and family, golfing was one of his greatest passions.”

Aged 16 when World War Two started, he joined the Merchant Navy and served on Atlantic Conveys carrying food and supplies to Russia and to Allied countries.

In recent years he belatedly received the Legion d’Honneur from the French Government and the Ushakov medal from Russia. He had previously received the Atlantic Convoy Medal.

He took a break from his navy service and continued the family tradition opening his own grocery shop in The Parade.  But the call of the sea became too much for him and he re-joined the Merchant Navy and served on the QE2 when she ferried troops to the Falklands in 1982.

His daughter said: “My father loved the sea and the navy, but he always looked forward to coming home to Marlborough.”

Mr O’Keeffe’s wife Tess died in 2010 after the couple had celebrated their diamond wedding at their home in York Place.

He was Marlborough's town cryer from 1988-93 when he handed over to Alfie Johnson, who has also recently retired.

He was a stalwart member of the Royal British Legion and always  joined the Remembrance Day parade proudly wearing his medals.

In later years he continued his love for travel by touring the UK and Western Europe on trips with Barnes Coaches.

Sadly Mr and Mrs O’Keeffe lost their son Kevin in tragic circumstances and he is survived by his daughter Angela, seven grandchildren and by his older brother Michael, who emigrated to Canada after the second world war.

Johnny O'Keeffe was remembered and his service to the town marked when town councillors stood in silent respect during last week's full meeting of the Town Council (December 12).

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Liz Neild, Artist and key member of the Lockeridge community

Liz Neild, pic courtesy of Cricket Fine ArtLiz Neild, pic courtesy of Cricket Fine ArtFarewell, Liz Neild

Lockeridge locals will by now have heard on their grapevine that Liz Neild died on Thursday 24th November.  The rest of the Parish may not be aware.

As well as being an artist of great repute, Liz contributed hugely to her local community and will be greatly missed:  it was Liz who set up and ran the first Lockeridge Christmas drinks on the Dene, Liz who organised the Parish Time Capsule, Liz who helped at Landscape exhibitions, Heritage exhibitions, Jubilee celebrations – any village or Parish event, Liz was there, contributing good sense, fruit cake, mulled wine, and all with a smile and a laugh and “it's easy isn't it? It will all come right”.  And it always did.

She served her time on the Parish Council – most memorably as Planning Chairman, where she was capable and conscientious, made herself knowledgeable about the mysteries of Local Authority Planning, and brought to bear her own expertise on architecture and landscape.  She inspired (and wrote most of) our Village Design Statement back in the Millenium but which is still in use today.  Later she did the same to enable production of its sister publication, the Landscape booklet, since her love and knowledge of the Downs was unmatched.

Any village event which she was not helping to run (not many), she would attend to show support.  Only her wretched illness has recently kept her away – and we have all noticed, because she always WAS there.

Her fight against her cancer was fierce, as we expected, and her brave face continued to be shown in public almost to the end.

Farewell, Liz – may you rest in peace now ( but actually you're probably organising some event up there, clutching your delicious fruit cake).  I for one will be raising my glass to you come Christmas on the Dene…

Mary Spender

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OBITUARY: Paul Smyth's life centred round horse racing - as trainer, owner and bookmaker

Paul SmythPaul SmythFormer Epsom racehorse trainer Paul Smyth has died at his Gales Ground, Marlborough, home where he lived with his wife June and brother-in-law Ernie Newell.  He was 79.

A thanksgiving service for his life will be held on Friday, July 22 in St Mary's Church at 12 noon following an earlier private cremation.

Mr Smyth was born into one of Epsom’s most famous families. His father, Victor Smyth, was one of the five sons of an Epsom builder. In the 1920s he was a famous jockey and later as a trainer he won four Champion Hurdles.

Paul Smyth’s maternal grandfather, Harry Escott, was also a leading jockey who became an outstanding trainer of jumpers at Lewes in Sussex. His successes included no fewer than four Grand National winners.

Mr Smyth was also related to the Jennings and the Heads, the famous Anglo-French racing family.

With this background it was hardly surprising that horse racing became Mr Smyth’s consuming interest and his life revolved around the sport as a trainer, racehorse owner and bookmaker.

Paul Smyth was born in Epsom in 1936 and educated at Downsend Preparatory School in Leatherhead and then at Haileybury, where his contemporaries included the playwright Alan Ayckbourne.

After Haileybury Mr Smyth was commissioned into the Cameronians and served most of his National Service in Germany.

On leaving the Army he became assistant trainer to his father for some years and on his father’s retirement took out a trainer’s licence of his own. His first winner was ridden by Lester Piggott.

The recession of 1975 hit him hard leaving him with a depleted yard, so he wound up his business and joined bookmakers Coral, managing betting shops in London and the Home Counties before coming to Wiltshire in 1979.

He then ran several Coral shops in Wiltshire including those in Melksham and Calne before his retirement.

Mr Smyth was twice married. His first marriage producing two daughters was dissolved and in 2000 he married June Newell, who was born and brought up in Marlborough. They initially lived in Silverless Street and latterly in Gales Ground.

They had met through horse racing in 1986 and the sport played an important part in their lives. In recent years the horses they had in training with Stan Moore in Lambourn gave them untold pleasure and some success.

Besides his widow and two daughters, Mr Smyth also leaves three grandchildren and an elder sister, Ann, who lives in Houston, Texas.

Donations in his memory for the Injured Jockeys Fund and Prospect Hospice can be made via funeral director Dianne Mackinder, The Wagon Yard, London Road, Marlborough.

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Horse drawn hearse for funeral of much loved and respected Tedworth huntsman Ted Burton

(Photograph is the copyright of Sarah-Jane Bullock)(Photograph is the copyright of Sarah-Jane Bullock)Traffic in Pewsey was brought to a halt on Friday (April 29) by a Victorian hearse drawn by two magnificent Friesian horses with flowing manes and red plumes on their bridles.  It carried the coffin of Ted Burton, huntsman of the Tedworth Hunt for over 30 years.

His coffin was carried into the church by serving huntsmen and two foot supporters.

Ted Burton died at the age of 85 after a relatively short battle with cancer, with his wife Dot beside him.  His family was with him throughout his illness, and friends were always dropping in to reminisce.  

Almost to the end they were greeted by his wonderful, slightly wicked smile and twinkling blue eyes.  Asked in those last weeks whether there was anything he would like to change about his life, he replied: “Absolutely nothing...I’d do it all again”.

The church was packed to overflowing to hear what was a celebration of a true countryman’s life. Ted, as he was universally known, was born in Worcestershire, to a farm labourer who worked the land with horses.  

He left school at 14, and worked on the farm himself before becoming a groom and then becoming kennel Huntsmen at the local hunt.  In l970 he moved to the Tedworth, where he and his wife, Dot, lived for many years in the house behind the kennels.   

Ted Burton and friendTed Burton and friendOnly six months before he died he was riding at the opening meet of the Tedworth at Oare House, surrounded by the next generations of his family, all of whom are equally dedicated to horses.

His son Gerald trains point to pointers, and his three sonS, in turn, all became jockeys. One, had a terrible accident at Exeter racecourse which means he is now confined to a wheelchair.  Ted was so proud of the way he has made an active for himself, and his accident didn’t put of his 10 year old half sister Molly, taking up the sport.

His oldest friend Bill Cook gave the eulogy, recalling how they used to ride in team chases where one of them regularly ended up on the ground. He said Ted was a 'great legman'  who carried around with him 'a magic potion' which could be used to treat all the myriad lumps and bumps to which horses are prone.

He described his distinctly unromantic proposal to Dot.  Her family were having to move out of their cottage because her father had died, so Ted said 'they might as well get married'.  It was wonderful marriage which lasted 60 years.  She was as much part of the hunt as he was.

They were both bitterly upset by the hunting ban ten years ago. Ted, who had never been to London before, went to the Countryside Alliances march where he seemed to know everybody.  For him hunting was never the same after the ban, but after a pause he continued to ride to hounds.  

Despite his assurances to Dot in later years that he wouldn’t take risks, he continued jumping.   Ironically it wasn’t hunting on a horse which killed him.  He fell from his quad bike last year following the beagles, and when he didn’t recover as fast as he hoped, doctors found he had cancer.

His coffin was carried out of the church to a recording of the Countryside Alliance’s anthem, 'We are the defenders of the countryside', as a friend blew 'Gone away' on a hunting horn.

With our thanks to Sarah-Jane Bullock for use of her photograph - you can reach her website here.

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The very Independent Wiltshire Councillor Jeff Osborn - an appreciation

Jeff Osborn (Photo courtesy The Western Daily Press)Jeff Osborn (Photo courtesy The Western Daily Press)With the sudden and shocking death of Wiltshire Councillor Jeff Osborn, the Health Service in our county has lost a constant champion. Jeff died in the Royal United Hospital in Bath on April 1, a few days after suffering a severe stroke. He was 73.  

Jeff was a long serving member of the Council's Health Scrutiny committee, where he was a vigilant critic of the new world of fragmented and commissioned health services, while at the same time speaking up for those who are trying to make and keep the NHS free and fairly available to all those who need it.

Jeff also saw very clearly what is happening to the NHS as a result of the Coalition Government's Health and Social Care Act, one of the reasons why he (and I) couldn't continue in the Liberal Democrats.

Jeff cared deeply about the NHS, but that was one among many of the battles that he fought. He was twenty years a Councillor in Wiltshire, first elected as a West Wilts District Councillor in 1996 and then to the old County Council and as a Wiltshire Councillor in 2009.

His political journey included membership of the Labour Party, then the Lib Dems, and then becoming an Independent. He always insisted his values hadn't changed, others had. He stood up for his people in his Trowbridge ward, and was so well respected there that he was re-elected in 2013 (now as an Independent) with a huge 700 majority, and an extraordinary 86 per cent of the vote.

He served twice as the Town's Mayor. Most recently he supported Trowbridge residents in their fight against excessive development (though he was a strong supporter of building more affordable homes), and campaigned against government plans to impose fracking on the Trowbridge area. He also cared about the town's wartime heritage and was a leading light in the campaign for a memorial to the Trowbridge factories' construction of Spitfires in the Second World War.

I first got to know Jeff when Chippenham Hospital was threatened with closure.  He supported the successful local efforts to keep it open by arguing the case on the then County Council scrutiny committee.

Later we became colleagues in the unitary Wiltshire Council, first as Liberal Democrats and then as Independents. We shared many values, including a belief in the positive contribution of local government and the public sector, which seems all too often to be under threat these days.

One of Jeff's most recent and high profile campaigns was to keep the Hopper bus service to the RUH in Bath. He saw cutting it as a glaring example of how the needs of a vulnerable few were seen as dispensable in the name of the austerity programme to which he strongly objected. It is a sad irony that the last email I had from him was about his visits to the RUH, proudly travelling on the Hopper.

It is extraordinarily sad that his wife Helen, also a Wiltshire Councillor, was in hospital after a serious operation at the time of his death. They were an inseparable pair, and our thoughts are with Helen at such a difficult time.

In public, Jeff came across as bluff and genial, usually seen of late in his signature greatcoat.  He was a very effective public speaker, with his own very individual style. One of his great strengths was his deep understanding of the system, and an uncanny ability to get it to work for the causes he cared about.

He was well respected across the political divides.  He was rather a private person, and others will have known him better than I did, but he was also a genial and, when necessary, a critical friend, always supportive when needed. When I challenged the established view that all was well with Wiltshire Council's care in the community, Jeff was always there to back me up.

Personally I will miss him terribly. I know many others will too - deeply and genuinely, over and beyond the many public expressions of condolence. He is a huge loss also to progressive politics in Wiltshire. It is a sometimes an overused expression, but I believe it in this case to be true:  I don't think we will see his like again.

Councillor Chris Caswill represents the Monkton Division of Chippenham on Wiltshire Council.

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Grace Denman has died aged 103 - keeping the secrets of her wartime work

 

Grace Denman in 2012Grace Denman in 2012Grace Denman's funeral will be at 2.00pm on Wednesday, 24 February at St Mary's Church, Marlborough.

Mrs Grace Denman of Riverside, Marlborough died on Wednesday (February 10.)  She was aged 103.

She and her husband Teddy moved to Marlborough in 1985 and she became an active part of the community - especially as a member of the congregation of St Mary's Church.

She was born in the Essex village of Tiptree in 1912: Grace Mary Rosina Southgate. In those days Tiptree had no piped water, no electricity, not gas supply and no main drainage.  It was famous for its strawberry jam and school holidays had to fit with the harvest so children could go with their mothers to the strawberry fields.

1926: Grace aged 14 with her brother Bob aged 71926: Grace aged 14 with her brother Bob aged 7At six she started at the village school and then went to the High School in Chelmsford - a ten miles each way trip on the 'light railway'. Her fees were paid by 'an education grant'.  

Her father died in 1923 - quite probably the delayed result of the 'trench nephritis' (or Bright's disease) he had suffered during the First World War.

We know a great deal about Grace Denman's early life from the pages of a small book published in 2012 - to mark her hundredth birthday. 

Clare Napier interviewed her and the result is a wonderful glimpse of the life of a rural family overcoming the odds stacked against them.  Her recall of the details of those times is amazing.

She was good at French - and hated gym.  When she left school an aunt suggested she might like to become a telephone operator.  It must have slightly surprised her when she was accepted by the Post Office in London - she had never even spoken on the telephone.

There was a delay before she could start the job in London, and she worked as a poof-reader at a printing company in the village.

The 'Post Office' was, of course, the GPO (General Post Office) which handled all the country telecommunications.  At privatisation the telecommunications side of the GPO went to BT - who continued paying her pension.

With her impeccable French she worked on the switchboards of the Continental Telephone Service for eight shillings a week.  And she learnt German.

When the Germans overran France communications were cut and her job ended.   In 1940 she went to work on the switchboard at the headquarters of the Belgian authorities who had sought refuge in Britain.  Then she moved on to work at the offices of the Free French.

Later, as she told Clare Napier, "...I worked with the War Office.   I still can't talk about the work, but it was very interesting. In 1945 the war ended and I returned to the Post Office."

It is safe to say that her war work was important as when the post-war conferences began, she was recalled and worked for two years in Paris - ending with the United Nations conference of 1948.  It is unlikely she was 'merely' an interpreter.

Grace Southgate retired in 1972 - and married her boss, Teddy Denman, who was a widower and fourteen years older than her.  They had seventeen very happy years together before he died in 1990.

They had been persuaded to move to Marlborough by Teddy's younger son Eric, who was an orthopaedic consultant in Swindon.  

In Marlborough Grace Denman ran the Mothers Union, prayer groups and, for a time, the Luncheon Club.  And she put on coffee mornings to raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group, St Mary's Church and, when it was just starting, for the Prospect Hospice.

She was a long-serving proof-reader for Tower and Town.  As she put it, she had been doing that work 'for donkey's years' - and was still doing it in 2012.

In January 2013 she took part in Marlborough's traditional Wassail Ceremony - offering the first piece of toast to the robins at one of the trees planted by the Marlborough Community Orchard team.

Grace Denman's interviews with Clare Napier in 2011 and 2012 end thus: "I don't think 'poor me', everyone has gone, nobody remembers me....I feel I am so fortunate to live here in Marlborough where people are so friendly."

This article is based largely on Clare Napier's interviews and her 24-page booklet: "Born 1912".

 

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Obituary: Bob Wise - widely respected and long-serving local journalist and horseracing expert

Bob WiseBob WiseOne of the country’s longest serving local journalists, Marlborough father of three Bob Wise has died at the age of 92 after an amazing career of over 70 years broken only by his war service.

Mr Wise, who was married to his wife Elsie for 57 years was editor of the former Marlborough Times, worked as sub editor on the Swindon Advertiser and as a racing correspondent and tipster for the Wiltshire Gazette.

His wife was at his bedside when he died at the Miranda nursing home in Royal Wootton Bassett in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Home for most of his married life was at Upper Churchfields in Marlborough where he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary seven years ago.

He is survived by his wife, three children, Rosalind, Roger and Robin, and by two grandchildren, Cecilia and Samuel.

There will be a burial service for family and close friends only on Tuesday (August 11) at Marlborough Cemetery in Frees Avenue followed at 2.30pm by a service of thanksgiving for his life, in St Mary’s Church.

Mr Wise was brought up at West Overton, not far from the famous racing stables at Beckhampton and Manton that were to be a major feature in his life.

His family believes his love of racing probably started when a favourite uncle used to let him race snails on their doorstep!

He left Marlborough Grammar School at 16 to be apprenticed as a reporter on the former Marlborough Times and he was midway through his training when he joined the Home Guard before being called up into the Royal Air Force.

He worked in the RAF wireless communications section and his service took him to the Far East where by an amazing coincidence he bumped into his only brother, the late Alan Wise who died five years ago, who was also in the armed forces.

When peace returned in Europe, Mr Wise returned to reporting on the local paper meanwhile building up his contacts in the world of racing that enabled him in later life to become a widely respected racing correspondent and tipster.

He moved to the Swindon Advertiser and enjoyed the cut and thrust of daily journalism for some years before returning to the Marlborough Times as its editor, a position he held for many years.

Bob, as he was generally known, was interested in all aspects of sport and played soccer for his village side as a youngster and it was while playing tennis on the old grammar school courts in Elcot Lane that he met Elsie. In later life he became one of the leading snooker players at Marlborough Conservative Club.

Mrs Wise said: “Bob loved all sports but racing was the thing he liked most.”

He wrote a weekly column for the Handicap Book for more than 30 years and after retiring continued writing a weekly racing column for the Wiltshire Gazette well into his eighties.

As a Gazette journalist, Nigel Kerton worked alongside Mr Wise in Marlborough for almost 50 years.  He told Marlborough News Online: “Bob was the old fashioned journalist who had a network of contacts in every village, always researched his stories thoroughly and was well respected by all who knew him."

“As an editor he encouraged numerous young journalists into their careers and although I worked on a rival paper he gave me a lot of help in my early days and we became lasting friends.”

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John & Judith Woodget

John and Judith Woodget, pic courtesy of Anthony SpenderJohn and Judith Woodget, pic courtesy of Anthony SpenderJudith has been a major figure in Lockeridge village life for years and years.

She was a busy lady as she had a garden design business to run, and latterly an important role as granny to her family; this involved frequent trips to Seattle where son Matthew lives and works.  She was a very keen reader - she was a member of a thriving literary group, and for a long period was running her own book club at the same time.

Nonetheless she was a cheerful, willing and long-serving Parish Councillor - experienced in planning issues, particularly those to do with conservation, and an extremely enthusiastic figure in innovative Parish traffic calming projects.  Together we set up a village seminar with an international expert on traffic management, and the village hall was packed out to listen to him. She was tireless in continuing to try every means to introduce his ideas into the village.

Her work as a School Governor to Kennet Valley school was also something that demanded great perseverance and patience as she and her fellow governors succeeded in extending the Lockeridge site to contain what had hitherto been a two-site school, in East Kennett and Lockeridge.  At one stage, even poor John was called in to try to chair an excitable village meeting!  That seems a long time ago now as the school progresses calmly and well. Judith turned to the happier task of designing a “spiritual garden” within the school grounds, recently completed, which will now surely be a lasting memorial to her.

She always supported anything that brought villagers together, and she and John were leading lights in establishing our annual Christmas drinks on Lockeridge Dene. This December will feel very strange indeed without them.

Recently John retired from his heavy job at Intel, and he was looking forward to many happy outings in his pre-war Bentley.  He had been a “petrol head” since he was a boy.  My husband also has a classic car, and John and Judith had for the first time joined us in our trip to an Air Pageant in Oxfordshire, where we had a lovely day picnicking together with other classic car friends.  We had been planning to take our cars abroad to attend  Rolls Royce/Bentley Rallies in Europe, and the usual Woodget enthusiasm was in overdrive as we discussed various exciting alternatives.

Three weeks later, West Overton church was full and overflowing – standing room only – as we said goodbye to them, with flowers everywhere and the sun shining outside.

We will miss them so much.

Mary Spender

 

 see 'Lockeridge stunned by the loss of a popular couple in a tragic road accident'

 

From Matthew Woodget's blog of July 24:


When those you love are killed

It’s been five days since they died.  Since they were killed.  Both of them.  My loving parents who I was very close with.  As were my sisters.  As were our spouses.  They adored and were worshiped by their grandchildren.  They are gone forever.  There will be no new memories made.  They are now in the past.

It’s unbearably painful.


Floods of emotion

At first even breathing was impossible.  I learned to do that again.  It’s like that with everything now.

They say time heals all wounds.  It’s hard to believe that at this moment.

What is it like to learn to cope with such a tragic loss?  It is as if all my sadness and fear and tears are kept shut behind a door.  The problem is that all of my memories of my parents are also behind that door. I  crouch down and peak through the key hole.  Sometimes I see sadness.  Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I smile.

Smiling seemed impossible a few days ago.

Sometimes the door get’s kicked open.

Sometimes it’s mum.  Sometimes it’s dad.  Sometimes both together.

They come bursting from behind the door in a flood of emotion.

The thought of dealing with reality right now is unbearable. I’ve become intimately aware that whilst grieving one has to manage things like a funeral and the execution of a will and estate.

It’s exhausting. Literally.


Walking beside us

Wise people have said to me that you never get over the loss of a loved one. In this case two loved ones, lost in one tragic accident.  They say that you learn to integrate the loss into your life.  That it becomes a part of you.  Once I heard it described that as your heart heals you will have them walk beside you.

They will live on through us;  in our DNA and in what we know about them "Dad would totally say that", "Mum would not be happy with that!"  In this future there are there, with us.  Living on through our memories of them.  There are glimpses of this comfort.  Then we slip back into sorrow.

Grief is a journey we must take.  Whilst seeking to celebrate their lives.


Tributes

If I could be half of what either my Mother or Father were then I will have achieved a great thing.

Their love knew no bounds.  The community and beyond benefited from their warmth and generosity.  The outpouring of grief and support has been a chorus of broken hearts.  We deeply appreciate everything everyone has done from simple "I’m sorry" to hugs to friends going above and beyond to help with everything from driving, cars, airport runs, food, cooking.  I honestly don’t know what we would do without you.

For those kind enough to make a gift we would be honored if you could make it to the charity my father was chairperson of, The Wiltshire Community Foundation – ad specifically to the  "John and Judith Woodget Fund".  They would have been "tickled pink" by any donations that helped them help others despite them not being around to explicitly help any more.  A fitting tribute to their lives.


Love

I love you mum and dad.  I will forever.

Below is a picture of my beloved parents on their 40th Wedding Anniversary in 2013.  Mum is wearing her wedding dress.

This image is from my personal collection and is copyright © Matthew Woodget 2013  all rights reserved and reproduction completely prohibited.  Family and friends of course can contact me for a copyThis image is from my personal collection and is copyright © Matthew Woodget 2013 all rights reserved and reproduction completely prohibited. Family and friends of course can contact me for a copy

Blog reproduced courtesy of Matthew Woodget

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