On Saturday I took my second funeral of the week…. the first was for an elderly chap from a lovely friendly family that I met for the first time. The second funeral was a complete contrast. Anna, who died aged 47 had asked me to do her funeral and I helped her to plan it a year ago. I knew her from my days of teaching in Primary School because she had been in my class for thre years running from the aged of 9 to 11. I taught her friends and I taught her brother Adam – I wanted, more than ever, to make sure this one was right!
The funeral was at St Andrews, where I am at church most often which was helpful because I have keys, know where everything is and we have a projector and screen which meant I could do a slide show with collected images. Anna had sent me a collection… but I also had an archive of ones taken at school camps, school disco and in the classroom so that meant trawling through and reliving old memories….
Anna had wanted the funeral to be an informal celebration and had asked for a song from school camps, “Little Eyes” so my ancient EKO 12 string guitar was bought back into service and a mass sing-a-long of 250 voices raised the spirits and made what might have been a mournful occasion, a joyous one. We arranged that there would be a direct cremation because there were no appropriate Saturday cremation slots and so that the family, rather than being whisked away, could stay with the rest of the congregation for tea and pasties in the church.
We thought there might be 150 people there but it was over 250 with fiends, neigbours, old school friends and work colleagues. With mothering Sunday, the day after the funeral the church was decorated with hundreds of daffodils donated by a friend of Anna’s. A full church, brightly decorated, everything in place…. all I had to do was lead it.
Anna had been a clinical physicist – with responsibility for the radiography equipment in the Treliske Sunrise Centre so when I read about that and briefly thought of the number of folk I know, including my wife Lez, who had benefited there was a moment when I had to take a pause and hold emotion in check. The other moment was when reading about the time in my classroom and the friends I had mention, four of whom had come to the funeral- it was so touching that they had kept contact over three decades!
It was a long, long day with setting up and rehearsing in the morning, with Anna’s youngest son carrying the cross in procession, then the service with the longest reading of Eulogies I had ever done and finally the tea pasties and chatter afterwards. I was shattered by 5 o’clock but it was worth the effort. Our organist, Lynne, received much praise too choosing lively arrangements of the two hymns and playing them on the piano and then using the organ to play her own arrangement of You’ve got a friend in me mixed with Lord of the dance as I did the committal with close family at the hearse…. the words being heard over the wireless microphone by all in church across the music.
Below I have put the text of all the eulogies and my very short address….. there will never be another funeral like this one…. for me leading at any rate! Although I would take another funeral for an ex pupil if asked, after all it is a huge privilege to be able to serve them so many years later and to be thought of as the person to give them the ending they wanted.
Rest in peace anna, and Rise in Glory – I shall be praying for the family
Poem: Remember Me (chosen by Anna)
By Anthony Dowson
Speak of me as you have always done.
Remember the good times, laughter, and fun.
Share the happy memories we’ve made.
Do not let them wither or fade.
I’ll be with you in the summer’s sun
And when the winter’s chill has come.
I’ll be the voice that whispers in the breeze.
I’m peaceful now, put your mind at ease.
I’ve rested my eyes and gone to sleep,
But memories we’ve shared are yours to keep.
Sometimes our final days may be a test,
But remember me when I was at my best.
Although things may not be the same,
Don’t be afraid to use my name.
Let your sorrow last for just a while.
Comfort each other and try to smile.
I’ve lived a life filled with joy and fun.
Live on now, make me proud of what you’ll become
Adam’s memories from her teenage years – recorded by Sonya
In 1986, Anna left Stithians Primary School and started at Redruth School. Anna was a first-class student; she always worked hard, and spent much of her time at home studying to ensure that she got the GCSE grades needed to progress onto Redruth Sixth Form where she studied her A levels.
Anna enjoyed heading off abroad to Yugoslavia and France with her parents and Adam in their red Ford Sierra which would be packed to the brim, with everything apart from the kitchen sink!
Dad even made a wooden roof top box to ensure that all the essentials were packed. Whilst on holiday there were, of course, trips to the vineyards, however most of Anna’s time was either spent in the water or reading. On the journey home that top box was the perfect place to sneak a few bottles of red! Anna loved books and even when she was unwell she spent a great deal of time listening to audio books, with James Herriot being one of her favourites.
Anna had always had an interest in sport, both in and out of school. At school Anna she was in the tennis team and represented the school on several occasions. At home Anna’s love for water sports increased. Anna, and her family would often spend many hours at Stithians Lake learning to sail the Topper.
Anna loved spending time with her friends at the lake; she would spend many hours playing on the edge of lake, going on the banana boat or simply hanging out with friends and having fun! These were special times for Anna and she would often talk about the good times that had been spent there.
A few words about Anna from her work colleagues
Anna started working as a Clinical Scientist in the Sunrise Centre in 2005 and was a highly valued and respected member of the team.
As part of her role Anna carried out daily, weekly, monthly and annual quality assurance checks on the radiotherapy machines. She was involved in the commissioning of new equipment and in the checking of treatment plans before a course of treatment started resulting in many patients being successfully treated and benefitting from Anna’s eagle eye and meticulous attention to detail.
Another major part of her role was as a Quality Manager. This involved maintaining the Quality Management System, writing protocols, training staff and carrying out audits across the Radiotherapy Service to ensure the high standards were maintained. She was one of the lead Quality Managers for the annual external audits and also carried out audits across other departments. With Anna on board, you always knew you were in safe hands!
Anna was a fantastic physicist and an exceptional Quality Manager. Her attention to detail was second to none, vital in both roles.
She kept us all in line ensuring protocols were always followed; no deviation allowed! If you accidentally managed to use an out-of-date form, Anna would politely but firmly ask us to use the correct one!
Physicists and radiographers are very different breeds, but Anna was very much in tune with the radiographers which was a fabulous trait to have and made working with her even more enjoyable. She was one of the radiographers’ number one go to person; she always helped out where she could and always had a notebook and pen to hand!
A few of the team were fortunate enough to attend conferences with Anna. As much as focussing on work in the day, the meals out and shopping trips that were squeezed in are the moments that will be treasured the most. It was so lovely to spend time with Anna outside the work environment.
Anna was an incredible do-er. You absolutely knew that if she was working on a project, it wouldn’t just be completed, it would be completed to the highest standard and in the agreed timescales, if not before.
We feel honoured to have worked so closely with Anna at the Sunrise Centre over the last 18 years. We will miss her tenaciousness, her incredible knowledge, her professionalism, her no-fuss character and, most importantly, we will miss Anna for the amazing, strong, brave, kind and caring friend that she became. And, of course, her love of stripes! She was so much more than a physicist.
Nicky, Philippa & Zoe
I remember the first time I saw Anna as though it were yesterday. Anna was in her second year of her medical physics degree, I was in my final year if my Chemistry degree. We were near neighbours in student digs and our houses quickly merged. Our relationship however, was based on a misrepresentation. Anna always wore tracky bottoms and trainers and our houses decided to go on a joint run along by the river Exe. Based on her attire I assumed that she would easily make the run – however, it soon became clear that Anna was not quite as fit as she might appear – and so I did the gentlemanly thing and stopped to walk with her – or was it all part of her master plan? This misrepresentation did not seem to hinder our relationship and we soon started dating, our first date was flipping pancakes. Perhaps she was attracted to my Tesco staff discount car or perhaps it was my hot wheels, a original mini but we went on to be together for 26 years and happily married for 22 on those and have 3 wonderful children.
I also recall first meeting with her family, I clearly was nervous and rather than saying we had a left the cake in my car I proudly announced that we had a bun in the oven – it spoke immeasurably of Annas family that I wasn’t run out of town!!
As you might imagine our engagement and marriage were not the run of the mill. I had be toying with the idea of asking Anna to do me the honour of becoming my wife but as usual I did not have the certainty that she would say yes and so it was that I proposed via email – I thought this to be the height of modern living but apparently this wasn’t so. However I am pleased to say that after threats of violence if it were a joke she happily agreed. Our wedding was a small affair, held at the university with just close family and friends attending the ceremony and it was described the wedding coordinator as the most relaxed she had ever seen. This was illustrated when on the morning we discovered that the frosting on our wedding cake had curdled. I was out playing golf when I received Annas frantic phone call and so popped to Tesco to buy an alternative – finest of course, decorated with rose petals from the beautiful gardens.
Anna was the first in her immediate family to go to university, but she was not happy with her degree she continued to complete both a PhD and her hospital training. She became Dr Anna Pidwell and a qualified clinical scientist – however she took a temporary post as a lab technician in a school.
Anna had always wanted to return to her spiritual home of Cornwall, and we travelled down for Anna to look round the Sunrise Centre and she met and chatted with the then Head, Robin while I waited in the car. She came out a short time later – “howd it go?” I asked –
“OK!” replied Anna, “I think he offered me a job!!!”
Different times I guess!
However Anna was impatient to get on with life and so while she was waiting for a position to become available she decided to have a baby. During the labour Anna found that she didn’t need pain relief but did enjoy inflicting pain on me through the tens machine ramped up to 11.
Lottie arrived safely but never one to miss a bit a drama Anna decided to have a shower and the screen promptly shattered leaving Anna trapped surrounded by glass but as always she took it in her stride – did she want to make a complaint – why would she it was an accident.
And that was Anna not making a drama out of a crisis and being calm.
During this time we started our regular trips across the channel: before Lottie we travelled and stayed in caves in the Loire and in the days before SAT Navs it tested our relationship – but it survived.
Soon after Lottie had arrived Anna started at the RCHT Trelisk – to begin with Anna and Lottie travelled down on a Sunday evening and Anna worked three long days while Sally looked after Lottie. She then travelled back for a few days at home.
Fortunately I was able to follow Anna down to Cornwall and we bought our forever home here in Redruth. It needed a lot of work – you know it’s not good when you jump in one corner and the telly wobbles in the opposite corner and when the threadbare carpet is the only thing stopping you falling through the floor. Anna looked after the growing children while I, under Dicks expert tutelage, started about the renovation – it only took us 14 years to get carpet back on the stairs!!
After a few years we were blessed with the arrival of Will – on Christmas eve when we had picked up the turkey roll we had joked about our imminent baby being the same size but Will was slightly larger and almost got stuck – suddenly I was pushed from next to Anna to the back as the room filled with Drs and nurse looking after Anna and Will.
Our family was complete with the arrival of Joe. We had had several false starts going into the maternity unit only to be sent home again. We were debating whether I should take Lottie to swimming when Anna shouted out and we had to hustle!! Kids in the van, Anna in the van, drive down the road, kids dropped with a friend, then a sprint to the hospital doing nearly a 100 miles an hour down the A30 and mounting the pavement near the hospital – hoping to get pulled over so that I could either follow them or they could deliver the baby. We arrived at the maternity unit I opened the boot only for school work to flutter all over the carpark. Anna used some choice language as a scrabbled round the car park picking up bits of paper before we could hustle inside. Initially told to wait but Anna let the midwifes know that that was not going to happen and so we were ushered into a room and I became assistant midwife timing when various parts were born and finally getting the opportunity to cut the cord.
Family life was good, Lottie doing various dancing appearing in lovely shows at the regal, the boys starting their sporting journeys, Anna progressing at work and I had moved to schools a number of times but was now settled at Redruth – having the joy of teaching my own children – Lottie organising me both at home and school.
Then we had the devastating news that Anna had breast cancer. However, Anna faced it she did all crisis’s with determination and courage. She wanted to know the plan, always questioning the treatment and sticking to everything agreed rigidly. She put herself through an incredibly tough regime of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy. After 9 months of treatment, we all thought Anna had beaten this horrible disease.
After the treatment we had opportunities to enjoy time as a family and with our friends. We had a memorable holiday on the Il de Re. We were joined by Dick and Sally, the Gaunts and the Tremaynes.
In theory, the easiest way of getting round the island was by bike and so it was that we would set off for the day in mass peloton. One day we decided to go to a beach and so set off first into the local town and then on to the beach. However, we managed to get horribly lost in the town and every street we went down seemed to lead us back to the “centre ville”. Eventually someone used technology and pushed the bikes through a wood to get there whilst the rest of us took our lives in our hands and went the wrong way down a one way street.
Evenings were filled with fun and joy – the camp site must have thought we were mad as tables and chairs were transported around the camp site and we crammed onto the veranda, and I cooked on the BBQ. The evenings were long, and we constantly had to shh ourselves as we laughed and joked the nights away.
Christmas and new year were also favourite times, and we would hire large outward bound buildings and again share wonderful times with friends –Anna would recall Joe standing on the tables singing along to Queen, gathering round the outdoor fire as the lantern that got stuck in the surrounding trees, partying into the early hours then recovering the next day with a mass fry up. We won’t mention the cherry tomatoes!!
But this was not to last and after a few health issues Anna received the news that her cancer had returned and spread. Anna knew that her time was limited, and she wanted to make sure we all had more memories of her to cherish.
There was no grand bucket list only that she was able to spend as much time as possible with those closest to her.
Our last proper holiday was to the “house” in Exeter, a week spent with friends as always filled with smiles and laughter. The house had a current pool and a hot tub to which Doris the Unicorn was introduced. Many hours were spent by all of us unsuccessfully trying to ride the unicorn against the current. We revisited old haunts such as the university, our old student digs, the imperial pub where back in the day you could get 2 curries and 2 pints for a fiver – those were the days!!!
We had talked of hiring a motor home and travelling Europe but a few days in one at a windswept Stithians lake was enough to let us know that was not for us.
But there were other weekends away as a family, some local – in the various holiday parks around here and some further afield in places as exotic as Torquay. It was a chance for us to be a normal family in abnormal times, made even more abnormal by the arrival of covid making travel even more difficult.
Throughout these incredibly tough times our fabulous children continued to excel, and Anna could not have been prouder when Lottie gained a place at medical school. It was fitting that our last trip away was to both to celebrate Annas birthday and visit Lottie in Exeter, joined by Dick and Sally.
Pushing Anna along next to the canal in the Autumn sunshine was a lasting memory. I know it was a great comfort to Anna that all of our children are supported by such wonderful friends both here and in Exeter.
Throughout Anna’s treatment she always refused to feel sorry for herself and she was determined to make sure that she got out of the house as often as possible and so a tradition was born.
We tried many different cafes but there was one that we returned to over and over again – Stithians lake. It held a special place for Anna with memories of past summers spent sailing. Over what turned up to be an exceptional summer we returned many times for hot chocolates and bacon rolls.
We watched as the level of the lake fell and fell and then once the weather broke started to rise again. I know that people loved the water level updates and seeing Anna still out and about sitting on her veranda. We will continue to return and sit on Annas veranda to remember her.
Anna did not like to think or talk about the end of her life but agreed that she would go into the hospice when the was right at the very end of her life. And so she grudgingly entered the hospice on Thursday 2nd March.
She said that she didn’t want to spend more time then she had to there, and so it should not have been a surprise when Anna passed away peacefully the next day – as always it was on her terms!!!
Annas achievements are numerous and significant. From being the first in her family to go to university in a subject that at the time was not normally studied by women. Then, not satisfied with a degree, she continued on to complete a PhD and the rigorous training to become an clinical scientist.
Then over 18 years she became a trusted and valued colleague working in the sunrise centre. There are many hundreds of people in Cornwall, and I know a number of people here today that have been cured of the disease either directly or indirectly with the work that Anna undertook.
However, I also know that these achievements were insignificant to Anna when compared to her greatest achievements, the ones she valued the most – those of friends and family. As a friend she was loyal and trustworthy always willing to listen and guide and never judgemental. She supported her friends through their tough time even when she herself might not be a 100%. She always thought of others in all her actions, whether it was remembering birthdays or significant events she was always there for people.
Anna’s family really did mean everything to her. She knew she was blessed to have three healthy children and made her even more determined to initially beat the disease and once it was clear that was not possible to ensure that she had as much time as possible with her children. She could not have been prouder to watch her children grow and celebrate each success with them. I am so pleased that Anna got to see Lottie enter medical school and start her journey to becoming a doctor. With the boys she celebrated every positive report, every good point from school and every sporting success and she was content that they are on the right path to success in whatever they choose to do and I know she will continue to look over all of them as they make their way in life.
I also know that Anna was also pleased to have her parents there to support her through the final stages of her journey. She drew great comfort from having mum on hand help to care for her as her body failed and to have her Dad close by. And although she did not always show it she was pleased when her brother call each day and Annas mind was also put at peace to know that Adam and Sonya will be there to help support all of our family.
To sum up Anna’s character is difficult. There are those in Anna’s position that are happy to share their progress in public – all the ups and the downs. Anna was not like this, in terms of her treatment and the progression of the disease she was a private person confiding only with those closest to her. However, as we all know she was incredibly determined and she put herself through round after round of treatment always with the hope of more time. This gave those around her the strength to carry on with their lives. She showed amazing resilience when many would have thrown the towel in she continued to fight. She continued to be a true friend to many of you here taking a genuine interest in others life when it would have been easy to be consumed with her own problems. She was overwhelmingly positive even in the face of news that many would have found too hard. She liked a plan – always a plan. And through out this she kept her sense of humour – yes there were undeniably hard times but there were many good times that we can all look back on with fondness.
We were lucky – I know that at the moment we do not feel it but we were. We were lucky to have known Anna, lucky to have been able to spend time with Anna, to share a joke and a laugh with Anna. As friends, we are lucky to have those wonderful positives memories of Anna. As Colleagues, lucky to have someone so reliable and competent. As a family we were lucky to have such a special daughter, sister, niece, cousin, mum and wife. However our paths crossed Anna’s we were so, so lucky.
Finally I ask that you take to heart the word of the poem. Whilst at the moment we may feel sad that Anna is no longer with us. We may feel anger that Anna, who led a life that put her at such a low risk of developing cancer, not only developed it but developed a version that was so hard to treat, is no longer with us. Anna’s only fault was to be a women and so at an increased risk of this terrible disease. And although at the moment it may cause us pain to think of Anna and to talk of the times we shared with Anna I ask that you do the following
Remember the good times – remember the times she made you smile, remember the times you shared a joke, remember the times you laughed together.
And please –Talk about those times – Share those times- If you see me in the street please talk about Anna – she will never be forgotten, she must never be forgotten
As a teacher I never had favourite pupils but I did have classes that were particularly memorable for one reason or another. One of those classes lasted three years in the late 1980s when Anna and five other girls became the stars that demonstrated why I found teaching at the time, such a brilliant and joyous job.
Anne, Claire, Lucy, Christine, Stephanie and Anna came as a package always working together in some combination, rarely falling out, avoiding succumbing to the irritating quarrels of many 9 year old girls and working incredibly hard.
Anna and her five colleagues would try pretty much anything thrown at them. One key part was showing the girls could outshine the boys in using the computers which the lads at the time thought their nerdy province. Whether it was the organising and problem solving around the Spacex adventure game or programming…. ((what’s called coding these days)) in Logo on a borrowed research machine, Anna and her group had to be top. In amongst the slides are pictures of the interactive graphical work she produced as well as others in and around our rather battered Eliot hut classroom.
After the first year with them, I moved to teach top juniors (into another Eliot hut) which meant that they came with me as the brightest of the year fives in a mixed age class. The elliots were next to a cattle field and I well remember the day when muck spreading stopped all work. The class, including Anna holding their noses and mock gagging!”
In Anna’s final year I had a term out on secondment to another primary school as acting deputy head. Such was the shock at the gulf in approach, standards and behaviour (especially of the headteacher) I withdrew my application for the vacant post and went back to finish the year with the class I knew were about to do their last school camp and I did not want to miss the traditions they looked forward to of stories and songs.
Anna’s group were in my last cohort to do a 7 nights under canvas at Rock….. surviving gale force winds and torrential rain with stoic good humour and the grace to have fond memories.
Such was the impact, that Anna, when we planned this celebration a year ago, thought you should all enjoy the experience of a Stithians School Camp song…. Her choice was Little Eyes….. which might not be the same as other versions you might have heard so bear with us…. It was Anna’s choice and Anna will expect you all to sing with the same gusto as kids on camp. As you sing glance up at the photos and see Anna’s smile and remember it. Anna lives on, not just in the Christian belief of a life with God where there is the promise of perfect healing and eternal life but in the hearts of all who knew her. She lives on every time you tell the stories, look at the photographs or watch a boat on Stithians lake. She will have left a little part of her in all of us who knew her…. Cherish that and like Anna, live a life that makes a difference.
Song / Little Eyes