I was very sorry at our last meeting to announce the death of Susie Dean. Well-known as a stalwart of the National Gardens Scheme in Lincolnshire, where she was its enthusiastic and energetic county organiser for 25 years, she had also been a member of SLGS almost since we began.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend her funeral myself, but I heard from Sharron that another of our members, Erica McGarrigle (herself a local NGS volunteer), had given an excellent tribute. Erica has very kindly given her permission for us to make it available here. Many thanks.
Let me start this tribute and thanksgiving for Susie’s extraordinary life with the family … as we remember her today, so we are thinking about all of them today, and we share with you, young and old, yes … grief at losing her, but the comfort and wealth of so many happy and special memories.
Susie was a much loved and devoted mother to Sarah and James. For them to lose 2 parents within six weeks has been a very tough call. They have played a huge part in making sure that Susie was able to stay at home during her last few months.
She was an adored grandmother to Sam, Louis, Caspar and Felix. A loving sister to Onie, Andrew and Jamie,… and a loving stepmother to James, Julia, Veronica and Rosie. She was also a very favourite aunt to 8 nephews and nieces. She was a granny to beat all grannies – all my grandchildren adored her too.
The fact that so many of us have come together today to celebrate her life and remember her… is testimony to the love and affection we all had for her in her life, a love that will linger long in our memories.
Susie was something of a Matriarch across extended family ties. She was the same to everyone and shared in equal proportions her extraordinary love to those close to her, but she was also able to share that love with those not necessarily close to her or related to her but who shared common interests,… gardeners, acquaintances and total strangers. She was the most self-deprecating and empathic person I have ever met.
Susie was born in 1936 at Fingask in Perthshire where her sister and one of her brothers were also born. It was the home of her grandparents and a much loved sanctuary for the whole family in the war years, when her father was a prisoner of war in Germany… and in later years, most holidays were spent at Fingask. Encouraged by their mother, they loved the outdoor life, jumping on and off statutes of stone lions, making bonfires, fishing and so on …all part of her very happy childhood. And possibly, being allowed to ‘have a go’ with the shears to help with trimming the box and the yew topiary may well have sown the seeds of her later passion for gardening. Who knows…
When her father returned from Germany, the family lived in Battersea where the 2 girls had a Governess until Susie was 9. She hated her first school, Bowfront, but loved Downham in Essex where she was known as Minihaha why?…because of that wonderfully infectious laugh… which we all know so well, don’t we?
When her parents moved to Hastingwood in Essex, Susie hunted with the Essex, and in later years, she loved staying with Onie and Derry in the Borders, following The Buccleugh in the car. I’m told she was a dab hand at spotting a fox a long way off – perhaps her eyesight was always somewhat better than her hearing…!
She married Richard Allen in 1961 and thereafter Sarah and James were born.
Richard and Susie lived at Ranskill after their marriage, Richard farming and Susie a hard working farmer’s wife being sent off to collect spare parts for tractors, bringing up young children and running an interior decorating business with Fay Bayley. Samples of material everywhere, painting huge barn doors, duck flighting over a pond on the farm, lots of tennis went on with the children, mostly at Budby with Richard and Liz Hanson. We all called it ‘The Royal Court’. But above all Susie, even in those early years, was always to be found in her garden.
Fay remembers a picnic with Susie on the way back from a shopping trip to Nottingham. They spread the rug down at Thoresby amongst the trees, a lovely summer day,… after a while Susie, who has always been very observant and not just with foxes, said to Fay. ‘That bush has moved’. ‘What do you mean?’ said Fay. ‘I mean that bush over there has definitely moved.’ Sure enough they had picked a spot in the middle of some Army manoeuvres.
Susie’s interests have been many and varied… but country sports, tennis, fishing, national hunt racing, gardening and more recently painting in Spain have been her passions. And she loved nothing more than picking up with her two Labradors.
After marrying Patrick Dean in 1977, she was just as happy and creative, be it at Mere…. or at Patrick’s Scottish home at Persie…
I can see her now, with Pat Burrowes and myself, on safari in the front hall at Persie in pursuit of a wretched BAT, who had no business to be in the house… It had to go. But help was at hand… After quarter of an hour chasing this bat round and round, I produced my fishing net while Pat disappeared under a table… Out came a ladder and we finally netted the bat clinging to the pelmet of some very tall curtains… the bat rather than Susie I may say…
I have witnessed her ability to cast her fly beautifully over many a river – The Tay, The Spey, The Naver, The Oykel, The Brora and The Helmsdale, but, unlike the rest of us, her natural modesty would never allow any exaggeration in terms of the size of her fish. One of her favourite places for holidays was at Kilfedder on the Helmsdale, with family and friends. However over and above all these pastimes, her love and knowledge of gardening was always at the top of her agenda.
Susie was the National Gardens Scheme County Organiser for Lincolnshire for 25 years. When she took over from Judy Toler, she inherited 12 gardens… and NO committee of helpers. On her retirement last year, no less than 62 gardens opened in this county. In the early years, when she raised £1,000 for the first time, she was thrilled to bits. Last year the total was £50,000. Susie had a feel for quality control, the conviction that comes from knowledge and experience, and the compassion to let the disappointed prospective garden owners down lightly if their gardens were not quite up to the mark. Her dedication to the cause weekend after weekend in the summer and spadefulls of enthusiasm and encouragement to all garden owners was phenomenal. D’you know… I think she matched all those qualities in her relationships with all of us.
The NGS is the single largest donor nationally to Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care; what could be more fitting or appropriate than the fact that both of those organisations helped to care so sensitively for Susie in the last few weeks of her life. There were other wonderful nurses involved too, and all of them gave Susie the greatest loving care.
As a gardener Susie had a lot to live up to. Her mother was a keen and knowledgeable gardener and I can still visualize her in Perthshire, roaring around on a red tractor, well into her eighties, pointing out shrubs which ‘needed moving’. Susie has taught me all I know about gardening. It was her passion, it’s now mine… although I have been a pretty poor pupil. Some years ago, Susie and I started a small business growing and drying flowers in Patrick’s office garden at Mere. I can’t pretend it was EVER financially viable…but we had enormous fun together. Some seeds were started off in a greenhouse quite successfully, others sown directly into the ground not so successfully. Susie would lie on her tummy one end of the row and I would lie the other end to try and spot any green shoots. Shouts from Susie one day LOOK, LOOK they’re coming UP!
The poor flowers would either get picked too soon or too late… then Patrick would complain that there were weeds everywhere… and “why don’t you Women get hold of a hoe?” Bunches were hung up to dry in a particularly damp stable… so mould appeared at regular intervals and dehumidifiers were then installed in large numbers…
Like a number of our contemporaries (which may include some of you!) the world of computers, the internet and all that minefield was never really Susie’s natural world, but Susie was a trouper, and how I admired the way she tentatively waded in… By her own admission she nearly drowned in all that technology day after day – forgetting passwords, pressing …no …actually … THUMPING the mouse or the keyboard with frustration. And so she would call me. ‘It’s Susie, can you come over…’
The last time I went over not so long ago she said. ‘I’m in a GHASTLY muddle. My mouse has broken … It’s died…’ So I said ‘Can you use your finger on the pad at the bottom’ ‘NO I’m not good at that’ ‘Well, have you dropped your mouse’? ‘NO’ ‘Well, have you checked the battery’? ‘WHAT battery?’
‘Well, it’s got a Battery’ … ‘OH … OH … Have you got any Batteries?’
OH YES. A massive boxful of batteries appears. We change the battery. Hey presto a little arrow appears on the screen! ‘OH HOW BRILLIANT!’
And then there was the Hearing Aid saga. New (and very expensive) hearing aids were purchased. I arrived when they had been worn for precisely 24 hours. Hearing aid STORY …
Susie had gone to sleep in her chair watching the racing on the telly, when she woke up, Swift (her Labrador) had her head on Susie’s lap and was quietly munching on something. Susie assumed it was a walnut from the tree in the field so didn’t look to see what it was until she noticed she was short of one of her hearing aids, Swift had pulverised it…
But through all those difficulties that SMILE, that self-deprecating giggle was the reward for the help any of us were able to give her.
You will all have lots of stories about Susie… and many of them will bring smiles to our faces… and you know, when a story was told about her, she would laugh more than anyone. Let me share one with you…
When Colin and I took her down to the funeral of one of my cousins, a great friend of Patirick’s, on the way home, there was an incident at a motorway service station, where we stopped to have coffee. The place was packed, so Colin suggested that he should go and find a table, while Susie and I bought the coffee. We duly bought 3 coffees. Susie held 2 and I held 1. As I was pouring milk into one of hers I looked down and said ‘Susie your skirt is round your ankles!!’ ‘OH GOD!’ she said but still went on holding the 2 coffees because there wasn’t anywhere to put them down. I put mine on the floor and tried to surreptitiously pull up her skirt. Well if you’ve ever tried to do anything surreptitiously in Starbucks you will know that it’s not that easy…! The faces of the customers on the adjacent tables had to be seen to be believed and by the time we had ‘FIXED’ the problem and found our table we were crying with laughter.
I have known Susie for nearly 50 years. I will always cherish, as you will too, her friendship – a lovely person who listened, who cared, who loved the garden of life and nurtured those she touched in it, all through her life.
Colin found these few lines on a wall in a museum in Prince Albert, South Africa… I think these words say it all:
Time sifts our friendships and our friends
For time alone can be the test,
And with the passing years
We lose the false and keep the best.
And when beyond the distant hills
The golden sun of life descends…
We find God’s greatest gift
Has been the love of good and faithful friends.