We are all going to miss Hilda terribly as she was a fundamental part of all our lives. The large number of people here to celebrate Hilda’s life is testimony to her influence over four generations.
It will not surprise any of you that the arrangements for today were made by Hilda, from the lovely woodland committal service this morning to this afternoon’s ‘thanksgiving’. Her detailed instructions were written on several sides of paper (more like tablets of stone), and have been a godsend to Hilary and Carol, as so much was already decided – the choice of locations, hymns, and music were all Hilda’s.
It is important to thank many people today, not just for their support over these few days (the church, funeral directors etc), but also over the last few years. Only recently did Hilda completely lose her physical independence, but before that she required gradually increasing support, and this came from two main directions. On the medical side, the infirmary staff worked wonders – esp. taking the risk of operating on her right leg. The surgeon and anaesthetist both realised that Hilda had the courage, physical resolve and positive attitude that would see her through – and it did. That leg healed beautifully. At home the Doctor and especially the District Nurse team became Hilda’s friends as well as carers. Many of them are here this afternoon, and we would like to thank them all, publicly, for their loving care and dedication towards Hilda. Forget the tabloid stories – this was the NHS at its best.
Then there is this community to thank. Before Hilary and Carol committed half their time to be up here, you all helped give Hilda a wonderful life. I know you will each say ‘we didn’t do much’, but when multiplied by so many people, this was effective, and in return appreciated. You will know how you helped, whether calling into 21 for a chat or taking her out for a trip or perhaps helping with paperwork. You all contributed to Hilda’s happy and satisfying life right up to the end. And she of course returned everything with added value.
Hilda asked me to give this address many years ago. The factual side was easy enough to bring together, but the essential Hilda was harder to divine and describe, even though I had known her for 43 years, almost as long as I had known my own Mother.
She was born in 1905 in Carlisle into a strong Methodist family, from whom she gained her firm faith, her family values and a strong sense of life’s purpose. She was proud to go to the High School on a scholarship (St Aidan’s have had their flag at half-mast this week) and then became a teacher, finishing up at Norman Street School. It is here that we first see her true character, for Hilda always claimed that in 10 years of teaching large reception classes, only one child left her year unable to read, and indeed many of her ex-pupils kept in touch for the next 75 years. She taught at the Methodist Sunday school, and in 1933 won the Gold Medal in the National Sunday School Teacher’s exam (no 70% A* grade here – just 100 % - the highest score in the country!) As a result our family gave up playing charades at Christmas as she always chose the most obscure Biblical Character that no-one else had heard of!
Society changed a great deal over Hilda’s lifetime, and for us it seems strange that she had to give up her job when she got married to Carl. I would be here for ever if I described her family life from then on. Suffice it to say that theirs was a wonderful loving marriage, lasting nearly 40 years. There were few visits to 21 when Carl was not mentioned, or their extensive travelling, or their family holidays and escapades. He was always in her heart, and her courage was tested, but not found wanting, when he died in1976.
As a mother Hilda obviously did a wonderful job (I am a little biased here!), but to show how much she gave to Hilary and Carol, you just have to see how readily they both came back up here to return that love and care. They also gave her that wonderful 100th birthday party at Lyzzick Hall – a very happy celebration of Hilda’s life, and one she was able to take full part in! Several times recently she asked me what she had done to deserve such love. My answer was easy – just look back over the first 100 years of your life. She was rightly proud of them both, as she was of her Grandchildren, and Great-grandchildren.
As James and Helen grew up, Hilda kept in touch with what they were doing – not always understanding (especially the science!), but always following with genuine interest. The 70 year age gap between them was not a barrier. For Hilda, family ties were far stronger than that and her love and respect for them was reciprocated. To mark that special relationship, James has set up a special website. The address is on your service sheet. On it he has written his own tribute to Hilda, and Helen will do too. If you visit the site you can add your own memories and thoughts, which are then available to all who remember Hilda. I think she would be amazed, and delighted that she now has her own website!
She was also very touched when James and Jayne called their son Jex to continue the family name. Jex and Evie had just got to know Great- granny properly, but I suspect that at the age of 4 & 2, their main memory will be of the old lady with the stair lift that they went whizzing up and down on; or searching her garden for Easter Eggs! When they are older I hope they read the website and remember Hilda with the pride and love we all do.
Hilda was fundamentally a family person, and the extended family at that. How often would she amaze us with her memory of the family tree both past and present? And not just her own – you sometimes felt that she knew your family as well as you did! She became the head of a great family circle, and everyone in it was pulled together by her interest, love and commitment to them.
Almost as importantly she was a friend to so many. Amongst Hilda’s arrangements for this service was written ‘prayers to be said by Jeremy Mudditt’. Unfortunately Meg and Jeremy are away in America, but I know their thoughts are with us today. Instead Jeremy has written a prayer for the occasion, which comes later in the service. This is a moving contribution from a very close friend, and expresses how so many thought of her. Hilda was there for all of us. She welcomed us whatever state of health she was in, and whether we stayed for weeks or just a few minutes. I shall always remember her standing at the front door, arms open saying “Come in, come in”. She supported, helped and perhaps most importantly listened to us. She would sometimes give carefully considered advice – it was rarely wrong! We always left 21 feeling better, either after great hospitality, or after a soothing chat.
Not that she was right about everything! In a family of Geographers and Orienteers, her map skills were notoriously unreliable, so perhaps it is fitting that I should take you now to a place she could find without difficulty.
Some time last year, when I was up here on my own, I had, as always, lost at Rummy; did not dare suggest Scrabble, because I would have been humiliated; so had taken her for a drive to this favourite spot. We sat in companionable silence looking at the view and reading. And I suddenly realised that this landscape epitomised the essential Hilda that I had grown to love. To the North, East and South of us were the Uplands of Scotland; the Pennines; and the wonderful Lake District. These are famous and popular areas – the celebrities of the tourist world. But they lack things that are vitally important. Without their beauty they would struggle economically.
But our location was unspectacular - low and flat. Beside us was calm but deep flowing water; on the land were sheep, cattle and plentiful fields; in front of us were resident and migratory birds in large numbers, finding sustenance all year. The area has a rich if hidden history, and we were close to Hilda’s home city of Carlisle. When you next want a short drive out, take the road along the Solway Marshes through Port Carlisle, stop in any one of the lay-bys and remember Hilda. Don’t all go at once, because the area is best appreciated with a degree of solitude. It is the life-blood area for this region – without the Solway Plain, the marshes and the river, the rest of Cumbria would struggle. In the same way Hilda kept a low humble profile, but was at the very heart of her family and friends. Like the birds we would call into 21 for her physical and spiritual sustenance. Like her beloved marshes, Hilda supported others; quietly and undemonstratively but nonetheless vitally. We will be so much poorer for her departure.
To finish, I would like to quote from a report written in 1933 when Hilda won her medal – all of it as relevant today as it was 74 years ago
“Miss Millar gives herself wholeheartedly to the service of Christ, has an alert mind and keen spirit, and a rich and vivacious personality. The impress of her wisdom, sympathy and keenness are soon felt. Her department has become a shining example of efficiency, success and happiness and a constant inspiration to the whole school”.
All we would add now is ‘She became Mother to us all’.
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