Down-Town Abby

Downtown Abbey Concert Programme

Down-Town Concert Programme

Abbotsford is situated in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, 70 kilometers east of Vancouver.  It has a population of approximately 140,000 people.  It is exquisitely located about half way along the valley which is 140 kilometers long with the town of Hope at the eastern end.  The Fraser River flows through the valley and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver.  The surrounding mountains are majestic and the highest ones are more than 7,000 feet high.  They are snowcapped from late autumn, through the winter and into early spring. These coastal mountains eventually merge into the Rockies. As a result, wherever we drive or walk in our town there is a vista of mountains. An extra blessing is Mount Baker, 11,000 feet high, in nearby Washington State, USA which is covered in snow all year round. Mount Baker from AbbotsfordShe dominates our town and much of Abbotsford enjoys her resplendent beauty. Martin is a pilot and he has taken many of our visitors in the past for a flight around Mount Baker, in fact, he has logged 56 flights around and over the summit. I never cease to be impressed and awestruck by the beauty of Mount Baker.  From MountBaker3Abbotsford to Northern California there is the chain of the Cascade Volcanos starting with Mount Baker then Rainier, Mount St Helens, Adams, Hood and Shasta.

We have had the privilege of living in Abbotsford for over 40 years.  It is often described as “the city in the country” and the raspberry capital of Canada.   Abbotsford Raspberry Capital of CanadaWithin a very short distance of our home, we can be completely in the country; our city has been very wise in tastefully creating 97 kilometers of urban trails where we can walk for lengthy periods and enjoy the beauty of wooded areas with picturesque lakes where deer and even black bears live. Canadians love the great outdoors and here in Abbotsford that is made possible because of 157 parks and trails. Within a short period of time, there is the choice of mountain-top hiking, Mill Lake with board walkdownhill skiing, water skiing, camping, hot-springs and if you are really adventurous, you can head up to Sumas Mountain with mountain bikes or sky diving.  In an hour or so you can experience white water rafting and sturgeon fishing.

Abbotsford is a multicultural city: the majority group is European Caucasians such as the Mennonites who came from Germany or Russia, the Dutch and British.  The Dutch influence can be seen in the annual, colourful tulip festival on Sumas Prairie (see pictures below – Ann King, a Mexican friend and Grace are featured in one of them).  The next MtBakerWinterlargest ethnic group in Abbotsford is South Asian with a large community of Sikhs from India, plus immigrants from Pakistan, the Orient and other parts of the world.  We have a 3% population of First Nations (our indigenous people) and over the past few decades many families have adopted Haitian and Ethiopian children. English is the primary language spoken here, with 78.7% of the population having it as their first language.  However, we are a bilingual country with French having equal status and we have a number of French Immersion Schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 which is excellent and by far the best way of becoming bilingual.DSCN1982

Abbotsford has a DSCN1984musical tradition partly due to the Mennonites who settled here in large numbers.  The Mennonites are known particularly for  their choral performances and as I taught in the Mennonite Educational Institute for a number of years, I experienced the high quality of the choral work with the purity of sound that one hears in highly ranked professional choirs. Most of the students in this school play at least one musical instrument as well as singing. Many learn to sight read music from when they are children.

From such a cultural background, emerged Dr. Calvin Dyck, who is the director and conducter of the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra.  He is a brilliant violinist and has a teaching studio with 25 students.  He is also a producer for local shows and concerts.  In 2012, Calvin was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to the community and in 2013, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities by Trinity Western University.

Arriving in Rolls Royce

Calvin and two cast members arrive in a Rolls Royce

We are so blessed to have such a man in our town and I liken him to André Rieu. Calvin has inspired so many children and teens to enjoy classical and good contemporary music.  His programmes are full of exhilarating, fun music.  He has a very enthusiastic and charismatic personality which is infectious and is reflected in the members of this orchestra.  It is gratifying to see how much these young people enjoy what they are doing and I personally think that they are worthy of performing in any concert hall.   He has also collaborated with many local performers in the very popular, local series of concerts known as Songs, Strings & Steps.   In March, 2016, Martin and I attended a performance called “Down Town Abby” – no, there are no spelling errors in this title but a very clever idea of Calvin’s.  Abbotsford is quite frequently called Abby and so because of the very popular and successful British TV production ”Downton Abbey”  came the idea to have a concert featuring some of the best of British music in one of our largest churches in Abbotsford.  It was a superb concert which left me spellbound.

Maid at Down Town Abby

A maid from Downton Abby

Those who bought tickets were encouraged to dress up a la Downton Abby era and many did.  All the ladies at the doors were dressed as parlour maids.

At the commencement of the programme, as the orchestra started playing an introduction for “God save the Queen,” the “Queen” (a look alike of course) walked majestically on to the stage accompanied by a member of the Queen’s Guards, complete with a red tunic and black bear skin head gear.

Queen and Guard

“The Queen” with her personal guard and entourage (below left).

They crossed the large stage in a dignified manner with the Queen gently waving to us and she sat down on a “throne” like chair, then about 20 young people walked on to the stage wearing jeans and white T shirts with a Union Jack flag logo.

Queen and Entourage

As that was happening, on a huge screen behind the orchestra and two other screens on either side was a picture of an enormous crowd of patriotic Brits waving union jack flags at an auspicious royal event.

Brit Singers -2

Proud Brits celebrating

Brit Singers

Brits singing

This was followed by the music of “Downton Abbey” by John Lunn and while this was being

Phantom of the Opera -3

A song from Phantom of the Opera

Mars Bringer of War

The orchestra plays “Mars – the Bringer of War” from Holst’s Planets Suite.

played, photos of the characters and scenes from the show were projected.  The programme continued with the music from a film of” Pride and Prejudice,” then Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu,” Pie Jesu Alystron and Rachel Fastand “Phantom of the Opera.” “Mars” from the Planets Suite by Holst and the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” which was sung by a group of young people.

Wardrobe and children

Children, their teacher and the wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia)

When I arrived at the auditorium I noticed that there was a wardrobe on the stage and wondered why it was there but I found the answer to that when I saw the title of the last item before the intermission, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”  A lady sat in a red chair with 2 young lads sitting at her feet as she read part of the story of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  Scenes from the first film that was made were shown. During the Intermission, free tea and shortbread were available, all in bone china cups.

The concert continued with “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, followed by “Palladio” by Karl Jenkins and then “Dido’s Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which I know so well.  It is a favourite of mine because when I was in school in Port Talbot we did the whole work of Dido and Aeneas. Having spent so many hours learning all the choruses and performing it multiple times I think I could have sung all the arias too.   I actually had a small part in it as one of the witches and I still have a CD of it.  Then we had an aria from “The Phantom of the Opera” by Lloyd-Webber which was dramatic and powerful.  The phantom made a quick entrance at the beginning and slipped away and then a spotlight shone on him in the balcony. On the right of the stage were some masked couples dancing, dressed up for a ball while scenes from the film were projected on the screen.

James Bond 007 -2

James Bond and assistant in action

Themes from “007” were played as Agent 007 ran all over the auditorium leaping and trying to escape from an opponent, then from the high ceiling appeared a thick rope down which someone climbed down. The penultimate item was the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and the choral group again excelled themselves. James Bond -1

Land of Hope and Glory

Orchestra and singers perform “Land of Hope and Glory”

The grand finale was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march “Land of Hope and Glory,” played with much gusto and we all of course stood up reverently and with the help of the words on the screen sang fervently with hands on our hearts à l’Américaine!!! Many of the sights of London were displayed and needless to say I was a basket case and wanted to catch the next flight to London to see you all.

I was so impressed and delighted from the opening number to the end of  this amazing concert and was so glad that I was able afterwards to tell Calvin how much I appreciated all that was done; it was such quality, creativity and talent. Calvin Dyck and his team have every reason to be proud of such an achievement. He is truly our own home spun André Rieu.

Canadian Flag

Maple leaf flag flying in the wind.

Credits: Author – Grace; Photos – Ron Peters (thanks Ron), Susan Being Snippy and Martin





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My Tribute to and Memories of my long time friend, Yvonne Williams Good (October 11, 1936-February 22, 2016)

1-Yvonne 1948

Yvonne at 12 years of age.

2.Yvonne-- 1948

Another picture of 12 year old Yvonne.

From the age of 9 months, I lived with my parents and big brother Calvin in 20, James Street, Port Talbot, South Wales. At that same time, a little girl called Yvonne used to spend quite a lot of her time with her grandparents who lived in the same street as I. Mr. and Mrs. Raikes had converted their parlour, or front room, into a grocery store which was quite common at that time. It was a fascinating place because everything such as sugar, tea, coffee, flour, and dried fruit had to be weighed and packaged according to demand and cheese had to be cut according to the required amount. This provided a wonderful opportunity to chat with the friendly grocer. Few possessed cars, and so for those who had too much to carry home in shopping bags, it was the custom that groceries could be delivered to the customer’s home. This was made possible by the use of a very large, heavy bike which sported a huge metal basket at the front.

Both my parents and Yvonne’s decided that we should attend a kindergarten situated a number of streets away from our homes at the house of a lovely lady called Miss Maines who later became my first music teacher. So Yvonne’s grandpa used to put us in this basket much to our delight and ride the bike to and from Miss Maines’ home every day. So when we were about three years of age, Yvonne and I became friends and then, when we were four we started attending the Trefelin Infants’ and Junior School until we were ten years of age.

I remember Yvonne well as she was very friendly and we were both talkative. She always used to boast that she could talk as much and faster than I which, if you know me, is completely impossible. On Friday afternoons, our teacher Miss Miles used to give us an opportunity to tell a story to the whole class, at the end of the day. This is when Yvonne showed a natural talent for narrating and acting. She used to hold us spell bound and I still remember vividly a story that she had written herself. It was brilliant.  It was called “The Cat and the Custard” which was about a little girl who was left in the care of a babysitter and at seven o’clock it was time to go bed. Once she was upstairs in bed, she couldn’t stop thinking of the jug of custard that her mother had left on the shelf in the larder. This became an obsession and she couldn’t stop thinking about the custard. Unable to fall asleep, she finally decided to creep downstairs on tip toes as quietly as possible, without drawing the attention of the baby sitter just so that she could have a few spoons full of custard. Once inside the larder, she started sampling the custard and it was so delicious that she couldn’t resist eating the whole lot. Whatever could she do now? Then she had a bright idea; she would lock the cat in the pantry hoping that her mother would blame the cat. As she went back up the stairs to bed, she heard the first step creak and it said, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ and this continued all the way upstairs. Then she saw the beautiful full moon through the window and the man in the moon said, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ She ran into her bedroom, jumped into bed and pulled the blankets over her but she could still hear the voice saying, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ Eventually, she fell asleep and the next morning, when at breakfast her mother asked her if she knew who had eaten the custard and she suggested that it might have been the cat. To her surprise, her mother replied, “But cats don’t use spoons!!” This is my abbreviated version of the story and doesn’t include Yvonne’s dramatic and suspenseful narration.

At the age of 10, all pupils had to write an entrance exam which was called the scholarship, in order to be able to attend one of two Grammar schools in Port Talbot. Out of a population of 50,000, only the top 200 pupils per year would be able to gain entrance to these schools. If anyone failed the exam the first time, it was possible to try it once more the following year. Yvonne and I were among the fortunate ones to succeed the first time. It was very unfair that a child’s whole future depended upon the result of this one exam. Yvonne and I remained friends once we were in high school but there were four of us who

14 -Grace, Cynthia, Evelyn, Yvonne

Pictures that speak for themselves. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of Joan.

were very close friends; Yvonne, Joan, Cynthia and I. We used to cycle to and from school every day and on the way home we always stopped at Nicky the Greek’s shop for an ice block (ice lollies which Nicky used to prepare every day in small glasses). Cynthia used to come to my home every evening to do our homework together and then the four of us would meet at Nicky’s. Yvonne, Joan, Cynthia, Evelyn and I met some boys when we were about 12/13 and we used to meet them at Nicky’s most evenings. There happened to be a double decker bus parked in a lane near where we all lived and as it was cold and dark in winter it was much more comfortable sitting in the bus seats upstairs. The only light that shone on the bus was the light of the lamp post. This was such fun; this was our secret place until one evening, we heard a gruff voice order us to come down demanding to know our names and addresses threatening to tell the police that we had been trespassing. Without a blink, Yvonne took control of the whole situation by making up false names and addresses for us all and then we ran off laughing hysterically. It was dark so he couldn’t see our faces easily so he would never be able to recognize us in the future.

When we were in our second year at the Sec, Trixie Thorn organized a ten day skiing holiday in the French Alps. We had the time of our lives from the moment we left Port Talbot station to go to London until our return. We travelled overnight stopping at every

3- Chamonix

School group that went on a skiing trip to Chamonix, France in December 1947. Girls in front row (L to R): Marilyn Jones, Margaret Powell, Lilian Sanderson, Grace Franklin, Yvonne Williams and Diane Lawrence.

town – it was the milk run. We were too excited to sleep, and the next day we took a train from Victoria station to Dover where we boarded a ship for the very first time in our lives and on that train we met a group of teenage boys all wearing grey suits, which was their school uniform; they came from Framlingham College which was a boarding school for boys. We were unable to continue our conversations with them because it was becoming a nightmare and we were feeling so ill. It was an hour and a half of roller coaster horror because we were all being violently sick including the seasoned sailors. Later we learned that it was the roughest crossing on record.

Once we arrived in Paris, we had to travel on another overnight train to Chamonix. The Framlingham boys were again on the same train so we invited some of them to come to our compartment once everyone was settled down to sleep. As planned they arrived but much to our surprise a little later, Trixie started going from carriage to carriage to check that we were dutifully sleeping. Yvonne was sitting right by the door and as soon as she saw Trixie, she was galvanized immediately into action and held up her blanket so that she couldn’t see the boys we had smuggled into our compartment. Yvonne’s brain always seemed to work so much faster than the average person. Trixie was an excellent French teacher but a real dragon who tolerated no nonsense and terrified us all. I dare not think what would have happened if Trixie had seen the boys. After a few hours, we thought it would be sensible if the boys returned to their compartment in case Trixie visited us again. Not long after that, our train stopped at a station but we didn’t realize what was happening. The train consisted of many compartments and they unhooked two equal numbers of compartments to make two separated trains, one was going to continue its course up one valley and then the other was intended to go up a different valley. However, we had no idea that the boys were not going to the same ski resort as us. Had the boys continued to stay in our compartment, can you imagine our embarrassment and dilemma when we arrived in Chamonix with four of five boys?


Outside the chalet in Chamonix 1947. L to R: Diane, Lilian, Yvonne (kneeling), Grace, Marilyn, Margaret. Note: long wooden skis!

4 -Chamonix

Picture taken in Geneva, Switzerland 1947. L to R: Margaret, Grace, Marilyn, Diane, Yvonne.

7- Port Talbot Station leaving for Switzerland

Second skiing trip in 1948 to Switzerland. Girls (standing): Margaret Hansen, Grace, Yvonne, (kneeling): Lilian in the middle.

8- Yvonne and Lilian Switzerland 1948

Lilian and Yvonne in Switzerland 1948.

Selwyn Davies, our English teacher in the Sec (Dyffryn) recognized Yvonne’s potential acting ability and she had a role in “Pride and Prejudice” when she played the part of Mary a studious, devout young girl, probably a geek and of course Yvonne was superb. Yvonne was intelligent but did not enjoy serious academic studies and didn’t have any real interest in school. She saw no advantage of continuing because her mind was set on becoming a hairdresser and so she left school at the age of 14 to follow her dream of being a hairdresser. As a result of this, I did not see her as frequently because I stayed on at school for another four years until I completed my A levels. Like Yvonne, I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I wanted to become a teacher and once I was in high school, my passion for French increased. I became focused on becoming a French teacher. Yvonne and I were similar in some ways; we loved people, talking, laughing, mimicking and although ADHD was not heard of in those days, I think both Yvonne and I were both hyper active and lacked concentration in school. Nevertheless, we both ended up in the careers of our choice and in marrying the best guys on the planet.

Yvonne was a total extrovert, most likable, quick witted, had a heart of gold and loved making people happy; at the same time she was honest and frank and would not be afraid of expressing her dislike of anything or anyone. She had few inhibitions and could relate to anybody. There was never a dull moment when she was present. Yvonne was a natural comedian and had some of the funniest original sayings; she was an entrepreneur and worked hard all her life as well as raising two sons. John was a very kind, gentle and marvellous husband and father. Wherever they lived, in Wales or Essex, she always made sure to have her own salon in her home. Her clients loved her and for them a weekly visit to Yvonne’s was the highlight of their week because they had 2 for the price of one – a very good hair do and a complete star studded comedy act. Yvonne was very kind to everyone and particularly senior citizens by not charging them what she deserved. My mother used to have her hair done every week at a very reasonable price until Yvonne, John and the boys moved from Wales to Essex.

13- Dovercourt salon 1988

Yvonne and Grace in the hairdressing salon in Dovercourt 1998.

I went to London to become a teacher, met my husband Martin and started teaching French and RE in London. However we frequently returned to Wales to spend all holiday times with my parents and so we always used to visit Yvonne and John and family. They too came to stay with us in London. I remember the first dinner I prepared for them and was encouraged to see how well they ate. Then Yvonne turned to me and said, with mock sarcasm, “Well I didn’t enjoy that a bit!” as she pointed to an empty plate. All through our married lives in the UK, and when we immigrated to Canada in 1975, we used to spend many days with the Goods, one of our favourite couples.

11- Good Family 1968

John and Yvonne with their sons Julian and Marcus in their Salvation Army uniforms 1968.

Martin and I had been Christians since we were young but in their early years as a married couple, Yvonne and John probably didn’t share our faith but of course we loved them and got on like a house on fire and it never created any problem between us. I can’t remember at what point John and Yvonne started attending the Salvation Army in Llansamlet where they lived in a beautiful bungalow. This added an extra dimension to our already strong friendship. They became keen, committed Christians and we were so thrilled by their genuine new found love for the Lord. As I said earlier, Yvonne was always totally honest and would not have taken this spiritual step unless she meant it with all her heart. They really enjoyed being part of the Salvation Army and were not just pew warmers. They wanted to be known as Christians and were not ashamed to wear the Salvation Army uniform of this fine denomination. Yvonne donned her bonnet and looked as pretty as a picture. It takes courage to wear a uniform which declares to all that one is a soldier for Christ in His army. For Yvonne, it was either everything or

12- Good Family 1978

John, Yvonne, Julian and Marcus 1978.

nothing; she never did things by halves. John was an enthusiastic Christian and it was evident in his whole demeanour. It is always exciting to see people coming to the Lord without being coerced but rather because they discover who Jesus is and they decide to surrender their lives to the Him. They both knew how important our faith was to us and they were certainly not opposed; we had a deep respect for each other. It was especially wonderful that their commitment of their lives to the Lord was mutual. Our conversations and fellowship with them had always been great but from this point on then we had another important ingredient in our friendship; we were not only best friends but brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yvonne with a group of Dyffryn friends - 1999 Reunion

Yvonne with a group of Dyffryn friends – 1999 Reunion

Yvonne with Christine and Grace 1999 Reunion

Yvonne with Christine and Grace 1999 Reunion

20- Yvonne -Who else

Yvonne – who else! Reunion 1998

Yvonne - naughtiest girl in the Sec!

Yvonne – naughtiest girl in the Sec!

Yvonne one and only flapper 1999 Reunion

The one and only – YVONNE!

Yvonne, Grace, Glenda and Margaret - 2003 school reunion.

Yvonne, Grace, Glenda and Margaret – 2003 school reunion.

During the late 1990s I wrote to Yvonne and suggested the idea of a Dyffryn reunion.  Her response was very positive and, together, we organised a reunion that took place in the Masonic Hall in Port Talbot in 1998.  I worked on contacting as many people as possible and Yvonne took care of the practical, on site arrangements. Yvonne threw herself, heart and soul into the spirit of the occasion and, typical of her, surprised us all with two comedic presentations. She first appeared dramatically in a Dyffryn school uniform and in the second, she dressed as a 1920s flapper and performed the Charleston!  On hearing about Yvonne’s illness and death, Lilian (Sanderson), a former school friend recalled this reunion and said, “What a sad end for such a lively person who loved life and lit up the room when she was on top form.  I will remember her at that reunion when she turned up in a gym slip, complete with pillow stuffed up the front.”  The success of this event prompted the request for another one which took place in 1999 when Len Gibbs became involved. Two more reunions took place during the early 2000s, all of which were organized by Len.

15- Yvonne and John, Dovercourt

Yvonne and John at home in Dovercourt.

During the early years after Yvonne’s dementia was diagnosed, John cared for her at home for a long time, until it became obvious that she needed 24 hour care. Reluctantly, she had to be placed in a care home where she stayed for the rest of her life. It was the very best; John visited her daily until his health deteriorated and he passed away last year. Their son Marcus has been an amazing son and he took on the responsibility to support his father in every way. He also became a hairdresser and worked with his mother in their own salon for many years. Marcus knew that Yvonne always loved to look nice; she was naturally very pretty but as a hairdresser, she made sure that her hair was always perfect. So dear Marcus went every week to the care home, washed and set her hair, put her make up on and painted her nails. John told us on the phone one day that he was so proud of Marcus and indebted to him for all he did for his mother. He was the one who checked all her clothes and when necessary went and bought anything she needed. We are grateful to Marcus for keeping us informed about his parents. We kept in touch with John by mail and phone until he died. From the moment I heard of Yvonne’s illness, I was deeply affected because I loved her very much and our friendship is the longest continual one I have experienced. It seemed cruel that someone who was so vivacious, loving, energetic with a unique sense of humour was having to experience such an existence.

It has been a very painful experience for John, Marcus and Julian to see their dearest loved one deteriorate until she only weighed 28 pounds. Whenever I have thought about her since her diagnosis, I have been reduced to tears and now I am only happy that she is completely healed, more vivacious than ever, reunited with John in a place which is totally different from this sad, unfair, problematic world. She is experiencing the most wonderful life in the place that Jesus promised to provide for all those who were His first disciples and all subsequent believers. In John 14, Jesus said. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” It is impossible for us to imagine what heaven is like and what God is preparing for us. In 1 Corinthians 2 verse 9, we are told “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has known what God has prepared for those who love him.” It’s beyond our wildest dreams and imagination where there is no sin, tears, pain, hate, greed, death, parting, suffering, injustice but only perfection.

I am so grateful to the Lord that I had Yvonne and later John and family in our lives. They enriched our lives and were such a blessing to us in innumerable ways. As Christians, death is not the end and I am excited that Martin and I will be able to spend the whole of eternity with John and Yvonne.

Grace (Franklin) Gouldthorpe

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Memories of My Much-Loved Martin on reaching this Momentous Milestone

I find it sad that very often someone has to die before a eulogy or tribute is written for him/her and read at a memorial service. We really need to tell our family members and close friends how much we love and appreciate them when we are still able to do so and never let anyone or anything disrupt our commitment and love for each other. They are all God’s wonderful earthly gifts to us. Martin and I are so blessed that we have no problem in regularly expressing our love to those who are important to us and these thoughts are also reciprocated. I have often told Martin that I would like to write a eulogy to him not at the time of his death, if of course I survive him, but while we are both alive, so I am going to take this opportunity on his 80th birthday to try and describe my remarkable husband who is unique and so very special. Yes, I am bigoted concerning Martin but it is alright to be bigoted when you know you are right!

Martin and Grace in 1956, shortly after they met and began courting.

Martin and Grace in 1956, shortly after they met and began courting.

It has been so heartwarming to both of us to receive countless wonderful birthday cards, letters, tributes and Facebook greetings which have all expressed their love, appreciation and thanks to my darling husband which proves that I am not the only one to recognize how special he is because he has had such an influence and impact on countless lives. Thank you very much for all your generous comments; it has made January 12th, 2015 an encouraging day for us both. Nothing makes me happier than hearing such gracious and warm hearted comments about the one whom I love with all my heart; we have been really touched by the abundance of love shown to Martin at this present time.

Our wedding day - July 26. 1958

Our wedding day – July 26. 1958

Nowhere could I have found a husband so perfectly suited for me. It is so true that opposites attract; in temperament we are poles apart, but in interests and in other ways we are so alike. Martin is Mr. Diplomacy. I tell it like it is. Martin is calm and laid back. I am intense and enthusiastic; Martin is more cautious, I more spontaneous. Believe it or not, we are both good talkers. After all, how otherwise could Martin be a preacher and teacher? I have often told folk that Martin talked every Sunday as a preacher and I talked the rest of the week! By the way, although retired, he still does some itinerate preaching, officiates at funerals and the occasional wedding and has recently done two series of expository teaching at our Sunday morning adult bible study where they clapped him indicating their appreciation. In February, they have asked him to do another 4 week series. I am so pleased about this and very proud of him. Martin is an excellent conversationalist and always interesting. If a heated discussion erupts, Martin will just sit there and listen, even if he is far more capable than I; he can’t be bothered to argue, whereas I am in the middle of it all with all “fists flying!” Some years ago, our friend Frances, who knows us so well, said that I was a total extrovert and Martin an introvert. I have never considered him an introvert because he is outgoing and very much a people person and certainly not shy or withdrawn. However, I have to admit that I am the noisy, more aggressive one and Martin is the more passive, gentler and quieter spouse. He probably prefers to listen and take everything in and sometimes just lets me do the verbal work which may also be indicative of a little laziness or lack of interest. However, he is certainly no push over as I well know and will not fail to correct me if he thinks I am being too blunt or insensitive. I love him all the more for that. He too is a strong personality but happens to be more diplomatic than I.
Martin has a terrific sense of humour and is always making up jokes, which make me laugh a lot and I at least, appreciate his humour. Some do not always understand his clever remarks and I have to explain what they mean. He is also a marvellous impersonator and is able to mimic all sorts of accents. His Punjabi accent is perfect and always amuses everybody even our Sikh, Hindu and Muslim friends. I never tire of his company. It seems that he succeeds at anything he tries. Martin is a fountain of knowledge and I never cease to be amazed at his ability to recall events in the minutest detail. He is multi-talented; he is a perfect gentleman, fabulous preacher, high school teacher, counsellor, theologian, well read, adventurous, musical, self-taught mechanic, pilot and was a skillful gymnast and good tennis player. However with all of his achievements, he is very modest but I think that I have the right to boast about him because it is all true. He is my total point of reference and it is rare that he is not able to answer all my “whys and wherefores” and I often ask him where he did he amass this knowledge. I think he is like a sponge and absorbs everything. He has a phenomenal photographic memory; he can, for example, without any hesitation, reel off in what year we visited each country over the past five decades, and is able to recall where and when we purchased certain objects even to the exact place, month and year as far back as our first major purchases for our first home when we were married. I think he suffers from involuntary, information osmosis. Whenever I relate an occasion, situation or event, I can’t remember names, places, dates but just tell the story. Martin however, can recall exact statistics and intricate detail as if it just happened a day or so ago. If an occasion arises which reminds me of a joke, for example, Martin will immediately be able to tell the joke and manage to keep the punch line until the end! Martin says that I always have a simple solution for every problem – I call out, “MART, please can you help me?”

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary - July 26, 1983

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary – July 26, 1983

When in a conversation with someone, I sometimes go off at a tangent and then can’t for the life of me remember what I was relating previous to my diversion. As soon as Martin realizes that I am going on to another subject, he makes a mental note of my point of departure so that once I am completely lost he can immediately veer me back on course to my original subject. I find this phenomenon wonderful, hilarious and unique. So do others who are present. I doubt very much if there is another husband who comes to the rescue of his wife in such a situation. One of my mother’s most common phrases to Martin was, “Whatever would I do without you Martin?” I feel exactly the same way. The Lord certainly knew whom I needed when he gave me Martin and I only hope that I can be as great a blessing to him as he is to me. I honestly believe I had the best side of the bargain. I tell folk that there are only three things which I can do better than he; speak French, play the piano and cook, but the latter is only because I have taken on the responsibility of cooking and I know that given the chance and practice Martin would very quickly become a first class chef because he does everything by the book and is such a perfectionist whereas I am a more spontaneous cook.

Our 50th Wedding Anniversary - July 26, 2008

Our 50th Wedding Anniversary – July 26, 2008

It is true that we both have totally different personalities, which is a great blessing because we complement each other so well. I dread to think what would have happened had I married someone with my personality; we would have driven each other around the bend! Martin and I have the same tastes in music, history, literature, travel and adventure. We love people and have spent our lives working with people of all ages but many years exclusively with teenagers. Above all, we love the Lord and have always wanted to serve Him and others. The Lord’s ways are perfect. It has been a sheer joy to be involved in the lives of others and having the untold pleasure of seeing so many people come to know and love our Saviour. We worked hard and long in West London for fourteen years as well as both teaching in high schools and in Canada, Martin pastored a church for 14 years among wonderful Mennonite folk as well as working part time for a while in a garage and then teaching for 2 years in the MEI (Mennonite Educational Institute) where I taught French for 12 years. We wouldn’t trade those precious years for all the money in the world. Serving the Lord is not drudgery but a joy and an exciting adventure.
When we first came to Canada, we were members of a group of adult Christians who used to meet with inmates in our local Matsqui Penitentiary where Martin not only participated in these meetings, but he and the male members of this team used to spend a weekend in the prison from time to time to lead bible studies, have times of singing and worship, praying and having fun and fellowship so as to encourage the inmates who regularly attended our weekly Monday evening meeting. On such occasions the volunteer Christians used to sleep on the floor of the chapel and there was always an opportunity for any inmate to be baptized by complete immersion in a deep laundry container during such a weekend. Many of these guys turned their lives around. Martin also regularly used to go through AA and NA twelve step programmes with many inmates on an individual basis. Later, I taught in three jails and then we both had thirteen years of visiting inmates in three local jails, one in Victoria and 2 in Agassiz, an hour’s drive from our home. We are still in close contact with a number of these inmates who have successfully adjusted to living productive and successful lives in society.

Martin on his 80th birthday - January 12, 2015

Martin on his 80th birthday – January 12, 2015

After fifty six years of marriage, I can truthfully say that I love Martin more than ever. When I first fell in love with him, there indeed was an ethereal magic which is generally the experience of any couple who truly falls in love and that ‘Je ne sais quoi’ cannot be repeated in the same intensity as one’s first new love. Nevertheless the same, indelible deep love and passion never dies. I still can have warm, fuzzy, and emotional feelings toward my husband that I had as a teenager but now there is an extra ingredient – total acceptance and security. In the earlier days of our marriage, there were times when I felt insecure and needed constant reassurance of Martin’s love for me, but after a number of years I had living, practical proof that I was loved, appreciated and treasured. I now possess a total security and complete trust and this has been the happy situation ever since.

In 2003, Marilyn (nee Jenkins), a friend and fellow student with me at Dyffryn Grammar School, South Wales and I were reconnected via the website, “Friends Reunited.” I wrote to her first and then Marilyn surprised me one day by ‘phoning me. I was of course delighted to be in touch with her because we had not seen each other or heard much about each other since we left school in 1955. Marilyn went to Swansea to train to become a teacher and I went to London. Our lives went in completely different directions; Marilyn and her husband Fred also went to live in Chester, far from our native town. I think it was Martin who answered the ‘phone and after preliminary introductions Marilyn told Martin that she would so much love to meet the man who had “tamed Grace!” That same year I had the great pleasure of meeting Marilyn and Fred at the 2003 Dyffryn reunion. Martin unfortunately was unable to go with me to the UK that particular year but I hope that one day Marilyn and Martin will be able to meet each other. I think she will be surprised to find that the man who tamed me is a very gentle person.

I am so happy we did meet in 1956 and life has never been the same. We have enjoyed a very happy, varied fulfilled life and I do not have a single complaint but we can quote Psalm 23 and both independently say with confidence, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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On Reaching 80

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January 12, 2015 I moved, smoothly I think, out of the eighth and into the ninth decade of my life. That’s right, I celebrated my 80th birthday. Grace, my beloved wife, thinks that this occasion merits that I share some thoughts on the subject, so here goes.

Birthday Greeting from Google

Birthday Greeting from Google

I have been asked whether I feel different now that I am 80 years old. I cannot say that I do. I was taken aback when, on my birthday, I turned on my computer and went online. As the browser loaded, displaying the Google home page I immediately saw there was a “Doodle” showing a birthday cake and some other festive items. When I hovered the cursor over the artwork a statement appeared, “Happy Birthday Martin.” This has never happened to me on any previous birthdays and I do not know whether it is something Google has introduced during the past year and, from now on, all Google account holders will get this greeting on their birthdays or, perhaps it is reserved for those birthdays that the folk at Google consider to be particularly significant – like becoming 80.

Gouldthorpe Clan: Back row: Max (Frazer and Beth's son), Frazer (husband of Beth), Doris (sister-in-law), Beth (niece), Jane (niece), Graeme (Sara's husband), Sara (Jane's daughter), Jordan (Jane's son), Front row: Grace, Jonah (Frazer and Beth's son), Martin, Josh (Jane's son)

Gouldthorpe Clan: Back row: Max (Frazer and Beth’s son), Frazer (husband of Beth), Doris (sister-in-law), Beth (niece), Jane (niece), Graeme (Sara’s husband), Sara (Jane’s daughter), Jordan (Jane’s son), Front row: Grace, Jonah (Frazer and Beth’s son), Martin, Josh (Jane’s son)

As I reflect back over the 80 years of my life I immediately feel impelled to say that I have lived a wonderful, full and greatly blessed life.

I feel very much loved. My beautiful family decided they wanted to celebrate the occasion and spoil me and they did this in two parts. On Saturday evening, January 10, at the home of Jane, one of my nieces and her husband Wes, the Gouldthorpe side of the family hosted the event that included a sumptuous supper. I was deeply touched by their desire to do this as well as the love and affection that was shown me.

Martin and his cake

Martin and his cake

The following day, Sunday January 11, a similar celebration, with another sumptuous meal, took place at lunchtime at the home of Huw (Grace’s nephew), his wife Pam and their children. This was attended by my in-law side of the family (the Franklins) and other friends, including Jan and Lada Kylik and family, Janet Hitchcock, Ann King, Gail McKintuck and Don Dirks, all of whom are definitely “family.” Pam, welcoming everybody put it very succinctly when she said that she and Jane had talked about how best to do this and decided that dividing it into two was best. As a result, the “blood” side of the family partied the evening before and now it was the turn of the “grafted in” members of the family. Again I was deeply touched by the love and affection that was shown me.  For Grace and for me it was a double blessing and also, I had a birthday cake on Saturday and a birthday trifle on Sunday!

Martin looking at a book of memories

Martin looking at a book of memories

My life changed dynamically when, at the age of 15 years I, by faith, received Christ as my Saviour and turned my life over to Him. As I look back I can clearly see the mark of the Holy Spirit’s continual guidance. He certainly took me seriously when I told Him that my life was His to use as He pleased. He gave me mature Christian friends who loved, taught and helped me. He placed a calling on my heart to serve Him in full time ministry. When I went off to do my compulsory military service in the RAF the Lord gave me friends who were also believers. We were able to be mutual encouragers in the faith.

L-R: Pam (Huw's wife), Martin, Grace, Huw (nephew)

L-R: Pam (Huw’s wife), Martin, Grace, Huw (nephew)

At a weekly Bible Study that my fellow airmen and I attended it was suggested that we should pray for the girls who the Lord wanted to be our wives, whether we, individually, thought that we had already met her or not.  I had not a clue but it seemed a good idea and I began praying for this unknown young lady. I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and the subject of my prayers was still in high school in Port Talbot, South Wales, oblivious that a young man over 300 miles away was praying for her.  The Holy Spirit organized how and where we should meet almost three years later.  I was now a student at the London Bible  College and Grace was training to be a teacher at St. Gabriel’s College in London.

Martin and Grace with Meghan and Evan (Huw and Pam's children) - Meghan was about to leave to go to work at Tim Horton's!

Martin and Grace with Meghan and Evan (Huw and Pam’s children) – Meghan was about to leave to go to work at Tim Horton’s!

Martin and Grace with longtime friend Janet Hitchcock

Martin and Grace with longtime friend Janet Hitchcock

Grace and Martin with Ann King, one of the founding four members of the Grange Fellowship in 1961

Grace and Martin with Ann King, one of the founding four members of the Grange Fellowship in 1961

We were married in 1958 and now that we were in matrimonial harness together the Lord gave us work to do after our training was done. It was a total surprise, as the Lord’s plans for His children often are. He gave us a ministry among young people that came to be known as the Grange Fellowship. This lasted from 1961 to late 1974 and brought into our life the most wonderful, beautiful, lively and loveable young people imaginable (a description like that is OK to write because I know it is true). As I look back over those years I am filled with wonder and gratitude to the Lord for the torrents of blessing that He poured into Grace’s and my life through those young people, our spiritual children. They remain to this day beloved in our hearts – family. Of course it would not have been possible without Grace, the four founder members (13 year old girls) of the Grange Fellowship were all students of hers at the school where she was a French teacher. Grace was and always has been the perfect godly partner for me.  No one can convince me that God does not answer prayer!

Martin and Grace with our lovely Czech family Jan and Lada Kyslik and their sons Lucas and Mark

Martin and Grace with our lovely Czech family Jan and Lada Kyslik and their sons Lucas and Mark

God’s blessings certainly did not stop when He moved us in the mid 1970’s to British Columbia, Canada. The first tentative invitation was given to us as early as 1970 but it was not until 1974 that we believed the Lord was releasing us from our work in London. We came to the beautiful Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, to the town of Abbotsford. I came to be the pastor of a country church named Prairie Chapel. Grace, in addition to being a partner with me in that ministry, went back to university for two years extra studies and then became head of the French department of a highly respected Christian school, founded in the 1930’s by Mennonite immigrants from Russia.

Martin with Don Dirks, a very close friend and retired missionary

Martin with Don Dirks, a very close friend and retired missionary

The people at Prairie Chapel were not just a congregation, they were a family and quickly became a family to and for us. We loved them and felt their love for us. The Lord had not finished yet. Within a few years, both Grace’s and my closest relatives in the UK moved to Canada and joined us here, so that we have nephews, nieces, great nephews and great nieces, as well as close friends who we regard as non-biological “family” members. I will not forget to mention that two members of the Grange Fellowship moved out here as well. Ann King was one of the original four and Janet Hitchcock, a teacher who became a close friend in England and moved here the same year we did.

Martin and Grace with Gail McKintuck, a close friend

Martin and Grace with Gail McKintuck, a close friend

Now retired (I really think that is a bit of a joke) we are so, so, so blessed by the gracious hand of our loving Heavenly Father. We are now members of Sevenoaks Alliance Church located in the town centre where we have many brothers and sisters in the Lord with whom we have a close and loving friendship.

He has over and over proved to us that, “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Martin with his birthday trifle

Martin with his birthday trifle

I agree with King David (although I don’t feel old the way he said he did) when he wrote, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken …” (Psalm 37:25)

God willing, Grace and I will celebrate our 57th wedding anniversary in July 2015 and we are both ready to handle as much more of life together as the Lord pleases and plans to give us until he takes us home.

Note: Should you be interested in reading more of our story, Grace has written extensively about her life and our life together and published it on her blog: There is too, the Grange Fellowship website, the link to which is:

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Margaret Wallace, member of the Grange Fellowship – at Home with the Lord on December 23rd 2014

The news that Margaret had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on December 23rd 2014 spread quickly via Facebook, emails and telephone calls, producing a reaction of shock wherever it was received. According to reports I have received, a lung infection increased in severity so swiftly that by the time she was admitted to hospital, medical personnel who treated her were not able to reverse her condition and within hours she had slipped away.

I know that I can safely say, on behalf of all members of the Grange Fellowship who knew her, we are profoundly saddened to lose her and we convey to her family and close circle of friends our sincere condolences.

I believe that Margaret’s connection with the Grange goes back, actually, to the 1960’s. We remember her as someone with a firm commitment to the Lord, His Gospel and His people – a reliable ambassador of the Lord Jesus.

She had a bright and sunny disposition, laughed easily, was quick witted and a “fun person.” This, despite the fact that, through the years, Margaret struggled with health issues of one kind or another, including some accidents that resulted in broken bones and damaged joints.

She had a big and generous heart and would not hesitate to help anyone in need who the Lord brought into the sphere of her life.

She worked in the financial industry and after a number of years doing this in London, she moved, in the early 1970’s to Toronto, Canada where she became a much valued member of the staff of one of Canada’s large banks, the Bank of Nova Scotia. In Toronto she met good Christian friends, in particular Harry and Joy Beylerian and their church, the Stone Church, became her spiritual home. She made a good living and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. During this time she took opportunities to explore Canada including taking the train from Toronto to the west coast, a journey of several days. Grace and I recall meeting that train when it pulled into the station at Mission, on the north side of the Fraser River, about five miles from our home at Abbotsford, forty five miles east of Vancouver. Leaning out of the window of one of the doors of the slowing train, her arms waving exuberantly and a beaming smile on her face, she was a complete ray of sunshine. She had a happy stay with us and before she left to return to Toronto (by ‘plane) she presented us with an expensive Lladro figurine. This, in our opinion, was way out of proportion to the hospitality we had extended to her – but that was Margaret; as I said above, big hearted and generous.

She was sensitive to the needs of others, particularly her own family. Although she had a secure future in Toronto she became concerned about the well-being of her parents. When her father became seriously unwell she made the decision to return to the UK to be with her parents. The return trip was done in style – she flew down to New York and completed her journey across the Atlantic to the UK in a British Airways Concorde.

Margaret Wallace with a Beefeater, a modern icon of the Tower of London - early November 2014.

Margaret Wallace with a Beefeater, a modern icon of the Tower of London – early November 2014.

She travelled extensively, not allowing health problems to interfere with the opportunity of adventure. This past autumn, she and her friend Anne Cannif spent a vacation in Spain. In early November she, Ann and another friend, Sheila Burroughes went to see the poppies at the Tower of London. Here is a picture of Margaret with a “Beefeater,” one of the modern icons of the Tower.

We certainly mourn her loss but, on the basis of the words and promises of our Lord Jesus and our gracious Heavenly Father, we know that Margaret is now with the Lord in the fullest and most permanent sense. Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place for you; I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” We are not saying a “forever goodbye” to Margaret, just a “see you later.”

Note: Many have added tributes/comments on Margaret’s Facebook page.

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Yvette (Carbonet) Regrain 1934-2013

En 2012,  mon amie française, Yvette (Carbonet) Regrain  que je connais depuis six decennies est décédée.  Ci-dessous, vous pouvez lire mon eulogie en Français et en Anglais avec plusieurs photos prises au fil des années.  J’ai envoyé cette eulogie à Marguerite, la sœur d’Yvette après avoir  reçu les nouvelles  tristes de sa mort imprevue.

During 2012, my lifelong  French friend Yvette (Carbonet) Regrain passed away.   Below I am posting my eulogy of her in  French and English along with some photos taken over six decades.  I sent this eulogy to Marguerite, Yvette’s sister after receiving the sad news about her unexpected death.

J’ai décidé de vous écrire tout d’abord, parce que c’est un moyen qui me convient mieux pour exprimer nos pensées et nos sentiments à l’annonce de la mort soudaine d’Yvette.  Nous avons été bouleversés de recevoir cette nouvelle.   Et je suis profondément reconnaissante à Jean-Yves d’avoir pensé à nous.

Mes très  chers amis, notre famille française, veuillez accepter nos condoléances les plus sincères.  Recevez nos pensées, nos prières et notre amour.  Les mots sont dérisoires  en de telles circonstances et je veux que vous sachiez combien nous vous aimons et vous apprécions.  Notre amitié est solide et durera l’éternité.    

Au fil des années, nous avons glané et nous gardons à tout jamais tant de souvenirs chaleureux et amusants d’Yvette et de  Dédé, qui était un homme enthousiaste et généreux,  et qui aimait Yvette d’un amour profond.

Je peux dire sans réserve qu’Yvette a complètement changé ma vie, plus qu’elle ne l’a sans doute jamais imaginé. Je suis entrée au lycée à l’âge de dix ans et demi au pays de Galles. C’est là que  j’ai commencé à étudier le français, qui n’était certainement pas mon cours préféré. La notion de genre était un concept tout à fait nouveau et indigeste pour moi – le fait que les mots français soient masculins ou féminins, sans parler des verbes irréguliers diaboliques et de la liste interminable d’exceptions à la règle !  Mais quand j’avais 12 ans, mon professeur nous a proposé de correspondre avec des élèves françaises. J’étais très heureuse de recevoir les coordonnées d’une certaine Yvette Carbonet ; je lui ai écrit tout de suite et elle m’a répondu immédiatement. À partir de ce moment historique, nous nous sommes écrit au moins deux fois par mois en échangeant des photos, des cartes postales et des cadeaux.  J’ai bientôt vite souhaité rencontrer ma correspondante  et mon intérêt grandissant pour le français est rapidement devenu une véritable passion. J’ai commencé à dévorer le dictionnaire français (pas littéralement !) ; je me plaisais à apprendre des expressions idiomatiques ; j’avais même des conversations imaginaires avec Yvette.

C'est la premiere photo que j'ai reçue d'Yvette (à droite) avec Marguerite en 1949 This is the first photo I received of Yvette (on the right) with Marguerite in 1949

C’est la premiere photo que j’ai reçue d’Yvette (à droite) avec Marguerite en 1949
This is the first photo I received of Yvette (on the right) with Marguerite in 1949

L’année de mes 13 ans, mon professeur de français, Mlle Thorne, redoutable mais remarquable enseignante, a  organisé un séjour d’initiation au ski de dix jours aux  Houches, dans la vallée de Chamonix.  J’ai annoncé à Yvette que nous allions passer par Paris et que nous aurions 3 heures d’attente à la gare St-Lazare. Par retour de courrier, Yvette a répondu qu’elle tenait à me voir et que son père offrait de la conduire de Montluçon à Paris, soit près de 340 kilomètres, pour que nous puissions nous rencontrer et passer quelques heures ensemble.

Nos familles, la mienne et celle d’Yvette, ont joué un rôle important et ont activement contribué au succès de notre amitié. Nous étions de milieux modestes, mais comme ils l’ont démontré à cette occasion et beaucoup d’autres, nos parents étaient prêts à tous les efforts pour nous aider et promouvoir notre éducation. Je mesure le sacrifice financier que représentait ce voyage pour mes parents. Et M. Carbonet n’avait pas hésité non plus à prendre la route en plein hiver pour permettre cette brève rencontre.

Grace, Marguerite et Yvette à Trafalgar Square à Londres,1952 Grace, Marguerite and Yvette in Trafalgar Square, London, 1952

Grace, Marguerite et Yvette à Trafalgar Square à Londres, 1952
Grace, Marguerite and Yvette in Trafalgar Square, London, 1952.

Cette première rencontre avec Yvette m’a enthousiasmée. Ce fut l’événement phare de ma visite en France.  Plus que jamais, je tenais à ce qu’Yvette vienne passer les grandes vacances chez nous.  En prévision de sa visite, je me suis investie à fond dans mes cours de français et je suis devenue l’élève la plus motivée de la classe – la plus motivée que Mlle Thorne ait connue de toute sa carrière. Je voulais parler français coûte que coûte, et je redoublais d’imagination pour atteindre mon objectif.  J’habitais une ville portuaire où accostaient régulièrement des bateaux français venus approvisionner en minerais de fer l’aciérie de Port Talbot, la plus grande aciérie d’Europe.  Il y avait très souvent des marins français qui flânaient le long de la rue principale de notre ville. Je n’hésitais jamais à entamer la conversation et à leur poser des questions générales en français. Peu à peu, j’ai gagné en confiance et en audace. Mes parents m’avaient bien avertie de ne jamais parler aux étrangers… mais la grand-rue était toujours très fréquentée et je ne courais aucun danger.

Grace et Yvette à Port Talbot, au Pays de Galles, 1952. Grace and Yvette in Port Talbot, Wales, 1952

Grace et Yvette à Port Talbot, au Pays de Galles, 1952.
Grace and Yvette in Port Talbot, Wales, 1952

De la même façon, je n’hésitais pas à entamer aussi la conversation avec un Breton qui faisait du porte-à-porte pour vendre ses chapelets d’oignons.  Yves, son frère Louis , leurs epouses et leurs enfants vivaient six mois en Bretagne à leur ferme où  ils cultivaient des oignons et six mois au Pays de Galles où ils les vendaient.  Yves m’a invitée chez lui pour rencontrer sa famille et dès cette époque, je passais souvent le samedi matin avec ces Bretonnes à leur parler tandis qu’elles préparaient les chapelets d’oignons.    Autant d’occasions  d’améliorer mon français. Tous les jours, avant d’aller au lycée, j’écoutais Radio Luxembourg, qui diffusait les chansons françaises populaires des années cinquante : La Mer, Les Feuilles Mortes, Clopin-clopant, Mexico, Le Fiacre et le répertoire de Piaf, Yves Montand, Tino Rossi etc. J’achetais ensuite les disques phonographiques que je passais à notre phonographe antique! Puis je demandais à Yvette de me procurer les paroles de mes chansons préférées. Toujours généreuse, elle m’envoyait les partitions – paroles et musique. Je pouvais donc les apprendre par cœur et les chanter en m’accompagnant au piano.  C’est Yvette qui m’a aidée et encouragée à améliorer mon français.  Sans elle je n’aurais jamais atteint mon but. Elle était mon inspiration. Elle m’a fait aimer et apprécier la  France et tout ce qui est français.  Je l’entends  encore fredonner “Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises.”

En1952, mon rêve s’est réalisé. J’étais aux anges. J’ai pris le train toute seule pour Londres pour accueillir Yvette et sa sœur Marguerite en gare de Victoria.  Une amie londonienne de mes parents nous a invitées toutes les trois à passer quelques jours chez elle et nous a servi de guide.  Après un séjour très intéressant, nous avons pris le train pour le pays de Galles, où mes parents nous attendaient impatiemment.  Marguerite est partie chez sa correspondante, mais ne s’y est pas sentie à l’aise ; mes parents l’ont donc invitée à rejoindre sa sœur chez nous.

Grace, Marguerite et Yvette au jardin des Franklin, 1952 Grace, Marguerite and  Yvette in the Franklin garden, 1952

Grace, Marguerite et Yvette au jardin des Franklin, 1952
Grace, Marguerite and Yvette in the Franklin garden, 1952.

Comment décrire la joie et  le plaisir de ces six semaines passées ensemble ! Nous nous sommes formidablement bien entendues et ce fut le début d’une amitié qui nous lie aujourd’hui encore. Nous n’avions pas d’automobile ; mon père emmenait Yvette et Marguerite à tour de rôle sur sa moto. Mes parents les ont chaleureusement reçues et se sont vite pris d’affection pour ces deux gentilles petites Françaises.

En 1953, j’ai eu le bonheur de passer plusieurs semaines à Montlucon.  Je n’aurais pu souhaiter mieux.

Yvette avec ma mère, 1952. Yvette with my mother, 1952.

Yvette avec ma mère, 1952.
Yvette with my mother, 1952.

Tout comme mes parents l’avaient fait pour leurs filles, M. et Mme Carbonet m’ont chaleureusement accueillie et m’ont offert des vacances gravées à jamais dans ma mémoire.

Tous les dimanches, à midi, la troupe des Troubadours  Montluçonnais dirigée par Gaston Riviere presentait ses spectacles de danses et de musiques traditionnelles dans toute la région. Yvette et Marguerite faisaient partie des danseurs et Yvette jouait de la vielle.

Pour moi, c’était une expérience unique et je me réjouissais de les voir évoluer,  les femmes surtout, dans leurs costumes pittoresques et leurs coiffes exquises.

Yvette, Grace, Marguerite 1953

C'est la maison d'Yvette et de Marguerite où j'ai passé un mois formidable en 1953. This is Yvette and Marguerite's where I spent a marvellous month in 1953

C’est la maison d’Yvette et de Marguerite où j’ai passé un mois formidable en 1953.
This is Yvette and Marguerite’s where I spent a marvellous month in 1953.

La troupe dansait souvent sur des estrades de bois  ou des pavés et le bruit des sabots marquait la cadence.  Je savourais chaque instant.  J’ai gardé précieusement les disques que j’ai rapportés de ce voyage et je peux encore les écouter sur mon vieux phonographe. Gaston Rivière était un musicien exceptionnel qui fabriquait lui-même des vielles ; un homme charismatique, qui  était véritablement l’âme et le cœur de tels événements. Quelle expérience incroyable pour une Galloise !  Yvette et

Les Troubadours Bourbonnais habillés en costume traditionnel  The Bourbonnais Troubadours dressed in traditional costume

Les Troubadours Bourbonnais habillés en costume traditionnel.
The Bourbonnais Troubadours dressed in traditional costume.

moi sommes également allées à Oradour-sur-Glane,  qui a laissé une marque indélébile dans mon âme. J’aime Montluçon et je serai éternellement reconnaissante pour tout ce que les Carbonet ont fait pour moi.

Yvette avait deux ans de plus que Marguerite et moi. Elle a donc terminé ses études secondaires  avant nous. Elle est partie travailler à Paris, tandis que Marguerite et moi sommes devenues professeurs – moi de français et Marguerite d’anglais, bien évidemment.

1953,  Daniel, Marguerite, Gaston Rivières, Yvette et Grace 1953,  Daniel, Marguerite, Gaston Rivières, Yvette and Grace

1953, Daniel, Marguerite, Gaston Rivières, Yvette et Grace.
1953, Daniel, Marguerite, Gaston Rivières, Yvette and Grace.

Après une année d’enseignement, j’ai épousé Martin et j’avais hâte de lui faire découvrir la France. En 1959, nous sommes partis en moto ; nous avons d’abord passé une semaine chez Yvette et son mari  Dédé à Lagny-sur-Marne dans leur appartement joliment meublé.  Puis, Marguerite est venue nous rejoindre pour nous faire découvrir Paris, Fontainebleau et Versailles. Après une semaine très intéressante et très agréable, Marguerite, Yvette et moi sommes parties en voiture pour Montluçon, tandis que  Martin et Dédé suivaient en moto.  Un bel accueil français nous attendait. J’étais conquise

Le mariage d'Yvette et de Dédé Yvette and Dédé's wedding

Le mariage d’Yvette et de Dédé.
Yvette and Dédé’s wedding.

par la cuisine française, mais j’avais peine à boire  le vin de table, « vinaigre » pour mes papilles galloises, auquel  j’ajoutais du sucre, comble d’horreur pour M. Carbonet ; lequel, comble d’horreur pour moi, versait quant à lui du vin dans sa soupe…  Des us et coutumes, il ne faut point discuter.  Mme Carbonet prenait un malin plaisir à m’enseigner des petites chansons ou des adages un peu coquins, que j’étais invitée à réciter et à chanter chaque fois qu’il y avait des invités.

En 1960, Yvette, Dédé et Marguerite sont venus passer quelques semaines chez nous. C’était la première visite de Dédé et  nous les avons donc emmenés voir les sites historiques de Londres, ainsi que Windsor. Mais Yvette et Marguerite

Les premières vacances en France de Martin en 1959

Les premières vacances en France de Martin en 1959.

restaient très attachées au pays de Galles, et nous sommes donc retournés à Port Talbot. Les retrouvailles  avec mes parents ont été fantastiques. Nous n’avons jamais perdus de vue nos amis français ; Marguerite a épousé  Georges Renon, qui enseignait l’anglais, lui aussi.  Une année, les Renon et leur toute petite Sylviane sont venus chez nous à Londres. Ils ont fait plusieurs séjours en Grande-Bretagne au fil des années et nous sommes retournés plusieurs fois à Montluçon pour revoir nos chers amis. En

Yvette, Grace et Marguerite à Londres en 1960 Yvette, Grace and Marguerite in  London in 1960

Yvette, Grace et Marguerite à Londres en 1960.
Yvette, Grace and Marguerite in London in 1960.

 1990, en route vers la République Tchèque, nous sommes d’abord passés par Montluçon, et George et Marguerite nous ont gentiment prêté leur Citroën pour faire ce voyage. Au retour, nous nous sommes donné une autre occasion de séjourner chez eux et de revoir Yvette et Dédé.

Martin et moi avons émigré au Canada en 1975. En 1979, les Renon, les Regrain et Mme Carbonet ont pu passer les grandes vacances à Vancouver,  à une heure de route de chez nous. À notre tour, nous leur avons prêté un de nos véhicules pour leur permettre de découvrir les États-Unis – la région Ouest, Disneyland en Californie et le Grand Canyon en Arizona, notamment.

Dédé, Yvette, Grace, Mam et Marguerite au Pays de Galles en 1960. Dédé, Yvette, Grace, Mam and Marguerite in Wales in 1960.

Dédé, Yvette, Grace, Mam et Marguerite au Pays de Galles en 1960.
Dédé, Yvette, Grace, Mam and Marguerite in Wales in 1960.

Marguerite et moi partageons des intérêts communs, par notre parcours d’enseignantes tout d’abord. Parce que nous avions nous-mêmes bénéficié d’un programme d’échange, nous avons tenu à ce que nos élèves puissent profiter de la même expérience.  La première fois, j’enseignais le français à Chiswick, à Londres.  J’ai envoyé la liste et le profil d’une trentaine de mes élèves à Marguerite, qui s’est chargée de leur trouver des correspondantes françaises. À l’époque, Martin et moi possédions un autobus appelé ‘Blodwen’ qui servait au transport de notre groupe de  jeunes chrétiens.  Ce bus a fait l’aller-retour entre la France et la Grande-Bretagne.

Yvette, Dédé, Martin, Grace 1953

Yvette, Dédé, Martin, Grace 1953.

Martin au volant, il a transporté mon groupe d’élèves jusqu’à Paris, puis à Montluçon, ma ville française préférée, riche en souvenirs inoubliables. Cet échange fut un succès retentissant et nous a permis de passer 2 semaines chez les Renon, et de retrouver Yvette et Dédé.

En 1981, le deuxième programme d’échange a réuni mes élèves canadiennes et celles de Marguerite. Nous avons pu une fois de plus revoir Yvette, Marguerite et leurs familles respectives. Après notre rencontre initiale, notre relation avec Yvette et toute sa famille a évolué à l’image d’un petit caillou jeté dans un étang, et qui engendre toute une série d’ondes, de cercles qui s’étendent de proche en proche, jusqu’à couvrir toute la surface de l’eau.

Yvette avec son fils Marc Yvette with her son Marc

Yvette avec son fils Marc.
Yvette with her son Marc.

Mon rêve s’est réalisé grâce à Yvette. Et, vous l’aurez compris, il a grandi et s’est développé à partir « d’un petit caillou dans l’étang » jusqu’à toucher ma vie entière.  Je remercie Dieu de m’avoir donné le privilège de faire la connaissance d’Yvette et sa famille, il y a bien longtemps.  Comme le disait souvent Marguerite, « C’est la Providence » (une petite plaisanterie entre nous), parce qu’elle savait que nous n’y voyions pas de coïncidences, mais les points d’incidence de Dieu.

Nous avons vu Yvette pour la dernière fois en 2008. À l’occasion de notre 50e anniversaire de mariage, après avoir voyagé en Egypte et en Israël, nous avons voulu revenir à Montluçon avant de repartir au Canada.

Yvette et/and Grace 2008

Yvette et/and Grace 2008.

C’était une année seulement après la mort de Dédé et Yvette vivait encore dans un chagrin profond. Quelque chose en elle s’était éteint, et la vie semblait avoir perdu son sens. Sa douleur nous a fait beaucoup de peine.  Il y a quelques mois, j’avais écrit à Marguerite pour les inviter, Yvette et elle. Nous aurions tellement aimé les accueillir chez nous.

Mes très chers amis, nous vous renouvelons toutes nos condoléances. Vous êtes dans nos pensées et nous partageons votre peine.

Adieu Yvette, ma chère sœur française, je ne t’oublierai jamais.

Grace et Martin


 I decided to write to you first because it is easier to express my thoughts and my feelings regarding Yvette’s sudden death.  I was deeply saddened to receive the news, thanks to Jean-Yves, to whom I am deeply grateful.

My dear French friends, our French family, we want to offer you our most sincere condolences.  We want to assure you that you are in our thoughts, hearts and prayers.  Words can never adequately express our heartfelt sympathies and love for you all at this difficult time.  We have a solid friendship which will last as long as God gives us breath.  Over many decades, we have enjoyed so many warm and funny memories. It was wonderful when Dédé came into our lives; he was a generous and enthusiastic man who passionately loved his wife Yvette.  He and Martin got on so well together in spite of the language barrier; fortunately Martin has studied French in school but never had the opportunity to use it before meeting Dédé.

I can say without reservation that Yvette changed my life completely although she would never have thought so. I began to attend high school in Wales at the age of ten and half where I began to learn French.  In the first two years, French was certainly not my favorite subject. A really new concept for me in French was that all nouns are masculine or feminine which I disliked, and then those diabolical French irregular verbs which have so many exceptions.   However, when I was 12 years of age, my French teacher asked my class if we were interested in having French pen friends.  I was very happy to receive the name and address of a certain Yvette Carbonet and I immediately wrote to her and she replied by return of post.  This was a historic moment and it would forever shape my life. We wrote to each other almost every week and sent each other photos, post cards of our town and country and gifts.  As our friendship developed, I was determined to meet my correspondent one day in the future and my interest in French was ignited and quickly became a consuming passion. I began to devour the French dictionary (not literally!); I liked learning idiomatic expressions and I even used to have imaginary conversations with Yvette.

When I was 13 years of age my French teacher Miss Thorne, who was a veritable dragon but excellent teacher, organised a ten day winter holiday in a little village in the French Alps called Les Houches, not very far from Chamonix. The intention was that we would have skiing lessons. I wrote to Yvette to tell her that we were going to pass through Paris where we had a 3 hour wait at Gare St. Lazare.  By return of mail, Yvette told me that she would like to see me and that her father had offered to drive her to Paris which was approximately 200 miles from her home in Montluçon, just simply so that we could meet each other and spend these hours together.

My parents and Yvette’s played an important role in this whole scenario and contributed a lot to the success of our friendship. They were ready to do whatever it took to help us and to encourage us concerning our education and this was certainly part of it.  Both our parents were working class and I so appreciate the sacrifice my parents made to finance this event. Then it was obvious that the Carbonets were willing to go the extra mile too so that their daughter and I could meet for just a brief time.  It was December which meant that Mr. Carbonet would have to make this long journey in winter conditions.  On this occasion and many more, our parents demonstrated a real commitment to us in our education.

I was so excited to meet Yvette and it was the highlight of my first visit to France. After meeting Yvette, even more than ever, I wanted her to come to my home for a long summer holiday.  In the meantime, I was totally focused on learning French and I ended up becoming the most motivated girl in my class.  Years after my French teacher retired, she told my husband Martin that throughout her entire teaching career, she never had another student who was so passionate about French. I wanted to speak French so badly and so I found different means to accomplish it.  I lived in a seaside town where ships regularly brought cargo and, French boats in particular arrived loaded with iron ore, a mineral which was necessary to make steel.  In Port Talbot there were numerous industries including the largest steel plant in Europe. French sailors could be seen very often strolling down the main street in our town.  Every time I saw a sailor, I couldn’t resist initiating a conversation by asking him some prepared general questions in French and each time I did this I became more confident and even bolder. My parents had always advised me never to speak to strangers but the main street was always very busy and it was completely safe.

Another way for me to practice French was by talking to a Breton onion seller who used to go door to door to sell strings of French onions.  Two brothers, Yves and Louis, married two sisters and six months out of every year, they lived in my town.  They spoke good English but with a delightful strong Welsh accent which was so charming.  I spent a lot of Saturday mornings with their wives, who didn’t speak English, because they spent all day stringing the onions and while they worked, I had the opportunity to improve my French.    Then every morning before going to school, I listened to Radio Luxemburg, where I heard all the most recent popular songs of the ‘50s such as La Mer, Les Feuilles Mortes, Clopin Clopan, Mexico, Le Fiacre and songs of Edith Piaf, Yves Montand,Tino Rossi etc. I bought a lot of French gramophone records and played them on our gramophone. Whenever I heard a French song that I liked I used to write to Yvette to ask her if she could send me words of these songs. Once again she went the extra mile and bought me sheet music which included the words and music. In this way, I learned them by heart and was able to play them on the piano while I sang.  It was Yvette who helped me and encouraged me to improve my French.  Without her, I would never have accomplished my goal.  She was my inspiration that made me love and appreciate French, France and all things French. I can still hear her singing ‘Quand nous chanterons les temps des cerises”.

In 1952, my dream was finally realised.  The day came when I went to London on my own to meet Yvette and her sister Marguerite at Victoria Station in London.  I was on cloud nine.

A friend of my parents who lived in London invited Yvette, Marguerite and me to spend a few days at her home so that Marguerite and Yvette could visit the main London sites and she was our guide. After a very interesting stay, we went by train to Wales where my parents were eagerly waiting for us.  Marguerite went to the home of her pen friend but never felt at ease there, so my mother invited her to come and be with her sister.  I cannot describe the fun we enjoyed during those 6 weeks.  We got on so well together and this was the beginning of a friendship which has lasted up to the present. My father used to take Yvette and Marguerite in turn for rides on his motorbike.  We didn’t possess a car. My parents welcomed them heartily and quickly fell in love with these two lovely French teenagers.

In 1953, it was my joy to spend several weeks in Montluçon; I could never have wished for a better or more wonderful family. Just like my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carbonet welcomed me warmly and made my holiday one that I would never forget.  Even today I can reflect on my first visit and still remember so many marvellous details.  Every Sunday, at noon the Montluçon Troubadours led by Gaston Rivière used to go to different towns in the area where they danced their traditional dances and also sang folk songs. Yvette and Marguerite were among the dancers of this group and Yvette played the ‘vielle’.  For me it was a completely unique and delightful experience.  I enjoyed watching them dance, the women in particular, stunningly dressed in colourful costumes with the most exquisite hats.  They often danced on boards or stone and the sound of the clogs would rhythmically resonate. I savoured every moment and I still possess several gramophone records of this special music; the drone of the ‘cornemuse’ (bagpipes) and the unique sound of the ‘vielle’ (hurdy gurdy). Gaston Riviere was such a gifted musician and made and sold ‘vielles’; he was a charismatic character and was the heart and soul of the party.  What an incredible experience for a Welsh girl!  Yvette and I also visited Oradour which was a very moving experience and it left an indelible mark on my soul. I love Montluçon and will be ever thankful for everything that the Carbonets did for me.

Yvette was 2 years older than Marguerite and me and therefore she finished her secondary education 2 years earlier than we did and went to live and work in Paris.  Subsequently she married Déde Regrain who had courted her for some years in Montluçon.  During this time Marguerite and I became teachers and guess what subject I taught?  Yes, that’s right – French and Marguerite, who was competent in English, became an English teacher.  After my first year teaching, I married Martin and I couldn’t wait to take him to France for the first time. So one year later, in 1959, we went there by motorcycle and spent one week at Yvette and Dédé’s well furnished and compact apartment in Lagny sur Marne. Marguerite came there to join us so that she could take us to see the famous sights of Paris. When the time came for us to go to Montluçon, Marguerite, Yvette and I travelled in Marguerite’s car and Martin and Déde went by motorcycle.  A big, warm French welcome awaited us.  I loved all French food but was unable to like “le vin ordinaire.” It was like drinking vinegar and even worse.  The only way I was able to drink it was by adding a lot of sugar.  Mr. Carbonet was totally shocked at this, as I was when I saw him pouring wine into his soup!  Mrs. Carbonet loved teaching me to recite or sing some adages which were funny but a little naughty.  When anyone came to her home she was eager for me to recite or sing them to everyone.  It probably sounded cuter and funnier to hear a foreigner saying such things.

In 1960 Yvette, Dédé and Marguerite came for a holiday to our home. It was Dédé’s first visit to London and Wales. We took them to see the historic places of London as well as Windsor. According to Yvette and Marguerite, it was Wales that they liked most of all, so after their stay in our home we all drove to Port Talbot to my parents’ home and everyone was so happy to be together again. We have always remained in contact with our French friends. Marguerite married George Renon, also an English teacher and they lived in Montluçon and held teaching posts in schools there.  One year when Sylviane (Georges and Marguerite’s firstborn) was still a baby, Marguerite and George came to our home to London.  From time to time we have returned to Montluçon to see these dear friends. In 1990, we wanted to visit the Czech Republic but we decided to go to Montluçon first and George and Marguerite kindly loaned us their Citroën so that we could drive from their town to the Czech Republic.  Again we managed to find another reason to spend time with them and with Yvette and Dédé.

Martin and I immigrated to Canada in 1975 and in about 1979 there was an opportunity for the Renons, the Regrains and Mrs. Carbonet to come to Vancouver.  I think they rented a house because there were so many of them.  They were only an hour’s drive away from us so we were able to spend time with them.  We were able to loan them one of our cars so that they could tour the western U.S including places like Disneyland in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Marguerite and I especially share mutual interests because we are both teachers.  When we were teenagers we had benefitted from a student exchange programme so we wanted to provide the same opportunity for our students. The first time that we organised such an exchange I lived and taught French in Chiswick, London.  I sent a list of the names of about 30 of my students who were interested in participating in this project together with their profiles. Then Marguerite put them in pairs according to their personalities and interests.  At that time, Martin and I possessed a bus which served as transportation for members of our Christian youth group. This became the means of travel for my students to France and back. We went first to Paris and then on to Montluçon We still enjoy looking at photographs we took on that trip which include a photo of the bus in front of the Eiffel Tower and another by a large sign that announced that we were entering  Montluçcon.  This exchange was an enormous success and it offered us the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Marguerite and George’s home and of course time to spend with Yvette and Dédé.The second student exchange took place in 1981 between my Canadian students and those of Marguerite; it was history repeating itself and provided us yet again with an excuse to see Yvette, Marguerite and families!  My initial contact and developing relationship with Yvette and her whole family was rather like the throwing of a stone in a pond which creates ripples that move outward in all directions, covering the entire surface of the pond.  My dream came into being with Yvette, and I am sure you can see how it grew and grew from that “one small stone in the pond” until it affected my entire life.  I thank God for giving me the opportunity to become a pen friend with Yvette back all those decades ago.   As Marguerite used to say with a twinkle in her eye, “It’s Providence,” (a little joke between us) because she knew that we never believed in coincidences but saw everything as God’s incidents.

The last time we saw Yvette was in 2008; it was our 50th wedding anniversary. After travelling to Egypt and Israel, before returning to Canada we spent two weeks in Montluçon so that we could see our friends again.  At that time, Yvette was still deeply grieving the loss of her beloved Dédé who had passed away a year before.  It seemed as if the light had gone out of her eyes and life had lost its meaning.  It really saddened us to see her like that.   I wrote to Marguerite a number of months ago inviting her and Yvette to come to our home for a visit so that we could spoil them a little but it wasn’t to be.

We will continue to pray for you that you will find the strength to overcome the pain you are presently feeling .

Goodbye my dearest  French sister Yvette, I shall never forget you.

Grace and Martin

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Joy Johnson – a remarkable lady

Like me you perhaps have not heard of Joy Johnson before.  If you are a keen follower of marathon running you possibly/probably know about her.

A friend of mine who lives in California sent me an article about Joy Johnson that appeared in the San Jose (Joy Johnson’s hometown) Mercury News a couple of days ago.  I found the story touching, inspiring, contemporary and bitter sweet.  I think it will move you as it did me.  I sent an email earlier today to Mark Memmons, the journalist who wrote the article and asked if I might post it on our blog.  His reply was prompt and positive and suggested I provide a link to the article.  However, I found the link no longer functions.  I will give you the link nevertheless (it might work for you) but I will also paste in the article:

SAN JOSE — Just like she did every year, Joy Johnson finished the New York City Marathon Sunday (November 3rd 2013). The following morning she stationed herself outside the “Today” show where weatherman Al Roker, as always, looked for her and let the Willow Glen resident display her finisher’s medal to a national audience.

Joy Johnson-1But afterward Johnson, an 86-year-old retired P.E. teacher who was renowned in the worldwide running community for her marathon prowess, became ill at her hotel and was taken to a New York hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Her daughter, Diana Boydston, said the family is still piecing together the details of Johnson’s last day.

SJMN_NTPHANNON“What’s keeping us going right now is that she was doing what she loved,” Boydston said Tuesday. “She wanted to die with her running shoes on, and she did.”

Boydston said her mother apparently fell and hit her head Sunday around the 20-mile mark of the famous marathon. But she got up and completed the race — for the 25th consecutive time. Then she made sure she was waiting for Roker first thing Monday morning.

Johnson was the oldest female finisher at a race that attracted more than 50,000 entrants. Chris Weiller, spokesman for the New York Road Runners, said Johnson also was a member of the prestigious “streakers” — a tightknit group of runners who have completed 15 or more consecutive New York City Marathons.

“We’re just so sad to hear about her passing,” Weiller added. “She was an inspiration to everyone. We’re really feeling her loss here.”

Johnson, who grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm and landed in San Jose, was a well-liked and recognizable figure among South Bay runners with her bright smile and white hair tied neatly in a bun. She never understood the fuss made over her at races, and was a little star-struck when the media discovered her after she turned 80, highlighting her rare endurance running ability, including in a lengthy 2008 profile in this newspaper.

“So many people work harder than me and are so much better,” Johnson said back then. “I just try to do the best that I can.”

She didn’t begin running until retiring from teaching at age 56. When a friend suggested they attempt the 1988 New York City Marathon, a passion was born.

“When I crossed that finish line in Central Park, I just knew this is what I would do the rest of my life,” Johnson said in 2008. “Running makes you feel good. It’s energizing. You sleep better at night. And the best part for me is you can eat anything you want.”

Still, Boydston sometimes worried about her mother’s love of running the 26.2-mile races.

“I live with her, so I would see the 86-year-old woman who struggled to walk late at night,” she said. “But then in the morning, she would stretch a bit, eat some oatmeal, go to the track and then suddenly she was 32.”

Johnson traveled last week to Minnesota to meet up with her sister, Faith Anderson, 83, before they continued on to New York.

The New York Daily News reported that in a pre-race interview Johnson said she proudly would be running at her own pace.

“I’ll be at the back of the pack, but I don’t mind,” she said. “I just praise the Lord I can get out of bed each morning and run. A lot of people my age are in wheelchairs.”

Boydston said she followed her mother’s progress in the race online and knew that she completed the course in 7 hours, 57 minutes and 41 seconds — a slow time by her standard. It was only later that Boydston learned from her aunt about the fall. Weiller, the race spokesman, said medical personnel examined Johnson after she crossed the finish line.

“She was alert, in good spirits and said a nice person had helped her up,” he said. “She declined to go to the hospital for further evaluation.”

It’s unclear if Johnson’s fall was related to her death.

The next morning, she was well enough for her annual chat with Roker, where she wore a scarf and held a rose. Her medal hung around her neck. There also was a bandage on the right side of her face and head.

Back at their hotel room, Johnson told her sister she wasn’t feeling well and needed to lie down. She never woke up.

Since then, Boydston said she has been fielding calls from around the country, and even further away.

“I had somebody from Paris call, and I don’t think she ever went there,” Boydston said. “But she makes friends wherever she goes.”

Boydston then caught herself speaking about her mother in the present tense, and began to choke up.

“This is how my mother wanted to live her life,” she added. “I think she’s probably looking down now and saying, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I wanted it.’ “

Services are being planned in Minnesota, and a service will be held later in San Jose.

Mark Memmons – San Jose Mercury News.  Material used with permission

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