Eulogies (1. Andrew Halladey & 2. John Spiers)
1. Andrew Halladey (nephew):
A Tribute to Phyllis.
I will give you an outline of Phyllis as I knew her. Some of this will strike a chord with you, and I hope for some it will be new insights into Phyllis' full life. There are many here today, and I have received kind messages from many more, that represent a wide circle of friends and this is the journey that has gathered so many. Phyllis, with my mother Daphne her twin, were born 27th April 1926 at Barming near Maidstone. Phyllis was always the elegant feminine child, my mother the Tom Boy. As competitive siblings of course they fought. Daphne was older by 20 minutes, and proud of it, and she infamously said "if we were Royalty I'd be Queen and you'd be nothing ". That was at the age of 11, but from my earliest memories they were close.
Phyllis lived for 90 years but she has been cheating the medical profession all her life. At birth the doctor said 'this one won't live long', but her mother pulled her through. For some reason there was another scare when she was 11. Then in her thirties Phyllis was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Despite the difficulties of living with that disease, and the threat of a short term future, Phyllis got on with life, she made plans (she joined EXIT), but she helped support others with the disease. Once more Phyllis cheated death (even if she couldn't cheat the MS symptoms) as one of the small percentage where a remission in the disease proved permanent.
The oldest long term friend that I am aware of is an boyfriend from when they were 15. This is Squizz. I have known of him since I was a child but I only met him last year when he visited Phyllis. There is a blank in Phyllis' history in her late teens. Squizz likes to think she was doing something secret in the war but probably not. Which brings us to 1948 and Red Hill School.
Red Hill School was the most important and fulfilling part of Phyllis' life, where she became part of that unique establishment. She joined in 1948 and remained until it's closure, until the last boys were gone, in 1992. I think Phyllis believed she would always live there. Phyllis immersed herself in the running of the School as The Secretary (officially) but she also studied and qualified in Psychology to support a deeper involvement in the schools remit but essentially hers was a natural talent with people.
The school was special to my brother (Richard) and me, most especially The Cottage, where Phyllis and Lawrence lived, and the grounds it was set in. They created a beautiful home full of lovely things music, art, books, flowers good food, and when we were older good wine. At Christmas The Cottage was imaginatively decorated, with the coal fires always burning. In the summer the windows were thrown open, and the doors to the wonderful walled garden behind. My brother and I would visit the school (like the Borrowers) when you were away. The atmosphere is still clear in my memory. The passage down to the school, the art, the panelled walls, the smell of the kitchen (yuck). An old cast iron bath high up at the back of the school and Phyllis' old office up there too. It was dark and mysterious place.
I remember Otto Shaw visiting The Cottage. He was very large and intimidating but he enticed me out with magic tricks that produced sixpences (I thought my pocket money worries were over but I could never reproduce the tricks). I remember the swimming pool being built, and I now know that Phyllis used to swim there in the nude in the holidays - I wasn't there. I browsed some minutes of a school board meeting (handwritten by Phyllis) in which there were a remarkable number of requests by 'The Secretary' for more salary.
Phyllis always spent more money than she earned, on the good things in life, luxuries, travel, theatre and restaurants. She loved her cars and she drove them fast. I know of two speeding stops that she charmed her way out of - one on the day of her driving test. She loved to travel and the warmer climates helped with her MS symptoms. Phyllis was a pathfinder for modern travellers - she went to Majorca when there was only one hotel and the Algarve when you had to fly to Lisbon then a 2 hour taxi ride to get there. Phyllis lived a jet setting lifestyle, always in glamorous clothes and often barefoot.
It was a very hard wrench when Phyllis had to leave her Red Hill home but Phyllis and Lawrence settled in Bexhill where they recreated many of the aspects of The Cottage in their spacious flat. She missed the bustle of the school but was buoyed by the contacts and visits with old friends. Phyllis' world became smaller in 2008 when an accident put her in hospital and weakened her and stilted her confidence. That may seem uncharacteristic of Phyllis but she did suffer with depression throughout her life. We could be unaware of this as she was always helping with our problems.
When Lawrence died in 2011 we realised how much Phyllis depended on him and eventually when care at home was not enough Phyllis moved to Acorn Court (2014) in Redhill, Surrey ( ironically Redhill). This was close to my brothers family and together with Daphne again after several years apart. Now they are both gone from us. Phyllis' close family are here to remember her Richard (nephew) with Alison his wife and children Keir and Mattie, Lesley my wife, is here with me and of course you her friends and a larger family born of Red Hill School. Phyllis, a life that made a difference to many people.
She was an Inspiration for much of my life and I now understand to many others as well. She shaped me by her example and guidance, through growing up, and then as a companion. She was intelligent, beautiful and always elegant, and with it loving and generous. Somehow to each of us, a special personal friend, that we could share. A free spirit throughout her life. I loved her.
Thank you Phyllis.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Newman)
2. John Spiers:
Let me speak from the heart. I am grateful to Andrew, Lesley** and Richard for the opportunity to do so. What is for us all a dreadful day. We will all have our own personal memories and images of Phyllis. But we will all agree that Phyllis was a very gentle, very beautiful, very modest, warm and loving person. I still see in my mind's eye her walking down the back drive, smiling, wearing a pink woollen jersey, modestly entirely unaware of how beautiful she was. I am grateful and proud to have known Phyllis for nearly 65 years, and to have remained a friend. We all of us - ourselves, our own children and grandchildren too - owe her so much. We and they all live better lives because of what she did for us all.
She achieved much, despite her lack of confidence in herself. What she did was all focussed on the individuals who needed help - including Shaw. On our first days at Red Hill I suspect that we were all vulnerable, often frightened little boys - I was. I knew Phyllis from my first day at Red Hill - 11 years old, the youngest, smallest boy in the school - nicknamed "Nipper". Taken from a street in working-class North London to this vast and forbidding Tudor mansion in the middle of nowhere. On a bus, then the underground then a steam train from Victoria. Out into the entirely unknown. From "home" to the Square Yard Dorm. From a tiny four room maisonette to this vast place, the mansion of the Filmer family. Huge, hollow, echoing, bewildering. Surrounded by strange countryside - and with Mrs. Wilson's ghostly and haunting presence on the main stairs. The war had only just ended. Food was still rationed. These were indeed tough times. In one of our last conversations Phyllis said to me that she wondered how we survived in that cold, draughty, unheated school.
Few if any of us really knew what was happening to us. Or what Red Hill School really was all about. Or what was in store for us. Or when we might go home again. Or who all these other strange boys were. Many with inexplicable northern accents. But here Phyllis showed each of us personal kindnesses and understanding. And she encouraged the ability to think and to reflect in an open society.
In doing so she played a pivotal role in helping many of us settle into this strange new life. Also, she played a role in redefining what "normal" schools called "maladjustment". Despite the language of the official Education Acts we were not "odd". We were ourselves. We were all different. It was up to us to make something of ourselves and of our lives. Many of us did so. She encouraged boys to be spirited, natural, bright and individualistic. Each of us was a character who did not fit into unfit educational structures elsewhere, and who were fortunate to be transferred to East Sutton. This was a new opportunity, leaving behind us much trouble. She influenced Shaw and others in the day-to-day care of us all, and in our own perceptions of ourselves - the self-knowledge Shaw wanted us to develop. Here her name should stand with educational innovators: with Otto Shaw himself, with A.S.Neill of Summerhill and with George Lyward of Finchden Manor. She did much to make it all actually work. She admired, too, what Terry Wilson has done in recovering the history of the school, and she has an important place there.
Most significantly, her caring concern for the individual boy - alongside her administrative work - showed in her relationships both with boys and with her colleagues. It is another test that she was so loved and respected by colleagues who held her in the highest esteem. Look at the quality of those many inspirational people: among them Bob Payne, Marion Farrell, Mrs. Freed, Paul Pollock, Prabir Nandi, Lawrence Lowe, T.D.Powell-Davies, Eileen Snelgrove, Colin Hart, Ted Brown, John Jones - the art teacher with the taxi, Mrs. Clift, Audrey Davies, Julian David and Morley Gayton - who was never out at cricket and who was also a great friend.
Phyllis was also and necessarily a patient diplomat, alongside Shaw's rambunctious and impatient personality. She it was who dealt with fee-paying educational authorities, the local police, the farmer's Chantler and Skinner - whose orchards we boys voluntarily visited, with hop picker families, and with suspicious and doubting locals - some of whom had daughters. This is a very sad day, but it should also be one of celebration and remembrance. We should record, too, with all of our gratitude an important tribute and great thanks to you, Andrew. Phyllis owed much to Andrew's concern and care, these past years.
So many dozens of us remained in touch with her for decades. She helped so many of us cope with personal challenges and make a success of our lives. She was indeed a very gentle, very beautiful, very modest, warm and loving person.
She will always continue to live in our hearts. If you seek her monument, look around you.
** Andrew's wife