Tuesday, February 11, 2014

R.I.P Grace (Gay) Charlotte Hellyer

A favourite picture of Gay during her university days

I can still remember the day my mother died,  it's as if it was yesterday but truth be told I lost her on the 11th February 1977 at approximately 5.50 in the morning...or that is when Arthur found her, still warm. Life was never quite the same for me. As I'd matured we'd became the best of friends. She was proud of me and my endeavours and told me so. At that moment I lost my best friend and mentor as well as my mother.

She was three weeks and five days from her 70th birthday. The shock to us all was huge. Recently recovered from a hip operation for which she' d waited for several years, the next years' of Arthur and her life seemed full of hope. Lame for many years, and growing tired of the pain she was in (though she barely complained just becoming more 'scratchy' than normal) she wasn't to be swayed by Arthur's reluctance to her having the operation. 

In an extract from The Haphazard Gardener I write - '...she was I think a very bright and industrious child.' As with all biographies, some assumptions have to be made, but from her childhood books, papers I have read, from her first teaching job, through to her university days, on to the comments about her from 6th Form students, who, after 50 years still remembered her with affection, I can draw this conclusion with absolute confidence.

Gay at Lord Portland's pond during her first teaching post

Described by Alan Titchmarsh as an 'earthy woman', I guess she was just that. Practical in all she did, thrifty and frowning artificial embellishment. She only wore lipstick and powder on the rarest of occasions, along with natural nail varnish. She did own one or two long evening dresses; worn with elegance when the need arose. 

Gay and Arthur - probably at a Ladies Night in the 1950s. An orchid was her only accessory

Her memory stays with me always. At the end of The Haphazard Gardener I dedicate a poem to her. This was not the first time I had 'seen' her whilst I worked in their garden, but it would be the last...although even now I know that I still have her blessing.

I saw you

I saw you for a moment, a glimpse of your face
smiling. Your green eyes danced amusement,
your smile flashed the flat teeth you died with.

I saw you for a moment, chestnut waves gently
bouncing. Brown ribbon tied back wayward hair.
You smiled.

I saw you for a moment, white overall
from your youth. Your days with goats
and rabbits.

I saw you for a moment. you're forty not
sixty-nine. You're in your youth
not gone to a better place. I saw you

I look down and scrape my chair from Arthur's desk
And you're gone. Was it you? I know it was
but you disappeared.

A solitary robin cocked her head,
watching me with beady eye inches from my feet.
No fear. I saw you for a moment
You were smiling. Now I can leave too.

©Penelope Hellyer


  1. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

    1. She was Patsy...born before her time as the old cliche goes...though I am sure that's not true just ill-informed...there were many resolute women born long before she was.