On a beautifully sunny morning on 1st October 2018, the Ross Skinner family came to St Mary’s Easton with 100 friends and relations to Rosemary’s funeral. The service was peppered with extracts from her beautifully written books Horizon House, Letter for Tomorrow, Molly and the Italian Cousins and The Lighthouse Keeper. A Christmas Poem describing her delight in her grandchildren was set on the back page of the service sheet.
The service was led by Revd. Alex Pease and John Dover played the organ. John played Panis Angelicus by C Franck and Ave Maria by F. Gounod after J.S. Bach arranged by J.Stuart Archer for the processional. Jo Levine played the prelude to the Bach Cello Suite no 1 in G and Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel and Chanson de Matin by Edward Elgar at the recessional.
Rosemary’s sons Andrew, Sam, Paul and Simon acted as pall bearers carrying a beautiful wicker coffin.
The hymns were the Lords’s my shepherd, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Lord of All Hopefulness and Praise my soul the King of heaven. Iona and Isabella Ross Skinner read a poem written by Isabella when she was aged 10 about her granny’s house. Jamie Ross Skinner read 1 Corinthians 13. Leonora Ross Skinner read an extract from The Lighthouse Keeper by Rosemary . Harri Ross Skinner read John 14:1-6.
Charles Boase, Rosemary’s Cousin read the following tribute:
We have come here today to celebrate Rosemary’s life: she was born on 18th November 1932 and died on 17th September 2018 peacefully in her sleep at the age of 85, nearly 86. In cricketing terms she has had a long and distinguished innings.
I am her first cousin once removed – my grandfather Emil Peter Renniker married Edith Noakes in what was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Edith was the sister of Gwendraeth, Rosemary’s mother. So that’s how the family link started.
My mother, Anne Boase, Rosemary and Gwendraeth all got on incredibly well and rang each other at least once a week and they weren’t short calls either. My father used to complain a lot about this. The three of them were the best of friends and in those days family links were very important. As children we spent much time staying with our relatives or making short visits. I remember Rosemary’s four boys, AC, Sam, Paul and Simon, when they were very small. Looking back I have known cousin Rosemary for all of my life. She used to come and take me out from prep school, usually with a reluctant boy friend, in his sports car which greatly increased my standing with fellow pupils.
I always thought of her as the bright spark in our family. I remember my mother telling me that Rosemary had come second in the Foreign Office Exams. She wrote at least two novels: ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ and ‘Letter for Tomorrow’ . And the proceeds from the latter paid for the first of three E type Jaguars, No 1 being the first E Type in Dorset with a top speed of 154 miles per hour and I remember with amazement watching other drivers literally get off the road as we whizzed past. At the age of thirteen I thought this was great and I gather she created a lap record of 90 miles an hour on the Poxwell Strait and managed an epic skid on something slippery on the road outside Farmer Dorey’s field at Warmwell.
So she was no intellectual slouch. I liked her very much, she was always on your side, ready to give advice and support. One of the nicest, kindest people I have known. I always counted myself lucky to have had her as a cousin. Sometimes these family links can be a great help, says I, speaking from experience. God bless her.
Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:
I have known Rosemary, not well, but over a long time: for just under 20 years. Our family used to enjoy Sunday lunches with Sam and Serena in Bramdean and (whatever the family occasion) Rosemary would (as you would expect) always be there: unfailingly courteous, always asking about us and our children, always by name.
And she was very well loved in Easton. Mary Hall tells me that sometimes there would be a chuckle at the sight of Rosemary being dragged round the village by one of her succession of great danes!
Peter Morgan, her neighbour for many years mentioned to me that she had a host of friends that most of us would envy – he was continually amazed at the daily progression of visitors driving down the track. He put this down to her continually sunny disposition and her interest in the lives of everyone she knew and her ready laughter.
Caroline Hall writes: ‘when our eldest, Dan, was about 10 years old I decided to cycle him home from school in Winchester, along the river…unfortunately, halfway into the ride he fell off his bike into a large patch of nettles and was inconsolable. Rosemary was the only person I could call and she came out straightaway – picked up Dan whilst I dealt with the bikes, and took him home to her house. When I got back he was sat in her lounge with tea and biscuits, tears dried, fully recovered. What a wonderful neighbour for our children to grow up with. She was an extraordinary woman.’
She held numerous dinner and lunch parties at which there would always be a waif or stray – someone interesting, who would otherwise be alone…
And, of course, she absolutely adored her sons and grandchildren, as Peter writes, she could not happier about them and glowed with pride at their achievements.
And I know that from my own visits to her even as recently as a couple of weeks ago when when we celebrated Holy Communion together.
She would be so delighted that you are all here.
Rosemary’s was a life which had both passion…. and pain. It was a life in which she found she had to radically change direction when at one stage she had lost her way.
She writes in her book Horizon House: ‘I am forced to review every facet of my mind, confront every preconception and relentlessly discard the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of undisciplined thought. What I will be left with, I do not know. Perhaps someone closer to the mysterious centre of things.’
Wonderfully, she did find which way to go and that person at the mysterious centre of things, in what she describes in her wonderful book as a ‘re-birth’. And I know from my many conversations with her that both her friendship with Archdeacon Trevor Nash and the Alpha Course, helped her to build on that foundation. And I think this shaped the rest of her life and made her the wonderful neighbour, friend, mother and granny that we remember today.
Reading Horizon House last week, I had a wonderful sense of being drawn back by her beautiful writing into an almost innocent age an age perhaps of Agatha Christie: goodies and baddies; beautiful models; talented actresses; inspirational businessmen and heroic servicemen; all kinds of people who had also lost their way. All of whom were brought together, in what Rosemary describes as something like a 1950s house party, a plot for one of Agatha Christie’s novels, perhaps.
Perhaps things were more straightforward then. As Leonora read from Rosemary’s novel the Lighthouse Keeper, ‘it seems to me that there is a quality of innocence at the root of things a mainspring, and if one can stumble on this all is well…but you must be receptive in the right way and this quality is apparent. Unmistakable.’
And reflecting on this after reading Horizon House, I feel that that innocence is something that we have, as a society, lost sight of; that perhaps we have all lost our way because amidst the chaos and confusion of modern life, the passion and the pain.
How on earth do we find which way to go?
But Jesus says in the passage Harri has just read: ‘Don’t worry…do not let your hearts be troubled’. In other words: It’s all going to be fine because, I am going ahead of you. Trust in me….
And wonderful Thomas, who may doubt, but is no fool, says very reasonably, as we might say: ‘Lord we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
Jesus replies: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’.
When we as Christians travel through life and even as we cross over the final barrier, that Rosemary has now crossed, Jesus says the way to live our lives today and the way to cross this final barrier of death, the way to die, is to trust in Jesus and follow the way he has set for us.
But what does ‘trusting in Jesus mean?’
We can only trust someone that we know and getting to know Jesus, getting to know that innocence, that mainspring, at the centre of all things, as Rosemary found, is undoubtedly life’s most important task and its greatest privilege.
If we want to get to know the way, the truth and the life then the time to start is now
Sam Ross Skinner writes:
Several people said to me that they would like a copy of Horizon House, I have 20 or so copies available – we got them back from the publishers who unfortunately went bust after producing this book!.. I did give away copies to several people at Paidon yesterday, and they agreed to make donations – I suggested to parish funds, via you. Could you please advise that a small number are available…I will sign them, “in memory of Rosemary”, in return for a “suggested donation” of £15 for church funds. If any people who wish can let you know, I will deliver them to you in a few days.