Joan Mary Elizabeth Howard 1922-2019

Many friends, family and neighbours came to St John’s Itchen Abbas say goodbye to Joan Howard who died on 23rd May 2019.  Joan was one of the longest residents of our Valley and was greatly loved and appreciated by so many.

We sang ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ and ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’.  Alysia (Joan’s granddaughter) read the poem ‘Let me go’ and Lavinia Owen read the Bible Reading which was Romans 8:38-39

Nancy Brooke (A close family friend) read the following tribute:

I first met Joan 44 years ago when she came to help me look after my son Stephen.  He and his wife are here today.  She would spend hours kicking a football back and forth with him. Then came my grandchildren and she continued with the goalkeeping and kicking well into her 80s.  She was game for anything.  I remember that it took me years before she agreed to call me ‘Nancy’ and not ‘Mrs Brooke’.  She became a dear friend to me and all my family.  I have many little memories. When she came to lunch my husband always teased her about her drinking if she actually had a sip of wine, although we all know that she never drank.  When any of my children have come to visit they always insisted on having Joan to tea. We had many laughs counting how many cups of tea she drank each day, she admitted to drinking eleven or twelve. They say little things mean a lot and for me that is true – she sewed buttons on for me and no one could cut beans the way she did. She had a heart of gold and would do anything for you.

Joan was a highly intelligent person who, we believed, was born too soon. She should have gone to university and on from there.

Joan always put others before herself.  When she was in hospital and in Westholme I visited her, and I read Michelle Obama’s book to her.  She typically kept worrying if I had enough light or if I was comfortable.  We both thoroughly enjoyed the book and marvelled at such an amazing lady. Now I am forced to finish on my own, but I will imagine Joan is listening next to me.

To quote Michelle Obama. “We learned about dignity and decency – that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself.”

“Success isn’t about how much money you make.  It is about the difference you make in other people’s lives.” Joan has made a big difference to the lives of my family and we thank her and we will miss her”

Catriona Christie (a close family friend) gave the following tribute:

I cannot begin to tell you how honoured I was to be asked by Joan’s family to present this “TRIBUTE” for Joan. She was, in short, my best friend.    Joan Mary Elizabeth – This Is Your Life.

On 22ndJuly 1922 Joan was born at Titchfield a few miles from here and shortly after the family moved to Itchen Down Farm, on the hill just above us now, where her father was the dairyman for  Mr. Burge.  One of her earliest memories is of her brothers Cyril and Jack taking her out in the pram and, wanting a bit of fun, took her to the top of White’s Hill and then let the pram go.  Luckily, Joan survived that journey to enjoy a wonderful long life that we all have had the honour and pleasure to be part of.

The day war broke out on September 1st1939, Joan and her parents, George and Madeleine  with her brothers Cyril and Jack moved into Spread Oak Cottage.  This was to be Joan’s home for 75 years. In fact she lived in this village  for 91 years.  She loved her home frequently saying it had the best view in Hampshire. She had a lifelong love of flowers and her garden was her passion. It was the site of her beloved weekly bonfires.  She loved bonfires and if there was not one going on her plot she was off to see how the neighbours’ ones were getting on.  She always chopped her own wood for the burner – she did this right up to the age of 91 years and 6 months.  So fitness and exercise were all part of her daily diet. 

She went through the Itchen Abbas school system under the care of Miss Doubty , her favourite teacher, and left at the age of 14.  She immediately gained a position at the Itchen Abbas Post office and was trained by them to be a telephonist.  Her first role, which she held for about 4 years was to receive incoming telegrams, transpose them and then deliver them all round the neighbouring villages.  Transport to do this was a problem but George and Madeline – her parents – came to the rescue and purchased her a bicycle. She then delivered the telegrams all round the villages, in all weathers returning home each evening on her faithful steed up the long steep hill to Spreadoak Cottage.

At the age of 16 she applied for the vacancy for telephonist at the Winchester Hospital. She got it and then started the real “iron man” training. 7 miles and 4  gruelling hills each way 6 times a week courtesy of her faithful bicycle.  In bad weather she would leave her bike propped up against the Edmonds’ wall (just 100 yards from here at the bottom of the Itchen Abbas hill). And take the bus.  The bike was always there on her return – untouched – and as she used to say “even the pump was still attached – wouldn’t be like that now”.

On 8thJune 1943 Joan joined the Wrens. She was initially trained at Portsmouth and then posted to Portland Bill with accommodation at The Royal Hotel in Weymouth. She worked underground in Portland Bill as a telephonist and it was here that she made her deep and long-lasting friendships with Olive, and Nancy. She used to tell me what fun they all had – I can believe it – it was always fun around Joan.

Her Certificate of Service from 1943 – 1945  assessed Joan as “very good character with above average efficiency”

A time she always talked about during her posting to Weymouth was the evening of 5thJune 1944.  She left the Royal Hotel to walk to work for the night shift. She could not believe how many ships and boats were in the harbour and so much activity – you could not see a patch of sea anywhere. The girls chatted about this sight during their break that night and how unusually busy the switchboard was too.  When they came off that shift the next morning and were walking back past the harbour the place was deserted – not a boat in sight. All gone. Total silence.  It was D Day.

 On October 21st 1945 Judy was born and throughout her life Joan was a marvellous caring and guiding mother even if very firm at times but she was immensely proud of her daughter.

With the War over and Joan back at Spreadoak she was reunited with her bike. She  sought employment locally.  Mrs Leach, and Mrs Ambler were thrilled to have her come and help them and then we, the Mackenzie family,  arrived from Scotland and this gem, Joan, arrived every Thursday.  As children, my brother Anthony and I longed for Thursdays and would hang over the fence waiting for the dashing lady on the bike. Although Joan helped my mother doing all the necessary things in a house, it went beyond that. Joan was a Wren. SO was my mother – so that glued their friendship for over 50 years. Joan would take me to birthday parties on the back of her bike (I don’t know if she volunteered or was asked) all I remember is that we would chat away discussing every detail of a party and thus began a friendship that lasted 67 years . She would look after us when the parents went out to dinner.  My brother Anthony and myself were no angels but when the parents came home Joan NEVER EVER split on us. She was as loyal as they come. We were witness to that  – as we hung over the banisters listening to the late evening greetings.  We were atrocious – locking Joan in the broom cupboard one evening and only letting her out when things went a bit silent in there. This was my great friend who knitted all my school cardigans, gloves and hats, – heard every secret and later discussed the boyfriends and my mother’s disapproval of many!!  She never judged just listened and suggested.  I gave her chickenpox when she was a “mature mother” and she never forgot nor forgave me for that. She was so ill.

A little later Joan worked for Mrs. Upton, and Nancy Brooke and was with Steven Brooke from week one of his life.  All remain close and steady friends to this day. She even looked after our cousin Eva Rice – Jane and Tim Rice’s daughter when she was a baby.  Joan came and helped me with our firstborn, Roddy,  when he was 10 days old. She got me into a routine quicker than anyone but I could not keep up with her stamina of getting up at 0530 am and cleaning all the windows.

By now Judy had married and 2 little girls were on the scene.  Alysia and Alex. Joan was in her element and adored the grandchildren.  Although Joan could not spell the word “retirement” she did take to travelling. Her first holiday abroad was with Judy in 1963 on a coach tour of Europe  – ending up in Greece.  She was smitten. She then travelled as and when she could which included a few very brave trips. Firstly to New York alone to visit Judy who was working there and then later to Hong Kong to see Judy and Bill and Alysia and Alex. She tackled these long trips solo – there and back –  but knowing Joan she would have made loads of friends on the way.  Despite all of these adventures she would always declare Venice her most favourite place in the whole world.   Then she took to cruising. In 1984 she and Judy set off on their first cruise and from then on she was bitten by the bug and they did at least one a year. Joan was an authority on the best cruising line, the best deck, the best voyage– we always asked her before contemplating a trip.  Between cruises she linked up with her old friends Phil and Olive. Olive, her fellow Wren from Portland Bill days, and together all three tried to  ”DO” a county a year. They got through a good many with Phil at the helm until the car packed up and shortly afterwards the driver.

Her other loves – glad I got this in the right order –  were the dogs. Her own beloved daschhound Sue who was given to her by Mrs Ambler and Putsy who was a present from Judy and Bill. and then Denver, Judy and the family’s dog.  He heard all her secrets and in turn gave her great comfort. She was devastated when he died last year.

She gave so much to so many of us and still had time to arrange the church flowers here for so many years and with Judy to run the village Jumble sale (to the extent the bags of clothes would be piled up in her bedroom for a whole year awaiting the next sale). She supported Dr Barnado’s charity avidly – bicycling round the villages collecting the goods for the sales and shaking the tin vehemently in villagers’ faces.  She loved the WI – and didn’t we all  – when Joan got cracking on the baking and made Chocolate Biscuit Cake – wow – still our family’s favourite to this day.

In her latter years, Joan joined the Friendship Club and then Cameo – which celebrates its 100thmeeting this October. She loved Cameo not only the chance to meet up with friends and have a chat and a good laugh but the opportunity to don her favourite cherise pink blouse and her pearls. Joan loved to dress up for an occasion and did she look the business! From lunches to weddings to dinners at the Captain’s table to birthday parties and outings – she was always beautifully turned out from her hair to her beautifully manicured nails – always so dignified and yes still as beautiful as she was that Thursday 67 years ago.

It was a devastatingly sad day in 2014 when Joan had to leave Spreadoak. Her health had deteriorated and her safety was the prime concern. But she cherished the memories of her life there – of her happy childhood, her love and lifelong close friendship with her brother Jack, her garden, chopping the wood, the weekly bonfires, and Ray and Carol, the kind neighbours. But Joan was blessed with a devoted family.  She adored you Judy and you gave her a warm, safe happy home with the utmost care and attention for her final years. She loved you Alysia and Alex – not only for your company but for ensuring there was never a dull moment and for taking on her care to an unbelievable and enviable degree.  She loved you Carlton and Tyler and watching you grow up and achieve so much. She followed your lives very closely and was immensely proud. Only a few weeks ago she told me how grateful she was for such a  wonderful and close family.

So to darling Joanie. We are all going to miss you dreadfully. There is no-one like you. You are one in a million. Thank you for all the love, the loyalty, the support and above all for being there for all of us.

 I hope you are on the top deck for your final cruise.

 11thJune 2019.

Revd Alex Pease gave the following address:

It is so sad to say goodbye to Joan today.  A funeral is the last stage in the journey of a Christian; a journey begun at baptism and now concluded, accompanied by the church.

Joan was a really sweet person: understated and elegant, she was a joy to meet at every CAMEO lunch: immaculately polite, but under that delicate exterior a firm character who had standards.

There was for Joan, as I understand it from Judy, Alysia and Alex, a way of doing things properly; a way of addressing people; a way of behaving.

In this, she was a reminder of a more genteel age, an age of self discipline, an age of focus on others rather than on self.

Although, of course, some terrible things happened in the world during the almost 100 years of Joan’s life, the second world war, for example, and my generation and later has been fortunate not to experience such things in our time.  But also I think,  in our relentless pursuit of freedom, we have lost something  of the common courtesies, self discipline and good manners which were so characteristic of Joan’s era and which she embodied. It was an era when the Christian characteristics of love and of self sacrifice and the importance of community and relationships, were hard wired into our social conventions.

As we saw from the D-Day 75th anniversary interviews, perhaps Joan’s generation was one which both understood about suffering, but also understood about love. And perhaps more so than our generation about the source of that love.

I am always struck by the passage in Romans that we have just read:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’

Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that nothing includes death itself.

How wonderful is that thought, as we get scarily closer to the end of the family conveyor belt of life and there is no-one ahead of us any more, that no other person, no other thing, (except, of course, we ourselves) can separate us from the love of God.

Of course, we cannot love someone we don’t know and to be really comforted as we approach death (as we travel down that conveyor belt) to be really comforted by the prospect of Jesus’ love, to know that his love is good, to have confidence that it is stronger than death, we do need to get to know him now, while we still can.


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