Eileen Mavis Adams (1905-1999)

Eileen Mavis (1905-1999) was Horrie’s younger sister, and thus Dad’s aunt; she survived him by 13 years. I’ve many memories of her, but for now will reproduce the funeral tribute that I wrote late in November 1999:

A TRIBUTE TO EILEEN MAVIS ADAMS (1905-1999)

I am unfortunately unable to be at the funeral today, but I have composed a tribute to my late great-aunt which goes beyond the usual curriculum vitae of an obituary. I have to stress that these are just some of my own thoughts based on my own memories of a lady who knew so many people in so many different ways, but I hope that noone will feel excluded by what must be very personal comments. At 50 years younger than my aunt, even after knowing her for 40 years, my views may be very different from those who knew her over a longer period.

My aunt was even known by several different names – Auntie Pop (as I always called her, and will call her in this tribute), Mavis, “Mavey”, Mrs Harford-Jones, Mrs Adams, and, very recently, an old lady staying in the same hospital ward asked me if “that lady is Mavis Boughey”. She was indeed, born Mavis Boughey.

One happy feature of the transition to the next world is the ability to be reunited with those who have already gone. Prominent among these must be her father Joseph, mother Emma, and elder brothers Horrie and Leslie, who formed the central part of what was then the leading family in Wallasey. It is hard now to portray the way in which this family were viewed – but I recall the tail-end of this dynasty – the family parties, the endless speeches, the characters. They could sometimes be overwhelming and difficult, but she belonged to them and has now re-joined them, and when I look back on them in future it will be as a whole.

If I could single one aspect of Auntie Pop’s life for which she deserves our admiration it would be the way in which she looked after her mother Emma for almost the last 20 years of her life. She did more than just look after her. She made a whole life for her, suspending much of her own life in the process. Only very recently did she reveal to me just how dependent her mother was on her in later years. In 1954 she gave up a rich and varied life, heavily involved in affairs at a national level, to come to Wallasey and later Pantymwyn – very much more parochial.

Many years ago, she told my sister that she should enjoy every era in your life and live it to the full – a very positive approach. She went on to say that her best years were her 40s – between the end of the Second World War, and 1955, when she was looking after her mother. She said so with no bitterness or rancour, but there must have been some regret for the life and career which she gave up. Many would have packed off an old lady of 83 – as Emma already was – to a home.

More recently, she repeated an observation by her doctor, who had said something to the effect that her mother was more fortunate than Auntie Pop, because she had my aunt to look after her, whereas Auntie Pop had nobody who could fill this role. This, again, she relayed without bitterness. Many of us tried, especially in her later years, to fill the gap caused by this lack of a special person. One motivation was that we were attempting to provide for her some small portion of the life which she provided for her mother. Her own sacrifice should not go without this final tribute.

There must have been much sadness in her life, but it was lessened by an unexpected encounter at the age of 66. She later corrected her view that her 40s were her best time; her best time became the 10 very happy years in which she was married to Ernest Adams. It is a mark of her great love that it is at Cilcain, where Uncle Ernest’s funeral was held 18 years ago, that she wished her own funeral to be held, with her ashes scattered here, rather than interment in the Boughey family vault in Wallasey.

Two further instances show her feelings here. Several times she said to me that the survivor of a couple would always have to face life alone, unless “you were lucky enough” – I stress the word lucky – “to have both lives ended by the same incident”. When my father Joe died very suddenly, she was shocked – but her words were “Oh no. Why couldn’t it have been me!”. Not just, I think, because she had enjoyed a much longer life than Dad, but also, perhaps, because she had missed an opportunity to re-join Ernest. At last she has been given that opportunity.

All this is, perhaps, very solemn. But if there is one theme to my thoughts about my aunt, it is that she had a very positive attitude to life, and one which she tried to convey to others. For instance, when she first moved in to a nursing home, I went to see her. Although she had a few of her much-treasured furniture and effects around her, it was depressing to see a fiercely independent lady reduced to sipping stewed tepid tea from a plastic beaker, in an impersonal room in an institution. While I was outwardly cheerful, my dismay must have been written on my face, because she suddenly leaned forward and said, “Don’t worry, dear. I’m still here, you know”. It should have been me reassuring her that there was something to live for, but she had already decided to make the most of her remaining life; and indeed a corner of that institution and its much nicer successor would soon be unmistakably colonised by her.

It was not long before my wife and I persuaded her to come out for a drive, on a cold April day. As usual, she showed great interest in the scenes we passed, but when we got into the hills above Denbigh, my heart sank when it started to snow quite heavily. I started to apologise for worrying her, but she stopped me – “No, I’m really enjoying this – it’s such fun.” On another occasion, the car broke down in the middle of Snowdonia, but she was even more amused – it all added to the adventure!

In later years, memories – fond memories – became paramount for her, and I would like to share one of her favourite stories which some here may have heard – as I have – many times. It is still worth repeating, as it shows her sense of fun.

During the war she lived on her own in a flat in the London area, and my father Joe, only 17 years younger, was stationed on a nearby RAF base. On short leaves Dad would tell his RAF colleagues that he was going to see his aunt in London, and faced much ribbing of the “oh yes, ha ha, I’ve got several very young aunts myself in London, old boy” variety. When Aunt heard about this, she decided to play a trick on the officers. Dad invited a fellow-officer to visit the flat on a train later than his own, while Auntie Pop (only in her late 30s then) let down her hair and beautified herself, and hid Dad at the back of the flat. When the doorbell rang, she met a young RAF officer at the door, who went red and said “I’m sorry. I must have the wrong address. I’m looking for Joe Boughey’s aunt.” She took great delight in informing him that she was indeed Joe’s aunt, and the officer went back to inform his pals that Joe Boughey was indeed going to see a glamorous lady in London, but she was his aunt!

There is so much more that I could say, but I must leave you with one story which perhaps sums up the way she viewed her own passing. I used to visit her regularly, not as a duty, but as a pleasure; she could be stimulating company, and I shall never forget the last conversation which we had in September, while she was still in good health and relatively out of pain.

Conversation on all sorts of subjects turned, not in a maudlin fashion, to thoughts about the end of life. She said: “You know dear, I’m not at all worried about dying. But I am sorry that I’ll miss out of what is going to happen….I would love to be able to come back in 5,000 years time and see what it is all like then.” So – she had no fear of death; she was just mildly peeved that that she would have to leave an interesting show without knowing what would happen after she had gone. I think that this demonstrated how enormously positive she was – living life to its fullest but without regrets or fear at its ending – or perhaps welcoming the transition to the next world. We can perhaps draw comfort from this – and from the positive feeling that she is now rejoining many loved ones – Ernest, Joseph, Emma, Horrie, Leslie, Joe, Hazel, Trudie, Rosie, Margaret…and many more. We should not, therefore, be sad for her – but that does not stop us being sad about our losing her.

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