Maureen de Souza - a tribute to my mum
Maureen Joan Manwaring was born on 26th January 1944. She was the second child of Gwen and Len, who had met during the war. It was a really difficult time. Gwen had lost a previous fiancée in the Battle of Britain. Mum’s older sister, Ros, was born with very poor eyesight, as was Roger, her younger brother. Just a few months after mum came along, the Manwaring family were bombed out of their house in Brockley by a Doodlebug.
After the shock of this tragic event, where their next door neighbour had died of shock, they were rehoused above a shop in New Cross, South London. The family were very poor.
None of the children were born in the soon-to-be created NHS. There was no indoor bath. Mum attended Childeric Primary School in Deptford and then, after failing the 11+, a common occurrence for many working class Britons, mum went to a secondary modern school, Greenwich Park.
There is no doubt that mum was intelligent and very creative - as anyone who ever saw her calligraphy would acknowledge. Yet I suspect, from the stories we hear, that she prioritised fun over school work. Her dear friend Dawn wrote to me and told me about how when they were teenagers mum and a group of friends spent the summer hitchhiking, fruit picking and chasing boys, all behind the backs of their parents.
In the 1960s, mum worked for Eagle Star Insurance and for a travel company, 4S. Her boss at this last place had her place bets on horses, which mum found highly amusing. She loved oddness, eccentricity and funny stories. Essentially, she loved people and their funny ways. She loved music, fashion, cooking, reading, knitting, the theatre, musicals, and a good soap on the TV. Yet most of all she loved her friends and she loved her family.
It is amazing just how many friends she had, and how close she was to them. Her cheeky grin, her infectious laugh and caring nature, ensured that everyone who met her looked forward to seeing her again. In addition, mum was absolutely gorgeous.
She was also an amazing story teller. Mum told me of the story of when Roger was born, and how she pinched him when he was in his cot. The subsequent squeal from her baby brother brought her mum rushing into the room asking what happened. Mum rather gave the game away when she said “I didn’t hit him”.
Mum cared so much about people, but she also enjoyed a laugh at their expense. One time, my grandad got stuck in the loft at our new house in Lorraine Park. Instead of calling the fire brigade, mum just laughed. Her children were also not spared her liking for a bit of schadenfreude. She once convinced me that all I was getting for my birthday were pillowcases.
John, too, was often a victim of mum’s pranks. For sixteen years, I connived with mum to send her a valentines day card from a mystery man called Kevin, all in the cause of making John jealous. John will never admit it, but it worked. Even when mum was really ill, and we had taken her to Hayling Island for some respite, she found it hilarious that John had accidentally gone into the shower with some anti-bacterial hand wash instead of shower gel. His yelps were met by mum’s giggles.
Yet beneath the playful nature, there was without doubt another side to mum. She had to endure some real difficulties in her life.
In 1966, she became pregnant. Those times were very different times. You either got married or you gave the child up for adoption. A family like the Manwarings could not afford another mouth to feed. Mum took me for lunch some 44 years later, and told me that I had another brother.
She told me how, from the first moment she saw him after he was born, she fell completely in love with him, and that it utterly broke her heart to give him to social services. They took him away in a fusty old cot. The nurses treated mum abhorrently, since she was not married. They even laughed at the way she walked, just hours after a difficult labour. They prevented her from feeding the baby, lest she grew too close to her son.
Yet they never succeeded - the bond that was severed back in 1966 was repaired some 44 years later. Even the nurses had to marvel at the way mum knitted booties for her tiny little boy, even though she was about to say goodbye.
Somehow, she picked herself up. Indeed, it is just so wonderful that sitting here today is my brother Angus. You see, mum never really gave you up, Angus, for she only knits things for the people she loves. What is even more amazing is watching how, after she found you again, your relationship with mum flourished. I know mum is immensely proud of the man you have become, the dad that you are, and her two grandsons Lynden and Jay.
Indeed, you Angus are one of three great gifts that mum has given me, the latter two of which I will come to in a moment.
But back to mum’s life. She met dad, Roy Marshall de Souza-Figueiredo, and married him in 1973. They moved to Wembley and had Richard, my brother in 1975. Mum gave up work to be a full time mum. When you meet my brother Richard, you can understand why! She threw herself into her community and helped run a toddler group. I came along in 1977 and by that time the growing family had moved to Harrow Weald, to the house that we grew up in and to the house that mum, ultimately, was determined to stay in.
By the early 1980s, dad had established his own travel business. Mum loved his charm, quick wittedness and larger-than-life personality. In many ways, the two were very well suited to each other. Unfortunately, the pressures of work took its toll on dad, and his excesses lead to his untimely death in 1986. I was just nine years old and Richard was 11, a year from starting high school. Mum had to deal with everything: Pay the bills; get a job; learn to drive and all the while give us some semblance of normalcy. She reached out to my dad’s side of the family and forged a close friendship with our new aunts Lorna and Sharon.
Mum was like a lioness in defence of her boys. Perhaps this is why both Richard and I will always say that our childhood was brilliant, even when mum waved a finger in the face of an irate neighbour who was fed up with us playing football near his car. To be fair, he probably had a point, but no one shouts at Mo’s boys and expects her to stay silent. Mum gave us everything we needed. She got me a tutor for maths - Pam - who became a really close friend of mum’s. Mum took us on lovely holidays, including Disney World in 1987.
She took us to Spurs games. We appreciated her efforts, even though us young teenagers were embarrassed at the fact that mum had lovingly made sandwiches for Spurs V Aston Villa. It looked odd sitting next to burly men chowing down on hotdogs, but we got over it.
People always commented on how well our clothes were ironed. Mum would often be seen in her living room, belting out a Tina Turner song at the top of her voice, iron in one hand and teenage boys’ pants in the other. Indeed, those of you coming the crematorium will experience, how shall we say, mum’s eclectic music tastes?
Mum would always make a lovely roast dinner. Her kitchen was her fiefdom - only her daugters-in-law were allowed anywhere near and usually only after she had one too many glasses of wine and needed their help. Such was her desire to please, that when we said we liked something, she would keep making it, until we didn’t anymore. I remember having chicken corden bleu nine evenings in a row. Yet mum ensured we were healthy. I remember being forced fed jacket potatoes. I was 28 years old.
In the late 1980s, there were just the three of us, and I remember her buying us each a single sofa chair and us sitting down to watch films together. We were the three bears. She frequently let me watch my James Bond films, and I am not sure how many times I made her watch the entire 1991 FA Cup Final. When a child runs around the house singing I Love my mummy at the top of his voice, and usually without any clothes on, and when that same child asks other children whether they would like “a mummy like mine”, then you know that there is a reason he feels that way.
Mum started working at Bentley Wood in the late 1980s after a stint in a building society and a hospital. Many of you here today have worked at that lovely school. All of you will have experienced the Mo giggle, the time in which you laughed with her about one thing or another. The multiple sides of mum’s personality really shone through in this job. We gave her the nickname “comrade Mo” for her unwillingness to put up with any nonsense from her managers. Indeed, I can reveal today that mum would call her own strike every now and then, when she felt a sense of injustice. She would call these “comeuppance days”. No wonder her son is a politics teacher.
Mum also displayed immense compassion for young people. After she retired she went back to Bentley Wood and ran a knitting club for the students. When I did some work experience at the school, I was struck by how kind mum was to the young ones. She made them feel safe. She also welcomed in all of our friends to our house and asked after them long after we became adults. That is why so many of our own friends are here today - they felt a connection to Mo, and they still feel that connection now they are grown ups.
You may not know this but mum failed two driving tests. The first one occurred as the result of an exhaust falling off; the other was the result of the door falling off. Little wonder, then, that mum turned to a new driving instructor, John. I lovingly called him my “fake dad” when the two of them got to together in the early 1990s. I have never felt so proud of John than in these last few months, where he came to visit mum on frequent occasions. John, I know mum felt that she could count on you and tell you her fears. You took all of that, because you loved her. You saw the good in her heart, as we all did. She looked after people and showed them kindness.
Witness how, week after week, she looked after her beloved grandchildren, Nathaniel, Olinda and Bethany. She would brave the weather to get an early train over to Streatham to pick Nathaniel up from nursery. They would sit and chat about all kinds of things. Even with a four year old, mum could listen to their thoughts, their fears. She made them feel special and respected. And she spoilt them rotten with magazines, ice cream and what she termed her stupid little biscuits.
I wished that mum could have enjoyed her retirement more than she was allowed to. We did all go to Rome one time. We saw the colosseum, the Vatican, the ruins. But my abiding memory of that trip is of mum laughing at the owner of our B&B, who sported a wig. Mum could admire culture, but she admired oddness, eccentricity and funny people far more.
Mum could turn on a sixpence - showcase her wicked sense of humour one moment and then go back to what I perceive her real job - looking after everyone she loved – the next. Her sense of duty to her family ran deep, and especially to her ageing mum. Despite suffering from the early signs of her own illness, mum went over to see her own mum every week, even after some quite serious falls. Mum put her own health and wellbeing to one side in the pursuit of aiding her loved ones.
That tragic image of mum running for a bus and falling over, knowing that things weren’t working, yet getting up and carrying on, perhaps neatly sums up her life.
Let’s think of what life threw at her and how she dealt with all of it:
1) the poverty of childhood - mum went out to work from the age of fifteen;
2) inadequate schooling - mum read voraciously and trained herself in calligraphy;
3) Coming from a family with a highly anxious mum perhaps forever scarred by wartime experiences - mum made Gran laugh the way no other could;
4) Having siblings with visual impairment - mum drove them home. She prayed once to God to give her sister Ros her sight back in return for mum’s own health;
5) the pain of giving her son to adoption - mum found him;
6) the loss of her husband; mum became a mother and a father to us;
And of course, number seven, the news that she had a terminal illness - mum dealt with this the way she did with all other difficulties: with bravery and, yes, Amazing Graze, the title of our final hymn today.
And she gave to me three gifts, as I said earlier. One of them was Angus. One of them, was Richard. Thanks to her and to the way she raised us, I have a best friend in my brother. My big brother, who carried me down the street when I broke my toes to a mum who thought I was rather silly to kick a lamppost while playing football. I guess she had a point.
I watched Richard care for mum whenshe was finding it difficult to get to the toilet. I saw how he never left her until he knew she was comfortable. Mum worried about Richard because she saw in him something she knew all too well about herself.His heart is too big to stand idly by while others suffer. He too, does so much for people he loves. I suppose he had a good role model in mum.
Richard ought to be a carer. Speaking of which, there is a very special person here today. Margaret looked after mum every day for the last year. You typify the very best of your profession. You bathed mum, cuddled mum, cried with mum, advocated on behalf of mum. Other carers too, here today, did an amazing job in difficult circumstances. Carers are not paid very much but they are so important in the lives of vulnerable people.
Many of you here also played a key role in supporting mum. The lasagnes, the cups of tea, the shopping, the putting out the bins, the good company, the laughs – you brought them all. Our mum more or less lost her power to speak, so let me say something on her behalf: thank you. Thank you all so much.
Many of you here might have similar feelings to those expressed in Angus’ reading. You might be asking, why her? You might feel angry. There are justified reasons to ask such a question and to feel that way. My experience of the social care system is not one that I wish to repeat too often. I do wonder why it appears to be beyond one of the richest nations on earth to delay support to a terminally ill person until they have filled in a lengthy questionnaire, one which, due to the nature of their illness, they are not even able to sign their name at the bottom of.
Yet I ask you to simply follow mum’s example. Don’t wallow too long in the mire; try fixing the problem. Write to your MP, raise money, campaign, help us to support others with this Motor Neurone Disease; advocate and agitate. In the words of Ted Kennedy, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."
Which brings me to the third gift that mum gave me. It is something very simple: She gave that four letter word - love. So much of it.
She was the lady who took to me to the doctor when my hair fell out after dad had died.
She was the lady who waited in the rain while we ran around the theme park in Margate.
She was the one who cuddled me that night 30 years ago when I had a terrible dream.
She washed our hair in the bath, ensuring the shampoo never went into our eyes.
She woke us up for school; she picked us up from work.
Mum, you lifted all our spirits. We will always miss you and will always love you.