I had the honour of officiating at the service of the late Ruth Lauretta Badger last week. It was a beautiful service, full of laughter and tears, song and poetry – she loved literature, music, politics and was fiercely protective of her family. She lived life completely, wholly and passionately. Her humour was infectious and she had a wide love of music, from the ballads of Ella Fitzgerald to the love songs of Cole Porter – and everything in between.
With permission from her family, I would like to share with you a few short extracts from her life story – a beautifully constructed set of pictures in words written by her children. I can’t think of a better way to be taken back in time than with a photographs too, which we were, in a slide show playing throughout the service; poignant moments were depicted, causing out loud laughter and also much sadness. Ruth’s personality really shone through. It’s not unusual for me to write all the words spoken in a funeral or memorial service, but in this case, her daughters (her only son sadly couldn’t be with us) did an amazing job writing her life story.
Here are their words;
“Mum’s childhood was not easy, she lived through a war, she lived through hardships, and scarcity. She always made a home for us, always kept us safe and secure no matter how difficult things were. She made things fun, so we did not notice how tough things really were. She rarely cried. She was tough because she had to be.
From her childhood experiences, she understood the importance of staying together as a family. Mum worked hard and she was clever too, having an amazing vocabulary (she loved dictionaries and crosswords), she had a career too as an editor at the BBC and worked for the world service editing the news on the night shifts. Mum was very glamorous in those days and would often talk about her life at the BBC. She even got my brother Ford a mention on the World Service news when he fell into a concrete mixer! But that’s another story.”
Ruth put her considerable skills and passion into action, driving the Greenwich Play Association and demanding the local authority provide funding and resources for deprived children. She ensured they met their commitments and delivered playgroups and adventure playgrounds; the one on Plumstead common is there today because of Ruth. She took deprived children on days out to London and for many years, on holiday to the South Coast. A favoured activity was her infamous midnight ghost walks where she would scare the living day light out of them all.
“Ruth was a fighter. She fought and won any battle she committed to. She protested at Greenham Common and marched for Stephen Lawrence, she leafleted for Labour and got Ford jobs, many, many jobs. And woe betide anyone that took on one of her charges or friends. She paid for her daughter’s computer science O’level when the school said “girls” couldn’t pass. She was a feminist, and a do-er and believed in equivalence and equity for all. She was governor of many schools, including Eltham Green during the time when Boy George was a student, and took on the headmaster, a tyrant, who John Cleese played in the film Clockwise, based on that school.
…. Ruth’s vivid imagination and desire for fun meant they were never bored and never wanting. They recalled their poor-night smorgasbord dinners which often included Big Soup and Smash. And then in 1979 Ruth met Dennis and he would often say that no man ever loved a woman more. And she agreed!”
There was much more as you can imagine – but a snippet will give you an idea of the multi faceted person Ruth was.
Some of you may know the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. It’s one of my favourites. This was read by Ruth’s granddaughter Eleanor, whose beautiful performance included tears, laughter and the real knowledge that she was talking about her grandmother. And all present laughed and cried with her at the wonderful memories of Ruth’s antics, mischief and sometimes outrageous behaviour. Here it is for those of you who don’t know it…
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other peoples’ gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So, people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”
I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest to know what comprises the “best” funeral or celebration of a person’s life – but I know what I witness when families come out of a service when what has been presented lands in the right way. They will have been transported back to a time when their beloved family member was still with them, remembered them in stories and perhaps video clips and even though there is still sadness, the best thing possible happens – they are grateful for having been part of their lives. They can mourn with the knowledge and comfort that the person they mourn for didn’t live without purpose, without meaning.
Ruth’s family are wonderful. And in no small part because of her, I’m sure. Her intelligent, considered input and intervention, and helping them to keep their creativity alive with all the interests she shared with them, came through in all they presented during the service. It is humbling to have been part of this wonderful woman’s final send off – and one that I shall never forget.
All lives matter – no matter who they are. I love to be part of the story that is told – and be the voice for a family at a time when they need someone there.
For Ruth, her memory will continue in her children, grandchildren and friends – the children she gave outings to, the unseen gestures that made such a difference to so many people’s lives.
Rest in peace Ruth. You will never be forgotten.