Everyone who knew Mum knew her by her smile and her
compassion – she was interested in people, kind and
caring. That is not just our family’s assessment.
I well remember years ago, in this very Church, a lady
button-holing me and telling me that when she got old she
wanted to be like Mum – cheerful, sweet and
generous. And then just last month, when Mum was dying
at her care home, one of the Rapid Response Team, who attended
her phoned me and said how she had stayed with Mum for half an
hour over her allocated time because as she said, 'I love to
be with her, your Mum is adorable.'
But despite her sunny disposition Mum’s life was
marked by tragedy, hardship and loss. Let me tell you
something of her remarkable life.
She was born on 5 October 1921, in a house in Hope Street, Cambridge to Leonard Wallis and his wife Ethel (née Peachey). Hence Mum was christened Patricia Ethel, a name she never really took to, even Patricia she found awkward. 'Call me Pat', she would say, 'Certainly never Patty.'
Then in 1926, her Mum, Ethel, died when our Mum was
just 4 years old. Her father, Leonard was a psychiatric
nurse in Cambridge. He felt unable to bring up his
4-year-old daughter, so he entrusted Mum’s care to her
mother’s sister, Mary Starling and her husband, George, who
lived in Fen Ditton, Cambridge. It was a tough start for
a little girl, but she often told us what a charmed childhood
she had with her aunt and uncle.
Mum went to a primary school in Cambridge and then onto the Central School for Girls. One of her best friends there was the sister of Ronald Searle, the cartoonist and creator of the St Trinian’s stories, he was in the year above, and I like to think that a few of Mum’s escapades were some of his inspiration.
Mum trained as a shorthand-typist. She could write Pitman shorthand as fast as you could speak and her typing was thrilling to watch. She got a job at an agricultural auctioneers in Cambridge.
Meanwhile, the Second World War had begun when another tragedy struck. Mum was engaged to be married to a rear gunner who flew on RAF bomber aircraft. His plane was shot down and he was killed. Mum spoke little of this, her terrible loss.
It was at this time that she moved to work as the secretary to the Deputy Commissioner of National Saving in Cambridge.
One evening in 1940, after work, Mum was volunteering to serve food and drinks to soldiers, sailors and airmen. Along came this handsome RAF flight officer, Harry Ling, who invited her out to the cinema. We can only presume she said, 'Yes.' And the rest is history.
Harry went off to the Far East as a pilot on Sunderland flying boats. On his return, Mum and Dad were married in 1943. Her father Leonard Wallis gave her away at the church. Three weeks later, Mum suffered another loss, when Leonard died.
In 1944, Alan was born, with me three years later. Dad worked at the University of Cambridge Registry and Mum stayed home to look after us, probably no easy task – I mean with two naughty boys like us!
Mum had many talents. She was a talented cook. While in her 30s she went to night classes to improve her skills. At the end of her course she sat a practical exam. The next morning Alan and I were keen to hear how she had got on. She looked a little crestfallen. I got only 9/10. ‘Why not 10/10?’, we asked. ‘They said my chips were not all the same length!’
A few years later Mum became a secretary at the Institute of Animal Physiology, just outside of Cambridge. Mum was a toughie, a very determined woman, she cycled the 6.5 miles there and back every workday. OK, Cambridge is pretty flat, but she had to cycle up and down Gog and Magog, the highest hills in Cambridgeshire. What is more, she sometimes had me in a seat on her crossbar - 13 miles in all weathers. She was a determined woman.
Dad became a civil servant in the Ministry of Works and in 1961, we all moved to Reading.
Dad worked at Whiteknights Park, Alan and I went to Reading School and Mum got a full-time job as a secretary at Thimbleby & Shorland, yet another agricultural auctioneers, in the centre of Reading.
Mum was also very organised – at work, as a secretary, she had to be. At home too, with her three men to look after. For instance, for many years when our father and Alan and I were at work and at school six days a week, one of her tasks was to wash and iron as many as 18 white shirts a week.
And as in Cambridge, so in Reading - another chip incident in Mum’s life. One evening in 1964, I was being driven home by my athletics’ coach when we saw a fire engine coming in the opposite direction. ‘Hmm’, I said, 'I hope that’s not been to my house.' It had. Mum had left the chip pan on and had set the kitchen on fire. 24 March was literally a black day – Mum never forgot its anniversary.
And, while on kitchen matters let me tell you that nobody, but nobody, could do roast potatoes like Mum.
Dad’s job moved to London and he began that daily commute. After a few years it took its toll – it began to break his well-being. In 1980, he retired due to ill health. He developed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In 1982, Mum gave up work to care for him. By 1986, he had become seriously ill. Mum diligently cared for him more and more, month after month.
Eventually it became too much – we were in danger of having two patients. In 1987, Dad was moved to Battle Hospital. For 16 months, Mum visited him almost every day. Dad died in 1988 – it was for her another tragic loss. Mum had proved herself to be the compassionate wife, now she was the heart-broken widow.
Of course Mum was lonely – she had been married for 45 years. But she had good friends – some from this Church – who visited her. And from 1987, she began attending the morning service here. In the face of dying and death and grieving people often think deeply. As Mum wrote, ‘I felt the need for something more.’ She began to ask those big questions. What is life? Is death the end? Is there a God? Can He be known?
Gradually, Mum began to find the answers in the Bible and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. She became a Christian and was baptised here in 1988. For the first time in her life, she could genuinely say that her sins had been forgiven, she had found a Saviour, she had new life in Him. It was a truly life-changing experience.
At this time she was also going to meetings of the Civil Service Association. In 1990, she had met there a lonely widower, named Ernest King. They had much in common and they became good, then best friends. They wanted to marry, but the pastor told them to hold off until Ernest had become not just a church-goer but a true Christian so they could hold everything most precious in common – not unsurprisingly, that duly happened. Ernest made a public profession of his new-found faith by being was baptised here in 1991.
Also in 1991, they married in what for Mum was a frugal marriage – she changed just one letter of her name from Pat Ling to Pat King.
Theirs was a joyful, hospitable, working union – they entertained and fed dozens. They edited the monthly church magazine, the Carey Messenger – what a match, Mum’s secretarial and Ernest’s editorial skills. And they organised the accommodation and hospitality for those attending a monthly 3-day training course called PfS, Prepared for Service. They were in their 70s – they were on fire!
As time passed, Ernest became ill and Mum nursed her second husband, as she had her first. Ernest died in 2003. Mum was again heart-broken to lose a husband a second time. She coped wonderfully well. Her strength of character, that dose of stoicism and above all, her abiding Christian faith made her the woman we love.
But in 2009, tragedy came again. She was visiting Reading Station when a woman pulling a case on wheels rushed passed her, struck her and knocked her over. The woman did not stop, calling out that she had a train to catch. Mum was on the ground with a broken hip. The elderly never regain their powers of mobility from such falls and Mum was never the same again. From a lifetime of physical activity, she gradually declined. Of course, she persevered – she was Pat King! But eventually she became a Zimmer frame user and then a wheelchair user.
Though physically limited, her mind remained active. We did crosswords together over the phone, she mastered computing with emails and internet banking and she was an avid reader. And yet despite such setbacks and a life of various tragedies, she remained the sweet, kind lady with that warm smile.
As she declined physically her faith in God became stronger. She genuinely began to look forward to heaven. She would say with Christians throughout the ages, ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far’ (Philippians 1:23).
In 2016, she could no longer cope alone at home and she moved into the Abbeyfield Care Home, not far from here. It was there on Sunday 24 January that she died quietly and peacefully at the grand age of 99. She went to heaven to meet her Saviour and Lord. Hers was a good death, a very good death.
God had superintended her life, from beginning to end. Though her life was marked by many tragedies, it was never tragic.
Pat King was easy to love – she was adorable. Though in many ways she was ordinary, God had made her extraordinary.
This is her Thanksgiving Service. We thank God for the life of Pat King - it was a compassionate, adorable, extraordinary life. Amen.