Kathleen Florence Read 1931 - 2022
90 kg of Love
"Kathleen absolutely loved figures and fairly early on in our friendship - it must have been back in the late 70s - she told me how, as a child, when out, she would play games with the numbers of buses adding, subtracting multiplying et cetera. I still remember being completely amazed by this as I was in division 4 maths (I rose meteorically to division 3 when division 4 was abolished…) numbers had never had been my thing but they were hers and she was very good at them. So bearing in mind her love of numbers I have decided to give this testimony the title of 90 kg of love and you will see why at the end. It is structured around her life, her family and friends, her work, both paid and unpaid, and her faith/church life and of course we cannot forget animals…
Kathleen was born on 12 May 1931 in the City of London Maternity Hospital when it was in City Road. Her parents were William Joseph Thomas Read and Florence Emily Nowell. William was a policeman having joined the army at the end of WW1 and then transferred to the Military police in which role he served at the embassy in Shanghai and then joined the metropolitan police on his return to England. He had met Florence because he bought sweets from the confectioner’s shop she worked in near the City. They were married at St Luke’s in Old Street. William had previously lived in the police section house at Shepherdess Walk and Florence in Bath Street so both were very local. After marriage they moved to Witherington Road and were living there when Kathleen was born, but when she was 3, they moved to Bryantwood Road where Kathleen was to spend the rest of her long life. The house was multi-occupied as was common in those days and indeed is not uncommon now. In addition to Kathleen and her parents, two of her mother’s single siblings lived there, Uncle Tom and aunt Edie; there was also at least one or more other lodgers not related to the Reads. By the time I knew Kathleen in the 1970s, there was just her and her mother & aunt Edie was on the cusp of going into a care home.
Kathleen went to Drayton Park School, at the end of the road, and during her time there, the Second World War broke out when she was eight years old. She was evacuated to Broxbourne to a family who had no children of their own and I found amongst Kathleen’s documents two delightful letters from Kathleen’s mother to Mrs Webb. Remembering that I’m in England and not in Latin America where we thought nothing of having two plus hour services I will just read out extracts... the first is addressed
Dear Madam: ‘she is an only child and has been made rather a fuss of. I hope she will behave, as I think she will, and that she will give you no cause to regret taking her.’
Mrs Read goes on to say that if Kathleen were to need any clothing or repairs to let her know straight away. The second letter is when she knows the family’s name and so it starts ‘Dear Mrs Webb, thank you for your kind letter received this morning and glad to know that Kathleen is settling down, I expect she felt a bit strange at first, but she soon makes friends, it’s nice that she is able to see some of her little school pals, it was her schooling that was worrying us, (as no schools are opened here not even her Sunday school where she goes). I think she will be a good girl and not be too much trouble to you, I don’t think she will’…. And she goes on to say that she won’t visit straight away whilst Kathleen was still settling in. When there was a bombing near to the Read’s home later in the war, Kathleen’s father went straight down to the telephone at the end of the road, phoned the Webbs and asked if they would take her back again which they readily did. The stays at the Webbs led to a lifelong friendship, Kathleen remained in contact until their deaths and was clearly very fond of them and vice versa.
For anyone who has not heard it, there is a clip on YouTube, just look up Saint Mary’s War stories compiled by Caroline and Donald and you can hear Kathleen’s voice on that, describing her memories of the war. When VE day came she said she remembered thinking ‘thank goodness it’s all over, able to live in peace and calm, no dangers’.
I think it’s about time to bring some animals in and I believe nearly all the time of Kathleen’s childhood there was a dog or a cat or both at their home. A friend of mine from work needed her son’s - I think it was a white mouse one of those sorts of animals that one might not be massively keen on - but Kathleen very happily looked after it when they were away on holiday and it was cosseted to the Nth degree.
One of my favourite animal stories relates to the milk round. The family always had milk delivered and in the early years it was by a horse-drawn carriage. Mrs Read was also hugely fond of animals and always gave the horse an apple. Kathleen explained that the horse actually walked on the other side of the road but when he got opposite to number 31 he would stop of his own volition and turn his head round and out Mrs Read would go over with the apple. The highlight of Kathleen’s last walk up the road less than a week before being hospitalised was meeting a couple of dogs.
Kathleen had very happy memories of childhood holidays with her family in Wiltshire (where her father came from). Michael told me that when William Read returned on visits to Wiltshire, his Wiltshire accent strengthened immeasurably! Maureen, a friend from post-war St Mary’s years, recalled what a lovely man Kathleen’s father was. Kindness in fact ran through the family like a stick of rock - one time a friend of mine had left some of her things there, because the Reads were always very accommodating about taking in other people’s stuff. When Pauline went to collect it, Mrs Read had forgotten who had done who the favour and kept trying to give Pauline a tip! Like Kathleen, Mrs Read was very kind and hospitable. Rosemary remembered going to stay with the Reads with her sister Barbara and said what fun Kathleen was. Meeting up with family became a little harder once they spread all over the country and indeed abroad, but for many years the family did meet up, especially at times like Christmas. Kathleen cherished her family and was always full of stories about them-I remember her telling me, Roger, how your father used to coach you I’m not sure if it was in maths or in all subjects but I remember her talking about it.
Kathleen was very bright and won a scholarship to the City of London girl’s school and was evacuated from there to Yorkshire for a year. On leaving school, having matriculated in 8 subjects, in 1948 she went to work at an accountant’s and then from 1955 at the Association of Commonwealth universities in the finance department where she stayed for 40 years. She clearly loved her work - numbers again you see. I only discovered after her death that many years ago, Evelyn, a friend who lives in the same road, used to go over to collect her pay check from Kathleen at ACU. Speaking of friends, Kathleen was blessed with many faithful friends although of course over the past decade quite a number of her contemporaries have died. The past couple of years, Kathleen has been particularly reliant on friends due to Covid restrictions and steadily decreasing mobility.
During Covid, in one of those happy happenstances, Kathleen got to know a couple in their street, Steve and Maddie and their two, now three, little boys. For most of the time they were only able to talk at the gate and wave but were able to come in and run up and down the garden just recently. Kathleen always said that she was no good with children but she treated children as she treated adults, with charm, courtesy and consideration. When I would say ‘your little boys are at the door’ her face really lit up. The boys are so young that it is of course hard for them to understand exactly what death is but one of them said ‘we don’t miss Kathleen because we still love her’. The boys did lovely drawings for her but she died before I could get them to the hospital
I found a file with a sort of diary of holidays and in September 1963 she went on a church holiday with several families and their children including a certain George and Eileen Carey. On 16 September 1963 she wrote: ‘back to work with an awful feeling that chaos would be reigning, but found things not too bad as Mr Morrell had been spending most of his time helping Ray and Tess and not doing the audit. Settled down to work better than I’d expected. Straight to Miss Barbier’s from the office – checked entries and compiled an I n E a/c for PCC on Thursday…’ 2 days later the entry reads: ‘Awful flap at work re new book, B getting everybody else worked up as well as himself. PCC at 7.45 a much better spirit than for some time, I n E went down very well and saved a great deal of trouble all round.’ By this time Kathleen had already been attending this church for 9 years and they had obviously already got her skills with numbers put to good use.
Kathleen herself only went aboard about 3 times; the first time was not a day trip to France but a trip to Malawi associated with her work with ACU. She was due to take a large amount of money in cash and I asked her how she was going to do that safely and she said ‘I will just take it in my handbag’ and of course being Kathleen it turned out just fine.
We had a friend called Eileen who served with us on the mission committee and she had Multiple Sclerosis. I found out by accident that every time Kathleen bought herself a new pair of shoes, she gave Eileen the equivalent amount of money. She gave significant financial support to a small Christian bookshop down in the West Country, becoming involved through a close friend. She had direct debits to over a dozen charities including to this church.
Many years ago now, there was a separate small account for the support of the Lanka Bible College largely run by… Kathleen- who else?! It was to enable people living in this country who were not members of St Marys to be able to donate directly to the college. I discovered last year that the account had not been closed down. When I questioned her about it she serenely said that all of the money in the account was hers as it had been easiest to pay to Sri Lanka from her own account/money. She said that she wanted to give the remaining money in that account (all hers) to charity. Some of it is going to Afghanistan Bread for the Children, some of it has gone to support leprosy work in Sri Lanka Shelter for Fragile Lives Cures for their Ills, some of it has gone to Keith Waddell whom she has known since at least 1964, to support eye care services in Uganda - Work for the Craftsman Trade for their Skills. She loved the countryside and supported efforts to stop malfeasance - Rest for the Ravaged Earth.
Returning again to numbers, Kathleen was, as I mentioned earlier, treasurer of the main church account for several years. At some stage, possibly in the late 60s or early 70s, the church was particularly strapped for cash, and money that was destined to be given to others, such as mission partners, often got spent on keeping the church going, paying bills etc. It was decided to have a separate church account which had the imaginative name of the number two account and money in that account could not be spent on Church costs. It could only be spent on support for those outside our church and abroad. In 1979 the church needed a new treasurer for that account and Kathleen stepped up to do it and it was only closed/re-amalgamated with the main church account some ?8 or so years ago. During those 30-ish years Kathleen was a faithful committee member, kept the books, co-signing the cheques and ensured that money went where it was supposed to go- supporting several mission partners and causes in countries as diverse as Uganda, Mali, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and more. She hosted Mission committee meetings and allowed the building of Malian escarpments, models for other roofs and much more in her sitting room. She had people from Sri Lanka and Honduras to stay and hosted meals for overseas friends/partners. At Church she often read the Bible in the evening service, for many years that was the principle one she attended; she started going to the morning service instead a few years back and delighted in getting to know more of the congregation- as greater numbers attend then. For many years we prayed regularly in the prayer chapel for people and countries and mission partners and so for me it is a place soaked in prayer. At the time of her death, she was the Church member who had attended here regularly for the greatest number of years (I don’t think anyone will overtake Ray Turner’s record but of course it is not a competition!) I spent a few days in Norfolk on holiday after her death and at a very lovely service at St Nicholas in Blakeney, I heard the definition of service as being ‘compassion in action’. Kathleen really knew how to serve and did not stint in doing it.
I have not even touched on the many other charities she was treasurer for… Kathleen was involved with Mildmay since the late 80s. Kathleen kept the papers of the Friends of Mildmay, the Mildmay Trust ,the Mildmay Council and Islington community contact for very many years. It took several telephone sessions with the ex CEO of Mildmay to help me understand that not everything with Mildmay in the name was something to do with Mildmay hospital, working both in the UK and East Africa. Kathleen also worked for 20 years helping the Stroke Club in the neighbourhood centre- next door to the church. She was a committee member helping to plan and run the sessions and of course inevitably she became treasurer.
Spending time with Kathleen was a lot of fun. She was amazingly even-tempered and always remained calm which was particularly useful as my nature can be a bit different to hers. However Kathleen being calm could be taken to excess; for example one time I was round at her house and I said ‘oh I can smell gas’ Kathleen responded with a reply that was one she made in an awful lot of situations ‘don’t worry about it’. I replied I was not going to worry about it but I was going to do something about it and the leak was duly fixed. Kathleen really loved her home; there were memories steeped into every part of it but over the years she had not really kept up-to-date with certain things. She told me once that her father used to decorate a room a year. Very fortunately her next-door neighbours had a wonderful granddaughter called Tammy and Tammy and another firefighter came in and redid Kathleen’s kitchen. I was slightly leery about getting it done - remember the ‘don’t worry’ response - but she was so delighted with her updated kitchen that we took courage and had a go at some other parts of the house, all of which she was very pleased with. Kathleen enjoyed going out and visited with my family in both Tatsfield and Westerham – and especially enjoyed the cats! She was also a real music buff and enjoyed many years of concert going – notably with Blanche, a friend from work.
Kathleen was a wonderful friend, reliable, undemanding and happy to nip down to Oxford Street at zero notice to help me buy something. When I was away - on holidays or jobs - she would keep an eye on my home and stock it with milk etc. for my return. We had keys to each other’s homes and one day I went round to her house and the Chubb was not locked on and this concerned me. I went all over the house calling out for her and even looking under the beds – well, until I realised she would not be there!
She subsequently serenely said that she did not always bother with the Chubb lock as she had nothing worth stealing. Weekend evenings might well be spent watching the latest ‘whodunnit’ on TV (I did not have one) and borrowing books from her did not incur a library fine. Kathleen was very happy to proffer my - as she called it medical knowledge - and was wont to approach anyone looking a tad out of it and offer my services. One day recently I had sorted a frozen drawer in her freezer (mixture of brute force and defrosting) and she asked with great sincerity ‘how do you know how to do all these things?’ and I basked in her admiration. Sadly of course I had not effected a permanent fix but she was much too nice to point that out…
Life was beginning to become a bit of a trial for her the last few months and she was a bit frustrated with not getting out much, but she was unfailingly kind and polite right to the end, right to the last day of her life thanking the nurses, thanking Ana. She never wanted to be a bother. I had live-in carers for her from February as she was very shaken after a fall. That worked well and she visibly relaxed. The final illness was short and even in hospital she said she did not feel ill. I am grateful that was the case. I knew she was very ill but somehow believed she might still make it. Kathleen lived a full life which brought much joy to her and to those who were privileged to be her family or friends.
And the 90 kg of love? Well she had just turned 91 so had lived 90 full years. I had, with help from Ana and Millie, gone through at least 90 kg of papers; whilst I cannot say it was exactly a joy, I can say that it represented just a fraction of the work she had undertaken for others - church papers, numerous sets of accounts and minutes and papers from charities she supported. So it was 90 kg- or 91 ½ if we include the extra pile of papers I found on Saturday- 91 ½ kg of love spread over many years - working in the evenings and weekends for the benefit of others.
I found a prayer from Christian Aid and will finish with an adaption of that.
We bring before you Lord, our modest gifts, like tiny seeds,
not knowing what fruits you may bring out of them.
We wait before you,
Lord, asking that our hands and gifts,
offered in your service,
will make a difference to the world beyond all our imagining as did those of Kathleen.
We pray in the name of Jesus now exalted at your right hand in Heaven.