Tribute: Paddy Lawrence

It has been a whirlwind and maybe I have survived and maybe I didn’t, I guess time will tell. One thing is for sure I never want to go through that again.  The other thing that is sure is that I never will.  The death of a parent is a unique event that can only occur twice.  I was protected in many ways when my father died not least by the strength of my mother’s protection and the birth of Mini Son.

In August, I went to my favourite place on earth, back to the home I draw my inspiration, my determination and my support; Swanwick.  For a whole week, I was myself; a writer.  Whether I am any good, will ever be published or will always just post blogs or articles for my clients doesn’t seem to matter there.  I am a writer and accepted for my choice to be one.

Even before I left for Swanwick, I had concerns, my mother wasn’t well, she was struggling but then these days she did that, a lot.  Few people really knew how she struggled.  This, however, was early in the season for her to be so melancholy and defeatist but I knew she’d be ok.  Number 1 Son would look in regularly on her, probably each time he got hungry so most evenings; she would love that.

I returned and found her cheerful and determined to attend her granddaughters 21st. It was a family affair and I knew she was determined to walk along the shoreline, she said one more time before she dies, but so often had she said that.  She loved that party and it was certainly her last embedded memory while she was lucid.

By the following weekend even I realised she was not well.

Born the youngest of 8 children, Paddy never met her older sister Mickey who had died of meningitis before she was born.  The first clue to her character was the flaming red hair, typical of the family and their Irish heritage and a hint at the determination and vivacious person she became.

Born in Portsmouth, she’d just started school when war broke out. Evacuated aged 9 with her 3 sisters to a convent school in Wales she was able to be herself, learn, have fun and get up to all the mischief you would expect from a boarding school.  She loved her school days and it was where she met her best friend to this day Anne. She and Anne shared everything, rooms, homework, detentions.  Both incredibly sporty, played for the school in various sports, gaining love and respect from the nuns.  They grew up passed their exams and both set off on different paths.

Paddy went to St Marys Hospital Paddington as a trainee nurse.  She enjoyed the work, she valued the camaraderie and she loved the social life.  She found herself out on a blind date with a dashing young doctor making up the numbers at the Doctors’ ball. One morning found her camped out on the streets of London with a group of nurses.  They found a corner where a group of royal marines were stationed in front of them to guard the young Princess Elizabeth as she made her way to her coronation.  A day of flirting and banter followed.

Anne then joined St Marys and they ended up sharing a flat in London until Anne introduced the man she was to marry who would become a life-long friend to Paddy and her future family. The two recognised each other from their blind date.

Private nursing took her away from the high life until she was offered a job as the nurse aboard the cruise liner Arcadia, where her love of gin was certainly enhanced.  She travelled the world meeting an array of people and visiting many a port. One of only a few people to celebrate their birthday twice in the same year.  They sailed in a westerly direction on the 18th January, reaching the international date line in time to celebrate the 18th January her birthday, all over again.   Somewhere round the other side they missed a whole day but that is not documented or remembered on the same scale.

Sadly her mother fell ill and passed away so she returned to look after her father in the quiet village of Topsham.   The most momentous milestone in her life was about to hit her full force and one she would never recover from.

Just a regular night out at the Diggers Rest in Woodbury Salterton with her father, her sister Norah and brother John who was staying. They came across a couple of young Marines who joined them for a rather long and definitely raucous late night.    Peter Lawrence was entranced and despite their courtship taking place mainly through letters, (he was posted away and she went to Kenya to help her sister-in-law with the birth of their third child) they married a year later.  Apparently, several years earlier he had guarded the Princess Elizabeth on her Coronation day and was entertained on his corner by a group of young nurses.

Their first Christmas, 9 months later was spent in Topsham.  The following day as the snow began to fall, Peter left a heavily pregnant Paddy to go back to work.  She would follow a few days later.   The snow continued.

By her due date, 7th January, she had ventured out a few times but returned unsuccessful.   Determined she packed the car, her father drove and sister Frannie followed behind.   It took all day to precariously pick their way to Aldershot, slipping, sliding and stopping. The baby staying put till the 12th.   It was 3 months before the roads were clear enough for her father to return home.

Peter finally left the forces and enrolled in teacher training college in Devon.  They found the perfect house for them, The Vroe!   It was old and needed more than a lot of TLC but she was a Lawrence now and the village Clyst St Lawrence. 3 toddlers, a tiny baby, several chickens and a puppy, in an old style mini-van she left Fordingbridge and drove to Devon.  Another chapter began.

While Peter studied, and looked for employment she became one of the first mothers working from home around her still increasing family.  She had, against the doctors wishes had two more children.   Now they needed feeding.

Somewhere the money came to buy two properties in Exeter which she converted into flats and let out.  Friday night was rent night and Peter was dispatched to collect the rents and a new trend of picking up a Chinese takeaway on the way home.  As the market became more difficult the properties were finally sold.

She renovated section by section the home opening it as a very upmarket B&B for executive business men.   Three course meals, gin, wine, after dinner drinks and the cigars took their toll on not only her waistline but her health.  Undeterred she built a swimming pool and tennis court in the uncharted areas of the garden and opened a school for foreign students.   The world was in turmoil and getting your children out of Italy, Spain and Iran if you were someone of note was imperative to keep them alive.  Black limos, bulging suits and brown envelopes of used notes peppered her life.  The excess land was home to Susie the Jersey cow, all the pigs and chickens and geese and any other animals that passed through the family.

The world moved on and children stayed with their families, the school was diminishing.

Paddy loved antiques, houses and furniture, she took to attending auction houses.  One trip took her all the way to the barbican in Plymouth where she espied a craft centre in a warehouse. That night she uttered the dreaded words “I have an idea”

Peter and the family braced themselves and before long she had all the children, and former teachers working at her coffee shop where her love of cream teas had the opportunity to thrive correctly; cream first and then jam….  The remaining building, she let out to local crafters on Exeter Quay.

Several years later the local council forced a sale to pass on to a developer.  Reluctantly she gave up the craft centre.  Little did she realise the smart offices that were developed on the site were to be inhabited by WS Atkins who in years to come would employ her future son in law; Sexy Sporty Dad.

She took a job down the road on a building development and began a long chapter in her life selling houses. Her own property development taking a dive when having bought and converted a couple of barns, a battle with the builders left them bankrupt.

Time moved on and she went back to studying and became a reflexologist working from home while Peter who had retired by now, battled his own health issues. Another court battle over buying their home caused them to move out for 6 months into the home of good friends Diana and James.

Suddenly the light went out of her life with the death of her beloved Peter and she had to carry on alone.  The last 15 years of her life were a struggle, she missed him terribly but managed to sell and buy two properties on her own, she fought to keep driving until she no longer had any feeling in her feet and made a multitude of friends in new areas.

On her 70th Birthday she flew to Hong Kong by herself to visit her daughter Siobhan.  On her 80th Birthday she brought together friends and family back to The Vroe, for a weekend party.  She joined family on a mini-cruise to Amsterdam and flew to Cork to visit her father’s childhood home, being invited in to look around by the current owner. Her grand-daughter Millie’s 21st was her last party.  Surrounded by her grandchildren whom she adored and was so proud of, she wined and dined in true Lawrence style.

She will leave a gaping hole in the fabric of all our lives but we do know she is at peace and with the one person she loved the most – Peter

What’s left for me anger, fear and hope.

Anger that she was let down by the NHS who she had served and defended for so much of her life.  Anger that I spent so long with her but I ended up not making it back in time leaving my youngest sister alone at the moment of her passing.   Anger that she will never get to read Memories, I think she would have loved the story and seen so much of herself in some characters but she always said ‘I will read it when its published’.

Fear of the future without her, my life revolved around her more than I realised; how will I adjust.  Fear for my own old age; as things start to stop working as well as they should, I don’t want to be dependent, ill or old.  Fear of failing to recognise the chances I have now while I’m still able to do something about them.

Hope that now she is at peace with my father who she never got over.  Hope that we gave her the send-off she really could have been proud off. Hope that in the future I show a bit of that in-dominatable spirt and do what I set out to do; because maybe that saying is just to accurate; life is too short.

My determination is now to finish ‘Memories’ and hope that wherever she is, she will get the opportunity to read the published version.



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