Elisabeth Ruth Shepherd

Elisabeth Ruth Shepherd

15 April 1946
Cardiff, United Kingdom
02 November 2019
London, United Kingdom
Words by
Jessica Munk Daughter

Several years ago, I asked mum what her earliest memory was. She told me it was her parents rocking her lovingly to sleep and her sitting on the potty – or ‘the pot’ as she called it – with ‘Listen with Mother’ on the radio in the background.

Footage of mum as a young girl, around the age of four or five, shows her to be playful, sensitive and a little shy.

Mum aspired to be like her own mother. When dad spoke at Grandma Raie’s funeral, she said his words ‘totally encapsulated’ how her mother was. And so many of those words are fitting for mum – her hospitality, her devotion to family, her desire for harmony, her compassion.

she believed that giving confidence to others made all things possible

Mum often told me Grandma Raie thought she was ‘absolutely wonderful’ and that this had given her an inner confidence throughout her life. She wanted the same for us. All mum’s geese were swans because she believed that giving confidence to others made all things possible.

As a teenager, she wrote a composition stating that she wanted to be a nanny, to which Grandma Raie’s response was: ‘Not after the expensive education you’ve had.’ Grandma Raie, then seeing mum’s dejected face, told mum she could be a Norland Nanny. I can’t quite imagine mum – with her love of colour and fashion, her brooches from charity shops across London – in the sensible brown-lace ups and beige aprons of Norland nannies.

Mum decided on teaching and what a teacher she was – to us, her children, and to her grandchildren. She read stories at my children’s nursery and taught them to spell their names through song and theatrical hand gestures.

It didn’t surprise any of us that ex-pupils (and their parents) kept in touch. Some were even lurking in changing rooms as mum tried on new clothes in Brent Cross. In mum’s last months, one emailed to say that she wondered if mum could give her a reference as she wanted to be a bus driver. Another came up to her to express thanks for the way mum had taught her son to read. In characteristic fashion, mum greeted her with warmth and then confessed to us that she had no idea who this person, or her son, were.

Mum taught us determination, modesty, to listen well, to have high standards, to be gracious, to be caring.

But, as the best teachers often are, mum could also be formidable and tough. She valued endurance – something she put down to being at boarding school. I can still hear her telling me not to cry at this or that friendship upset. ’Uh, uh, uh no tears,’ she would say as she held my hands.

Mum was widely read with strong views on authors, playwrights and poets. She loved art deco, art nouveau and interior design. I remember her inviting an Italian friend of mine to come to mum and dad’s home for his thoughts on where a chest of drawers should go. She was surprised if we didn’t notice a new picture or frame.

Mum was a particularly caring person. She listened intently to what we said and would do anything she could to help. Long after conversations with her, I’d receive a text that would show how long she‘d contemplated the petty problems I’d shared with her.

Like her mother and father before her, she generously gave her time and energy to good causes – the Teenage Cancer Trust, in memory of Sam, one of Adam’s friends, was one and the North London Hospice another.

Mum loved her extended family and her friends so very much. How many times would we come round to find several envelopes on the hall table waiting to be posted for someone’s anniversary, someone’s birthday, someone’s new job.

Until the very last, she looked forward to cousins’ lunches, 70th birthdays and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. When asked how she had enjoyed them, so often the answer was simple. ‘Marvellous’. Asked if she still intended to go to them, despite feeling ill, the answer was always the same: ‘Rather’.

Mum loved adventures and waited with anticipation for her latest trip with Shirl – her backpack and bus pass ready. She took comfort in the wonderful holiday to India she had had with Tan and so enjoyed her outings to antiques markets with so many of you.

Mum taught us determination, modesty, to listen well, to have high standards, to be gracious, to be caring. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she repeated so often how happy she was with the partners Adam and I had chosen – she loved dad so very much and she wanted the same for us.

Mum loved all of our messages when feeling rotten at home, or in hospital, and, to our surprise, seemed genuinely taken aback to be as loved as she was.

Mum, we miss you. We’ll always be grateful for how lucky we have been to have had you by our sides.