About Janet Turner - born 20th February 1944 and passed away 6th July 2023
Janet was a very modest but determined lady, who loved life, her family, and everybody around her.
Eulogies written by her daughter, Emily Baker, and her two brothers, Nigel and Graeme Rigby, and read at Janet's funeral in St Mary's Church, Wivenhoe on 19th July, 2023
Born and lived in Sussex until 5 years old and then moved to Basra in Persia (now Iraq)
Janet was born in February 1944 at the home of her beloved grandparents in Oving, near Chichester in Sussex. Her father was in the Merchant Navy and so was away until the end of the war and then took a job with a shipping company in Basra, Iraq, leaving Janet and her mother back home in Sussex. This was a particularly happy time for Janet, being surrounded by adults who adored her and having the freedom to play in and explore this rural idyl. She would regale her own grandchildren with stories of playing in the withy bed with her friends, climbing trees or ‘going up to the cows and patting them on the nose to prove how brave she was’: all things that she continued to enjoy, even in these last years, much to her daughter’s dismay!
Janet had a very unusual education. She started at the local village school but only stayed there for two terms before being ‘whisked away to Basra’ at the age of 5. Once in Basra, her Mum tried to homeschool Janet, but Janet didn’t think that was part of a parent’s role (a view I’m sure was shared by many families during the recent COVID pandemic) and so a place was found for Janet at a school for European children, run by French nuns in Basra city. The nuns didn’t go in much for mathematics, which suited Janet very well, and she stayed at school there until being sent to boarding school in Folkestone when her parents moved to Bahrain.
Then boarding school near Folkestone
Because of her unusual educational history, once back in England, Janet was entered into the form below her chronological age, but she always saw the positives in any situation and described how this meant she was made house captain and even made the school sports team! She would enjoy telling the story about how would race down the hockey pitch, looking for someone to pass to, with the games mistress shouting “Shoot yourself! Shoot yourself!” which Janet found hilarious and would promptly lose control of the ball. Sport and co-ordination have never been the family’s strongest attributes, but Janet was a firm believer that a lack of talent should never prevent you from doing anything you might enjoy – and she was determined to enjoy everything that life threw at her.
Two much younger brothers – Nigel and Graeme
She spent her school holidays split between her two sets of grandparents; in Sussex and in Northumberland, but would travel back out to the Gulf for the long Summer holidays, something her brothers looked forward to enormously. With almost 7 and 9 years between her and her younger brothers (“the boys”) she took a great interest in them, first with Nigel – she was outraged to be sent to be looked after by neighbours when he was born and insisted on being returned to be with him immediately! And then making Graeme (baby Grae) something of a ‘special project’. Family was equally important to Janet and she absolutely adored babies and young children, to the point where she took early retirement when her daughter was pregnant with her first grandchild and took enormous pleasure in being the kind of grandparent that she had such fond memories of herself from her Sussex days.
Loved family and had a mischievous streak
Janet looked forward to any opportunity to be all together with the extended Rigby family, taking great delight in spending time with her niece and nephew, getting to know their partners, and eventually their children. Having three generations in one place for the traditional family Christmas curry was always a highlight of the year.
Janet definitely had a slightly mischievous streak. At boarding school, she would encourage all the other girls to squirrel away pieces of bread and jam from supper for a midnight feast, but somehow they always ended up falling asleep and having to get rid of the evidence in the morning. She also invented a game for their dormitory where you put the chair on the bed and use it to climb onto the top of the wardrobe, from where you could take a flying leap back onto the well-sprung bed – that was until one day when the headteacher came in, catching her ‘mid-leap’, for which she earnt the slipper.
As a parent, she was always the one hopping over fences and studiously ignoring any warning signs of crumbling cliffs or unstable banks, so it wasn’t entirely a surprise when her daughter got a phonecall at work one day to say “your mother’s fallen out of a tree!” or hear about any of her other escapades – such as her more recent ‘great escape’!
A Levels, college and working for the BBC
But back to her education…. Janet really hoped that she would be able to go on to study A Levels and then go on to University, but her parents had returned from the Gulf by that time, and with money tight, her Dad made it clear she needed to be out working as soon as possible. She was enrolled at Worthing College of Further Education where she studied Business Studies, Shorthand and Typing, and A Level French. On leaving college, Janet got a job as a secretary in the Overseas and Foreign Relations office at the BBC (through her Mum’s friend Aunty Mickie who had previously worked there and still knew someone in the recruiting office). She moved into the BBC hostel and that is where she first met her late husband Mike, at one of the many parties that were hosted in the hostel and the bachelor flat nearby. Her father was not particularly impressed with her getting together with a “Welshman” and he even went to the effort of contacting Janet’s boss, Mr Halliday, to see if he could find a way to separate them! Janet was duly sent to the Paris office to cover for a girl who had gone on maternity leave and Mike went out to visit her, blowing all of his savings and more. Janet would tell us that she only lasted a few weeks and then came home so that they could be together – she never was one to do what she was told.
Maried Mike in 1966
Janet and Mike got married in April 1966 and, when the expansion of BBC2 came along, Janet got a job as an assistant editor and Mike got a job as a sound recordist in the film department. They had a happy, sociable life in Ealing, as the BBC was a great place to work in those days. Janet would tell of seeing daleks in the lift or having lunch with Jimmi Hendrix in the work canteen (and thinking that he smelt very strongly of something ‘naughty’), as well as meeting political heavyweights and working on programmes such as Panorama. She eventually worked her way up to being a Film Editor, as holiday relief cover after her son Matthew was born, and would say that one of her best moments was editing the highly regarded adaptation of Jean-Paul Satre’s ‘Roads to Freedom’ and telling the director she had kept the close up shot for slightly longer at one stage because ‘of course he is lying at that point’, and the director being astonished that she would know that (she had read the book – anyone who visited Janet at Valley Road could not have been unaware of her love of books – it was hard to find one she hadn’t read!).
Moved from Perivale to Wivenhoe in 1974
Janet and Mike moved to Perivale after the arrival of Matthew in 1971, which is where Emily was born in 1974 and they started to look for somewhere to live ‘where Dad could keep family and boat in one place’. They were due to move to Walton-Upon-Thames but came back from their holiday to discover they had been gazumped! Janet describes them sitting at the table with a cup of tea and feeling ‘slightly glum’ and seeing a notice in the Sunday papers that said “house for sale, Wivenhoe” and feeling like it was meant to be, as they had just visited Wivenhoe on their sailing holiday. They went to view the house and put an offer in immediately which Janet has subsequently described as “the best decision we ever made”. I think it may have gone some way to establishing for Janet a firm belief that things will work out for the best in the end. She was a great believer in ‘playing things by ear’ and an even greater believer that a cup of tea would make every situation better – and she was usually right!
Flood waters in Valley Road
When they moved in, Valley Road was full of university families, several of whom had children of a similar age to Emily and the ‘mothers’ promptly formed a ‘toddler group’ where they would take it in turns for a couple of them to look after all five of the children, whilst the others could go off and do whatever was necessary. Those friendships were further cemented during the long hot summer of 1976. Mike was away and when the heatwave broke and it finally rained, the rain had nowhere to go and so flooded across the garden, knocked down the garage wall and washed all sorts of our belongings off down the alleyway opposite. Emily’s earliest memory is of the neighbours all rallying round and things (and Matthew) being carried away through the front door as the flood waters slowly edged up the stairs towards her. Janet made everything into an adventure and this potential catastrophe was no different. The family were housed by various neighbours and friendships were forged – which remained important to Janet all her life. Then followed the ‘Valley Road Olympics”, egg-rolling competitions down The Dale at Easter, and a Silver Jubilee street party, as well as many other events, such as election night parties with the other Labour Party families, and Halloween trick or treating, courtesy of our American friends the Alts.
A Masters Degree at Essex University
Wivenhoe life was further enhanced for Janet by finally getting her chance to go to University. Janet had been studying history and politics through the Open University but one of the neighbours encouraged her to transfer to study at Essex (who were keen to get some more mature students after campus riots of the previous year) and she went on to also study her Masters in political theory and voting behaviour. In later life she continued her love a learning by taking a series of classes at the WEA in Colchester. She had an endless capacity to find things to interest her and her boundless enthusiasm convinced many people to add in a detour to their planned trips in order to take in ‘another Romanesque church’ or ‘particularly impressive piece of art or architecture’. She did love churches.
Sailing Club, Jazz and helped start G&S
Janet and Mike enjoyed socialising and extended their circle by joining the sailing club and Mike was also part of a Jazz Band, the Really Great Iceberg Burners. The summer was all about the sailing, but in the winter Janet was on the look out for something else to do whilst Mike was away working. A party at The Falcon led to a conversation with Clare Durance where they discovered a shared love of Gilbert and Sullivan, and out of that conversation developed the first Wivenhoe Gilbert and Sullivan Society shows. Janet was a founder member and for years took on the role of costume mistress. Emily has many fond memories of making fairy wings and kimonos and listening to conversations where Janet would try and convince people that they really must wear a mob cap, or equally ridiculous costume detail, in order for it to be authentic and ‘of the time’ and she almost always got her way. She was a particular fan of hats and believed no costume was truly complete without.
Loved singing (at any opportunity)
Despite being very clever and talented, Janet had never been one to seek the limelight. She was always happy in the chorus and loved to sing at any chance she got; whether in the St Mary’s singers, a scratch Messiah, even the University Choir for a while, and was frequently known to burst into choruses of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ or ‘The sun has got his hat on’ at the slightest provocation (and sometimes with no provocation at all). But G&S was her real love. Each year, when the next year’s show was announced, Janet would stand up and give a synopsis of the plot. These were always witty and full of such enthusiasm that she could turn the whole chorus from “Oh no, not pirates again” into eager participants – and better still, help everyone to keep track of the complicated plot and know what was actually going on!
Joined Colchester Quaker Housing Association in 1985
When completing her masters, Janet recognised that academic life was not really for her and undertook a period of sick leave cover in the office of Colchester Quaker Housing Association (CQHA) and really enjoyed it. When the post of Housing Development Officer was created in 1985 she applied for it and was somewhat surprised to be offered the job. Her early days of CQHA were slightly haphazard as Janet had no real relevant past experience to speak of. However, her impulsive, instinctive approach and way with people, coupled with her relentless positivity and can-do (or maybe gung-ho) attitude, often worked out in the end. A typical example is described in “Housing and Hope” a book about CQHA edited by Liz Taylor-Jones. Janet said “I remember checking an empty house in Nunn’s Road – I can’t remember why it was necessary to climb in the back window to gain access, but for whatever reason, I did so, and found a man asleep on an old settee. I don’t know who was more surprised!, but I said “Excuse me…” and politely asked if he would mind moving as we needed to start work on the property. Even more to my surprise, he did!”. CQHA went from strength to strength and Janet eventually became the Managing Director and prided herself on giving people a chance and housing people who nobody else wanted to house.
Janet’s proudest moment at work was another example of a plan hatched on the spur of the moment. She and Liz were travelling in to work together listening to the radio and heard report of an airplane load of Kosovan refugees who had landed at Stansted airport. This was during the Balkan crisis and the Kosovan’s were fleeing persecution by the Serbs. Essex County council would house the families, but they were in need of somewhere to house the adults without children. CQHA had a recently vacated property (Hythe House) which had previously been their mother and baby unit. The council had moved those residents to a purpose-built development for CQHA in Stanway, as Hythe House had been due to be demolished to make way for the new approach road. The route had since been changed and so the hostel was sitting empty. Liz (the finance director for CQHA) was initially reluctant (someone had to be the sensible one and it certainly wasn’t going to be my mother) but after a bit of thinking through the logistics, agreed that it was a good idea. Janet was so pleased to be able to do something so important and kept in touch for many years afterwards.
Stopped working in 2002
Janet continued working until 2002. The years until Mike died were filled with family sailing holidays, Gooseberry Pie rallies to Heybridge Basin, Friday nights at the Sailing club, Monday nights at G&S, trips to museums in London to meet with friends, or family days out, and swapping seamlessly between family life when Mike was home and an independent life with friends when he was away. Friends became even more important when Mike died in 1995. Always needing something on the calendar to look forward to, Janet became an enthusiastic (if somewhat vague and haphazard) crew on many friends sailing trips, had many holidays down to her brother’s house in Arrigas in the Cevenne, as well as enjoying walking holidays, bird watching trips and finding any possible excuse for a bit of wild swimming – long before it was trendy. She was also an absolute demon at a quiz, whether beating everyone at trivial pursuit at family Christmas, or giving any local quiz team she was part of a distinct advantage, she really enjoyed making use of her vast, eclectic and entertaining knowledge.
Janet was proud of her family and their achievements
Janet was so pleased that Matthew went to study in Sussex, the home of such happy childhood memories for her, and equally delighted to be able to visit him with Mike during his year in Santa Barbara. She was really proud of him having articles published (particularly in the Guardian) but mostly, was delighted that he had found a job doing what he loved, and that made him happy. She was always interested in hearing about not just what we were up to, but also about friends, and making everyone feel that they were interesting and included, but somehow without being overbearing or intrusive, a rare skill. Janet and Mike were delighted when Keith and Emily got engaged (although Janet’s initial response was an excited “Oh, are you pregnant?” followed by a slightly disappointed “congratulations” when it confirmed that Emily was not).
Janet fully supported Emily working and was interested in her career, but for Janet, Emily’s greatest ever achievement will always be providing her with grandchildren. She saw a bit of herself in each of them; Toby with his love of nature and environmental science degree, Nathan with his interest in history and politics (the same degree as her) and Jack she saw as sharing her love of musical theatre and loved seeing him take part in the Panto, the scout gangshow or, like his Dad, behind the scenes at the lighting desk. Janet was endlessly impressed by Keith’s practical skills and his ability to just quietly get on with things in the background, something Emily have relied upon increasingly and been so grateful for in more recent times.
The last ten years
The last ten years have been a gradual transition from her taking care of her family, to the other way around. Throughout it all, her positive, sunny disposition and determination to make the best of things, made it easier for everyone. Even to the end she retained her sense of humour and love of a pun, her love of nature and being outdoors, as well as her love of singing and her love for her family. With the fantastic support of carers (particularly the amazing Lucy Foster) we were able to keep her living independently for as long as possible. Janet helped choose her care home and told Emily when she first visited Aveley Lodge that she “thought she could be happy living there” and “it’ll be just like being back in boarding school”. Matthew and Emily had the privilege of living with Janet at Aveley Lodge for the last week of her life and the care, compassion and genuine friendships Janet had developed with the staff there shone through. They built her a room with direct access to the garden during COVID and allowed Emily to take her out for walks again as soon as testing became available through Emily’s work at the hospital. They always put Janet’s needs first. She has the best possible quality of life and enjoyed the peaceful, natural surroundings, right until the end.
Janet will be missed by friends and family alike.
Written by Emily Baker (nee Turner)
The following moving address was written by Nigel Rigby, Janet Turner’s younger brother and read at Janet’s funeral by Janet’s youngest brother, Graeme Rigby.
Janet was a great big sister.
She took Graeme and me out for scones.
She really was the centre of the family and a great person to have on your side about almost anything.
She used to take us to places like Bognor and Graeme and I would go running in the streams.
She was the driving force in the family.
Janet looked after me and Graeme, but particularly Graeme because he was the small boy – and he made good use of it….
She meant so much to us I find it hard to believe it has happened.
She was the prop for us all, particularly for me.
When we all came back from Bahrain (with the exception of Dad) Janet made it so much easier for us. She was selfless – especially about the scones!
We were so lucky to have someone like that when we arrived in what was a strange environment for us. Janet was a great whirlwind, always working for us. She was always there.
I think Janet was very strong. She was very popular and very intelligent.
She was our harbour.
Another moving address about Janet Turner given by her youngest brother, Graeme Rigby:
I was, I am and I always have been Baby G. Some of you know what it was like to be part of one of Janet’s plans. She was always smiling, but she was determined and could play a long game. Nigel has said just how supportive she was. I sometimes think of myself as one of her projects.
Dad came back from Bahrain, the company stopped paying her boarding school fees and he decided she should train as a secretary. She should have gone to university. Mum should have gone, Dad should have gone, but Janet, in spite of him, got together with Mike and she flowered in his endless boyish enthusiasms. They would come down from London on his scooter and it was always exciting. They brought us the 60s and as the 60s flowered, Janet flowered among the university graduates of the BBC and she knew she should have gone. Dad would constantly tell Nigel and I we were stupid, so we’d not be disappointed later by our foolish expectations. Much later, as Janet began to unpack her memories, we came to realise just how indignant she had been on our behalf.
Actually, it was water off a duck’s back, but nevertheless Janet took matters in hand. She was a great optimist. I think her first single was Frank Sinatra’s High Hopes. She didn’t take it to London so it was given to me. And it was Janet who gave me my first LP, Muddy Waters’ Southbound Train. I’d not expressed the slightest interest in the blues, but that album started a long journey unpicking so many of the casual assumptions of the age. I took to wearing Dad’s old cravats; she took me to Carnaby Street and bought me an Indian silk scarf and a Bob Dylan cap. Blame the scones, maybe, but it was a bad look on a chubby boy. There are, however, turning points in life and I like to think this was the one, which, for me, made university inevitable. I realise that had always been her plan.
A little later Janet went to university, then Nige too. It transformed all our lives, as she knew it would. We love language and stories. We love finding out and knowing stuff. Luckily, back then, it didn’t need to be useful or cost-effective stuff. The family’s practical skills have tended to come through marriage, but Janet always encouraged us in the possibilities of who we are. Mum did too – even Dad in his own peculiar way – but as Nige says, Janet was a driving force; a glue which still holds our wider family together.
We loved her.