It is with deep regret and sadness that I have to inform you all that Sylvia Gower died unexpectedly at home on St Lucy’s Day the 13th December 2008.
As normal, I had opened my emails with my usual optimism and delight, wondering where in the world I would be receiving news and updates from today, and saw first a message from a long time friend and correspondent in the States, Kate Lindemann. It was headed simply Sylvia Gower. It was obvious that the news had shocked her deeply, and it was kind of her to think of informing me. The two had been friends for many years, as Kate had promoted Sylvia’s book ” The World Of Elizabeth Goudge” in The States through her bookshop and contacts. They had also met on one of Kates rare visits to England.
Sylvia was a gracious and generous lady who shared her knowledge and love of Elizabeth Goudge with a wide audience. She had researched Elizabeth’s life and visited the places where she had lived and which had inspired her career as a writer.
In turn Sylvia’s book was my guide on the journey I took to Hampshire, allowing me to find all the right places I needed to see, including Elizabeth’s grave, which I would never have achieved without the books help. I had thought that the church yard would be a small country one. How wrong I was, it was vast, and it was only Sylvia’s detailed description which enabled me to find it.
That, I was to find out was typical of Sylvia’s nature, she loved to share her knowledge. Just a week before, she had written me a lovely letter and sent me a copy of a programme for a Nativity Play that Elizabeth had written for her local School in Marldon, Devon. It seemed most appropriate for the season, and has set me off on a quest to try and find a copy of the play itself. There was also a copy of a magazine article from the States about the nature of the Devonshire countryside that Elizabeth loved and the people who inhabited it. Fodder for a future article.
Sylvia and I met just the once at the unveiling of the Blue Plaque placed on Elizabeth’s final home in Peppard Common. It was a project that Sylvia had worked on for the best part of a year, a fitting and long overdue tribute. The day although overcast and miserable, was filled with the good company of new friends who had met to celebrate a mutual love and respect for the work of Elizabeth Goudge. It had been a cherished idea close to Sylvia’s heart and one that she was rightly proud to have accomplished. There were so many interesting people attending and the hosts made us so welcome, that I didn’t have the time I would have liked to speak to Sylvia. So it is doubly special to me that at least we finally met each other. She has been a constant source of encouragement and support in the work I do for the website, an invaluable mentor in The World Of Elizabeth Goudge.
Sylvia also belonged to a local writers group, who encouraged her in her literary work. Here is an extract from a piece she wrote about a visit to Ely one April.
” For me, always glad to revisit the lovely old place, the highlight came towards the end of the afternoon. There was an annual Pets’ Blessing Service being held in the cathedral, which although I knew of it, I found a lovely surprise to be able to witness. The nave was filled with all kinds of well behaved dogs with their owners, together with less obvious pets in cages including (I was told), a snake. Behind the seats were two pens, one holding sheep and goats and the other two donkeys. In the entrance porch was a beautifully groomed and beribboned Shire horse and Shetland pony. Incredibly while the address was being given there was not a sound to be heard from any of the animals. The event had been organised by the nearby animal sanctuary. It was a fitting ending to a wonderful day.
She told me that she had found the whole episode, a very “Goudgian” experience, one that could have been taken from any of her novels, where dogs in particular are often taken to church. In The Little White Horse, sheep and dogs make up a large proportion of the congregation.
St Lucy is the patron Saint of the Blind, In the legend, Lucy’s eyes were torn out and later healed by God, a legend that supports this association with the blind. If this is not too fanciful, I like to think that Sylvia helped us with blind groping towards an understanding of Elizabeth, helping to shed light on her life and work.
She was buried in a private ceremony on Tuesday 23rd December at St Peter’s Church Great Totham near Tiptree in Essex. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband George and their daughter, whose loss has been deeply personal.
I am sure I speak for the many thousands whose lives were enriched by Sylvia in saying how much she will be missed and fondly remembered.
” For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground: yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.”
The Book of Job
Goodbye my friend, I will endeavour to keep the work of Elizabeth fresh and alive into the next generation as we wished and along the way take your wisdom and knowledge with me.