Memorial service for Patricia Wimberley

Strasbourg, Eglise des Dominicains, 6 June 2009

Reading by James Wimberley

I tried to give Pat a a proper eulogy at her funeral in Brighton. You wouldn't want to hear this text warmed up in the microwave, and I don't have a different one in me. So this will be short, and partly in her own words.

Pat was full of surprises. Here are two more things you almost surely don't know about her.

In her second year at Oxford, one of the freshmen at her college, St Hugh's, was a young Burmese woman called Aung San Suu Kyi. The college had a mentoring scheme, and Suu Kyi became in their parlance the college “daughter” of Pat Morris. I have no reason to think this relationship ever amounted to much, and the mentoring was little needed. Pat always spoke of it as an honour rather than a chore. Children of leading political families are rarely short of worldly wisdom, and later events have shown that Suu Kyi, now revered and persecuted as the rightful leader of Burma, is a person of exceptionally steely character and conviction: in fact, she has become the greatest woman of our time. What is interesting in this anecdote is that Suu Kyi must have been recognized by the dons of St. Hugh's in 1965 as an important student, destined, for good or ill, for a large role in her country. Out of a hundred clever, light-hearted, pleasure-seeking young women in the second year, they chose young Pat Morris as her guide. They recognized I think that this girl was at bottom a morally serious person who would never let you down. In her later life, I don't think she let you, her friends, down; she didn't let her children down; and she never let me down.

The second surprising thing from the end of her life is a poem. I belong to an amateur dramatic society on the Costa del Sol that also puts on a weekly show on a low-power local radio station, during which we read whatever pieces seem interesting to us, provided they come out at under 12 minutes to leave room for the words from our sponsor. One Thursday early this year Pat said she would join me, as she had found a poem she wanted to read. As things turned out, she never made it to the top-floor radio studio because of vertigo. But just the other day I found her handwritten notes for the lead-in. I would like to read them for you on her behalf, and and then the poem: also by Robert Frost.

Remember that the introduction was written as an ephemeral and informal piece, not an elaborate analysis. It doesn't really explain her choice. Pat hated cold and snow: for Frost, they are a beautiful temptation. The poem has an undertone of the Romantic fascination with death: Pat never felt its toxic pull so far as I know, and fought to the end for the life she so much relished. The real attraction of the poem for her was, I suggest, Frost's masterly change of key from the good humour and sensuality with which his narrator faces the world to his deeper moral imperatives: a contrast in which she recognized her own calls of duty and her “tragic sense of life”.

[From Pat's handwritten notes]

I am most emphatically not a poetry person. But just before Christmas last year, one line of poetry kept coming into my head. It might have had something to do with the fact that for the second year running I was in Málaga airport facing a very late dearture and arrival at my destination in the icy small hours.

My husband, who is a poetry person, identified the source of the one line withour hesitation.

I thought the poem might find an echo with those of you who have faced the problems of winter travel away from our nice warm Andalucía.

By the American Robert Frost, the poem is entitled:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

* * * * * *

En dehors de cette église il n'y a pas de tapis silencieux de neige vierge, ni même un soleil de printemps. Mais vous aussi, vous aviez sans doute d'autres possibilités plus amusantes pour profiter de l'après-midi que de venir ici honorer la mémoire de Patricia. Au nom de sa mère Paule-Hélène, de ses enfants Sarah, Jonathan et Lucy, et de moi-même, je tiens à vous remercier tous très chaleureusement d'avoir répondu aujourd'hui à son dernier appel.

There's no carpet of pristine snow outside this church, and not even a sunny day, but you too all had more enjoyable things to do with this afternoon than to come here to remember Patricia. On behalf of her mother Paule, her children Sarah, Jonathan and Lucy, and myself, I would like to thank you all very warmly indeed for coming here today to meet her final request to you..