Friday 21st December, 2012

A tribute to Beryl

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Beryl Tabbitt died on 24th October at the age of 91. To hundreds of men, now elderly themselves, she will be remembered as a pillar of the scouting movement, as they passed through her firm but affectionate hands as cub scouts.  To me, she is remembered as a good neighbour, a trusted friend and a pillar of the Romsey Mill Charity Shop.

She started at the shop within days of her retirement and was already an old hand when I took over management of the shop in 1999. She and her long-time friend, Vera Chapman, were the first team I worked with, and Thursday afternoons were a delight to me – and a steep learning curve.

Tall and statuesque of appearance, Beryl emanated, to the end of her life, a firm authority respected by all and resented by none. She mixed this with a sense of wonder. She was fascinated by the origins of the goods; ‘Look, this was made in Vietnam’, ‘This came all the way from Malawi’. The wonder of commerce became a limitless adventure.

She understood tailoring through & through – it had been her career – and no posh designer goods were immune from her scathing comments and woe betide any poor innocent who parked in our parking space! Beryl was out there breathing fire before the engine was switched off.

Beryl idolised John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, and when he came to the Mill as part of our 30th year celebrations, she hung on his every word and hastened to introduce herself as the shop’s oldest volunteer.  She wasn’t! Vera was older, as was Ruby Hunt (still working at the shop as I write), but nobody would wish to enlighten her.  Indeed, she still did occasional shifts until a few months before her death, in spite of the failing health which caused her such frustration.

Finally, I must mention Beryl’s coffee.  The rest of us were happy with boiling the kettle and a drop of milk. Beryl brought a flask of her special coffee, made entirely with milk and insisted on sharing it.  I wouldn’t wish to drink it every day, but on a Thursday morning in winter, it was a smooth, comforting treat.

Dear Beryl, we miss your forthrightness, your wisdom and indomitable personality so very much.       

Hilary Jolly - Charity Shop Manager