Vanessa Smith

Vanesa Smith – an appreciation

from the Parish Magazine, November 2003

Vanessa’s sudden and totally unexpected death on 8th September, after running the Post Office that morning, then shopping with Richard in Eastleigh, stunned us all. It must have been some reassurance to Frank and Richard in their devastating loss that so many came to stand alongside them at her funeral in All Saints’ Church on 26th.

Vanessa was born fifty years ago. Her father was in the RAF so her early years were spent moving between distant places – Singapore, Australia – before they settled in Winchester, coming to live in Chesil Street, where thirty three years ago, as a teenager, she met Frank whose family lived there too. They were married in 1975 and lived in Fair Oak, Twyford and Owslebury before moving, with two year old Richard, to Shawford in 1988.

Vanessa loved this part of the world. Most of us will have met her, walking with Daisy, ‘the best kept dog in Shawford’, along our footpaths, and such encounters would always be cheerful, seldom without sharing an observation or a joke. She knew many of us by name and had a great sense of community. When the route between Shawford and Compton was disrupted by the M3 works, so that the children couldn’t walk over to school, it was Vanessa’s initiative that arranged for them to be ferried round via Twyford in a school bus.

Her hard work served our community in many ways, especially, of course in caretaking – taking care—of the Parish Hall—a job which expanded as its facilities and usage were developed to become the focus of activities here, and increasingly, further afield. Those arranging functions were always treated with courtesy and helpfulness. Nothing was too much trouble. Vanessa would go out of her way to help, and accommodate their requirements. That same spirit of helpfulness, of not letting anyone down, led, as we know, to her volunteering to continue a Post Office service when Joy Gibson retired in 1996, initially, and uncomfortably in the cloakroom at the Parish Hall, until the premises were converted and officially designated as a Post Office for twice weekly sessions. Any doubts that she might not be up to coping with the intricacies of Post Office bureaucracy were soon dispelled by her self-effacing efficiency and calm competence. Early experience in business and accountancy stood her in good stead. Her willingness to tackle fresh developments involving new technology was characteristic of one who enjoyed new challenges and met them ‘head on’. She took on computers with determination — although not without difficulty and persistence. Petty restrictions were met with unflappable patience and good humour. Vanessa was always polite, combining duty with a natural courtesy and grace.

But the gift that endeared her to so many of us was her ability to listen. She was interested in people, knowing how to keep confidence, compassionate without being curious, so that she could relate with sympathy and understanding, offering a word of encouragement, as well as individual recognition to folk from all sections of the community. We felt valued, and better for those Monday and Thursday visits. “I’m going to see Vanessa”, not “I’m going to the Post Office”.

“She was someone you could depend on “who never let you down” wrote one who knew her well. ” The perfect friend”. Yet Vanessa was someone with a great zest for life and a love of adventure, showing sheer courage on those ‘white knuckle’ rides, Roller coasting or Big dipping on days out with Richard and friends with their children to Alton Towers and Disney World in Paris. Vanessa was young in heart with a lovely sense of fun and enjoyed pushing herself to the edge.

Her greatest love was the home she cherished. Once the door could be closed on other responsibilities, she was more than content with the simple pleasures of family life with Frank and Richard, and their pets, relaxing with books and music. Those hanging baskets outside the Caretaker’s Cottage showed something of her creative flair.

Vanessa was someone radiating a warmth which touched so many with her natural, unforced gentle dignity, and those ‘little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness’ —indications of an inner strength. Our hearts go out to Frank and Richard and her family in their loss. If we can let our memory of her influence our attitudes and actions, then something positive may grow out of this present grief.