EXTRAORDINARY LIVES: The quiet hero who rejected Oxford University to live with a jungle tribe
Britain is full of unsung heroes and heroines who deserve recognition. Here, in our weekly obituary column, the moving and inspirational stories of ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives, and who died recently, are told by their loved ones . . .
Quiet hero rejected Oxford to live with a jungle tribe
My friend Glyn by Marie Elliker
No one who met Glyn would have had any idea of the extraordinary life he’d lived before his family settled in their small corner of Dorset
No one who met Glyn would have had any idea of the extraordinary life he’d lived before his family settled in their small corner of Dorset.
I first came across this modest, humble man when he joined my church ten years ago.
What struck me initially were his wisdom and calm.
But, over time, as I started to learn about his fascinating past as a missionary, I saw his quiet determination, along with a certain amount of derring-do.
He certainly needed the latter to live deep in the Brazilian jungle, as he did for many years.
The eldest of five siblings, Glyn was raised in Lancashire, where his father was the headteacher of a village school.
From there, he went on to Manchester University, where he developed the Christian faith that would inform his life.
Glyn had a keen academic brain and, in another life, would have been a great physicist — his early research was key in the invention of the MRI scanner and, in the Sixties, he was offered a post at Oxford University.
But Glyn believed he had a calling to missionary work.
After training at bible college, where he met his wife, Cynthia, he flew to Mexico to undergo jungle survival training, then learned Portuguese to prepare him for his final destination in South America.
His goal was to reach the Kadiweu, a small, primitive group in southern central Brazil known for their horse-riding skills.
Leaving Cynthia and their young children, Ruth and Andrew, in the city of Cuiaba, where the mission was based, Glyn reached the Kadiweu in 1968.
We can only imagine what the tribe made of this quiet English man arriving so unexpectedly in their midst. Determined to win their trust, he lived alongside them, building his own primitive dwelling from bamboo poles and cane leaves and gaining their confidence over time by working with them and showing his gentle humour.
Once he felt accepted, he went back to collect his family and, over the coming years, the Griffiths spent months at a time with the Kadiweu, interspersed with periods back in Cuiaba and the UK.
Their life with the Indians was a simple one, their home a mud and bamboo hut.
Cynthia washed their clothes in a stream and the family grew pineapples on a small allotment, bartering supplies they brought from the outside world.
They had two more children, Simon and Mark, although the latter sadly died a week before his third birthday of an aneurysm while the family were in Cuiaba.
All the while, Glyn was working on his big project, which was to write the New Testament in the tribe’s own language — no small endeavour, as Kadiweu was a spoken, not a written, language.
It was, in some ways, his life’s work. It was finally presented to the tribe in 2000, more than 30 years after he first met them.
With Cynthia’s help, Glyn also published an entire Kadiweu–Portuguese dictionary in 2002.
By then, they had returned to the UK and Glyn was not in the best of health: a neurological disorder meant his hands shook so violently that it was a struggle for him to hold a cup.
Yet he bore this with great fortitude and became a much-loved member of our church, elected to the position of church elder. ‘Our Wise Man’, we used to call him. He is much missed.
Dr Glyndwr Griffiths, born May 11, 1934, died November 9, 2017, aged 83.
Illness gave my daughter confidence she never had
My daughter Charlotte by Alex Eades
When Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer, she made an entry in her diary. ‘I will make something good of having this cancer,’ she wrote.
‘I will show others that it is not all bad. I choose to live life to the full and love every second on this earth, good or bad.’
And that was the spirit she showed throughout her terrible illness. She never asked ‘why me?’ and showed courage that humbled everyone who knew her.
For me, it’s the grimmest of ironies that a brutal disease gave my daughter the confidence she had so lacked before.
When Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer, she made an entry in her diary. ‘I will make something good of having this cancer,’ she wrote
Charlotte hadn’t had the easiest time at school, as she struggled with anxiety. She was happiest at home, pottering around in the garden, or shopping.
That changed when, aged 16, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour after months of headaches and a ringing noise in her ear whenever she lay on her stomach.
By then, after research on the internet, she’d already diagnosed herself. But it was more desperate than we had thought.
Her cancer — anaplastic astrocytoma — was located on her brain stem, meaning that doctors couldn’t operate, and had spread to her spine. It was a rollercoaster from then on.
Just when Charlotte should have been starting to follow her dreams, her world shrank as she learned to deal with illness and disability on a daily basis.
Y et she dealt with it all with fortitude and humour, even when she lost her beautiful hair and radiotherapy damaged her hearing.
She would joke about the transformation of her handbag. ‘A few months ago, I just had make-up, and now I have hearing aids, a disabled badge and a load of medicine,’ she said.
What kept her going was her video blog.
When Charlotte realised there were no online resources for teenage cancer sufferers, she decided to do something about it, learning as she went.
Nothing was off-limits in her regular posts, from the frivolous — her cat Nala, fashion, make-up and the handbags she adored — to the frustrations and sadness she faced as her condition worsened.
Still, her older brother Miles and I thought nothing much of it all at first — but how wrong we were!
Charlotte’s broadcasts were hugely popular, won her awards from cancer charities and, to date, have had more than 4.3 million views. Yet, all the while, she was sinking.
Her cancer mutated into glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer doctors call ‘the Terminator’ because the survival rate is so low.
I cannot describe the horror of helplessly watching my beautiful daughter deteriorate.
Gradually, the disease that would rob her of her future — the husband and the babies she had dreamed of — robbed her of her present, too.
One morning in January 2016, Charlotte woke up and told us she couldn’t curl her toes.
Within 48 hours, she was paralysed down one side, then within the next few weeks, she lost her speech.
On February 5, she went into a coma from which she never woke.
She died six days after her 19th birthday, leaving a huge, Charlotte-shaped hole, which will never be filled.
What keeps us going is knowing the difference she made.
People all over the world still watch Charlotte’s video blogs and we have started a charity, Charlotte’s BAG (Battle Against Glioblastoma), to research this cruellest of cancers.
My dearest wish is that, one day, we will beat it and that will be my beloved, beautiful and brave daughter’s legacy.
Charlotte Eades, born February 18, 1997, died February 24, 2016, aged 19. (www.charlottesbag.com)
The poster girl I was proud to call my Big Sister
My sister Shirley by Andrew Pettigrew
My father Eric was as pleased as Punch when Shirley, his first child, was born
My father Eric was as pleased as Punch when Shirley, his first child, was born — so much so that he put a notice in the local paper that same day.
He was even prouder when his employers at the Liverpool Savings Bank launched a new children’s savings account and needed a baby to appear on the advertisements.
At just a few months old, Shirley was a poster girl.
The ads showed her splashing in the bath, and I always wonder how many new accounts she was responsible for.
To celebrate her new fame, the bank took Mum and Dad to a posh tearoom, where the little starlet pulled the tablecloth off the table. Shirley, our sister Carole and I grew up in a very loving and solid family — but against the backdrop of war.
Shirley always remembered that Carole’s fifth birthday was on the day war broke out, September 1, 1939.
They went out to get ice cream while our mother was organising the party and Shirley proudly told a lady out walking her dog that it was her little sister’s birthday.
She didn’t understand at the time why the lady greeted her with such a sad smile. Our father was duly called up, first with postings in the UK — the family went with him — and latterly in India, where he remained until the end of hostilities.
Banking was very much in the family. My father went on to become a bank manager and I joined him at the Liverpool Savings Bank.
Shirley started there, too, then joined the Bank of England. Only sister Carole bucked the trend — she became a Tiller Girl and a Butlins Redcoat.
It was while Shirley was on holiday on Jersey during the Fifties that she met her future husband, Irwin.
They married in 1956 and had three children, Melvyn, Nicolas and Virginia.
They settled in Kent and Irwin worked at Tate & Lyle, while Shirley did various part-time jobs, but the focus was always on her family.
She was never happier than when she had the whole clan around her, especially her grandchildren and great- grandchildren.
She first had cancer diagnosed about seven years ago. Chemotherapy was initially successful, but the disease returned.
She lost her hair, but dealt with it in a very positive ‘Shirley fashion’, making light of the problem and buying a wig.
I last saw her in the hospice the day before she died and I was so honoured when her family asked me to do the eulogy at her funeral.
I was proud to have called her my Big Sis.
Shirley Bragg, nee Pettigrew, born November 26, 1932, died March 31, 2018, aged 85.
Dad who didn’t walk into rooms, he exploded into them!
My son-in-law Darren by Tricia Clements
Darren Bennett was a force of nature
Darren Bennett was a force of nature. A dynamo. My husband, Dennis, used to say: ‘He doesn’t just walk into a room, does he? He explodes into it!’
Darren was the kind of man who grabbed life with two hands.
We first met Darren in 1997, after he started dating our daughter, Emma. They were both running neighbouring businesses, had got chatting and their relationship had flourished.
Emma told us our future son-in-law was bright, generous, no-nonsense — and far more sensitive than he would let on. We liked him instantly.
They were married in 1998 and, a year later, Emma gave birth to twin boys, Dillon and Bradley.
They were overjoyed, but their world was rocked by news that Bradley had quadriplegic cerebral palsy (affecting all four limbs). It absolutely floored Darren, but he refused to give in to self-pity.
Once, when I was fighting back tears, he gently said: ‘Cry only once, Trish, because we have to just deal with it.’
He was in Bradley’s corner from the start, doing everything to get the very best for his boy. It wasn’t easy. I remember, in the early days, looking down the ward at the Royal Free Hospital in London as Emma and Darren leaned over Bradley’s wheelchair, learning how to operate a feeding tube. ‘This is to be your lives,’ I thought, sorrowfully.
I know now, though, that what I was witnessing was something altogether more wonderful: the creation of Team Bennett — a team that would together raise two magnificent, loving young men, now 18 years old.
Dillon is at Sheffield University studying aeronautical engineering, while Bradley is at Orchard Manor in Hertfordshire, a special school for disabled children.
He loves it so much there that he told his mum he doesn’t want to come home now because it’s ‘boring’. That would have made Darren laugh.
After valiantly beating cancer of the oesophagus in 2016, enduring chemotherapy and radiotherapy without complaint and returning to work, he suffered a blood clot last summer and died instantly. His tragic death has robbed us all of a wonderful spirit.
Darren Bennett, born May 28, 1965, died June 28, 2017, aged 52.
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