Forty-seven years ago, Mary Passmore accepted the Dennis Brown Shield from then R.A.B.I president the Duke of Beaufort for her fundraising efforts with the Sussex Farm Women’s Club.
Today, Mary is living in Beaufort House; R.A.B.I’s Burnham-on-Sea care home, named after the man who presented her with that shield all those years ago.
In April 2018, Mary suffered a stroke and, for a while, was unable to talk. She went into a home in Sussex but didn’t like staring out of ‘a little room to look at rooftops’. She returned home, but suffered another stroke.
Daughter Jenny said: “Mother needed help filling in forms and the support we got from R.A.B.I for that was wonderful. Then two people from the women’s club said to me ‘have you looked into R.A.B.I’s care homes?’
“To tell you the truth it never even occurred to me, but Mother came to Beaufort House in August 2018 for a ‘little holiday’ and is still here. It’s a fantastic place.”
Mary added: “There’s enough room here for me to do my own thing if I want, or I can spend time with other people. It’s nice being around other farmers as we’ve all got the same independent streak. We don’t talk about farming all the time but we can if we want to.”
Next year, on July 27, Mary will celebrate her 100th birthday and incredibly the Passmore family has been fundraising for R.A.B.I for most of that century. The family’s commitment to R.A.B.I stems largely from Mary, who never forgot the warm coat that the charity gave to her relative Fanny Day when she could not afford to buy one of her own.
“It was a proper fur coat, a really nice one,” explained Mary, who says that simple act of kindness made a big impression on her.
In her teens, and with Britain on the cusp of war, Mary became a St Christopher’s nanny, responsible for looking after five children in Shoreham. She subsequently stayed in touch with the children, but has outlived all bar one of them. The family lived in a big house, with a chauffeur and a gardener, until war broke out. Then, Mary took on most of the responsibilities for the house as well as the children, whilst also working for the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and Worthing Hospital.
In 1946, Mary married Dick, the brother of one of her friends, and they settled on Dick’s farm in Coombes. The farm remains in the hands of Jenny’s son Andrew, having passed through five generations of the family. It was as chief organiser for the Sussex Farm Women’s Club that Mary got seriously involved in R.A.B.I’s work.
The club (formed 70 years ago) was run ‘by farm women, for farm women’ and for several decades they delivered Christmas hampers to R.A.B.I beneficiaries in Sussex. Mary helped make deliveries, buy goods and pack the hampers, along with her colleagues. The club is still going strong and continues to raise money for R.A.B.I.
Mary recalled: “We used to hold a lunch for all of the Sussex beneficiaries at Francis Jenkins’ farm in Hurstpierpoint. We would pick them up from all over Sussex, bring them to the farm then take them home afterwards, with their hampers stuffed full of goodies. They were great parties.”