Lorna Fermer

Lorna Fermer
Lorna Fermer

Lorna Margaret Fermer (formerly Willson and née Ascoli)
Died 16 January 2021 peacefully at New Forest Quaker Care Home. Mother to Janet, Stephen and Angus, mother-in-law to Margaret, grandmother and great grandmother. Aged 95.

A Quaker Meeting for Worship

Lorna Fermer
7 November 1925 – 16 January 2021
Hinton Park Woodland Burial Ground
25 February 2021

Death is but a crossing the world as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

William Penn from “Union of Friends” in “More Fruits of Solitude” (1702)

Lorna’s story

How do you begin to remember someone who lives to the grand old age of 95? How many of us actually remember Lorna when she was leading an active life? Mum moved to Quaker House in 2012 and had become their longest serving resident. Mum and dad moved back to New Milton when they retired nearly 40 years ago – Mum enjoyed getting value out of her enhanced pension from Cheshire having been offered early retirement.

Magnolia tree
They bought the bungalow in Kennard Road because it had a magnificent magnolia tree in the front garden and they both put considerable effort into keeping it as a wonderful garden. This is the house the grandchildren remember playing in, visiting the Forest and the beach for picnics out of numerous ice-cream containers, and going to the quiet places away from the grockles. At that time Lorna’s mother was still living in Barton, and then in Quaker House. Mum took an active part in New Milton Quaker Meeting, Carers’ support group and other activities in the town. Lorna and Peter also spent a fair amount of their time on holidays in Britain and abroad. They found a favourite cruise ship called Minerva which took them around the world. They stayed in touch with many of the people they met, especially a Greek family in Crete who they visited many times and a couple in Sydney, Australia. These were happy days and good times.

The second-floor flat in Beau Court was always challenging to us – carrying stuff up the stairs, but they said that was what kept them fit. It was when the stairs became too much for Mum, and her visitors, that she decided to move into Quaker House. Mum wasn’t around at the beginning of Quaker House but she was involved in the management fairly early on and visited almost daily. Like other organisations, it has had to change. It had been intended for the more active elderly, and there had been more Quaker residents years ago. In some ways, she wasn’t entirely happy there.  However, it was a choice she made, and she loved the magnolia tree outside her window. It was a decision for which we are very grateful. We all live in different parts of the country and we knew we could always visit, have coffee with Mum in Bradbeers, or the Beachcomber, and we knew she was safe and cared for at The New Forest Quaker Care Home. We appreciate the value of the friendly staff and the wider circle of Mum’s visitors and friends and, not least, Ted.

Lorna Fermer
Lorna Fermer

Working life
Mum and dad’s move to Crewe was due to the government relocating Dad’s job with British Rail. They were incomers there, as ‘Southerners’, and the children never really lived there as we were either away at school or College. Mum’s Mother and sister, Chris, used to come and stay for Christmas, or we went to stay with Chris’s family, our cousins, in Sway. We had a riotous time walking, having picnics and playing family games. Mum was instrumental in setting up a Quaker Meeting in Crewe (* see below), meeting in our house and dad made a ramp to accommodate a wheelchair-user – always inclusive. Mum joined the National Housewife’s Register, the Federation of Business and Professional Women and the local branch of UNICEF-UK.

Past-President, Crewe Federation of Business and Professional Women

As we moved on in the world we were substituted by the infamous Basset Hounds, first Susie as a pup, then Snoopy and Henry were adopted. On a serious note, Mum and dad fostered Mandy as a 9 year old. Mandy lived in a Care Home and social services allowed her to go on holiday with them and to stay at weekends when they were free to have her. It was such an informal arrangement, it would never be allowed these days. Mandy eventually returned to her own mother, had her own family and stayed in touch with Mum and expressed her gratitude for the good times she had with them. Sadly, we heard Mandy died of Leukaemia at a young age. Mum worked as an Infant teacher in Crewe and seems to have been known for her three-dimensional wall displays and seasonal nature table. Jan remembers some difficulties with phonics charts with a different accent!

Formative years
Lorna was born on 7th November 1925 to Margaret and Percy Ascoli in Walthamstow. Sadly her father died when Mum was only three and we know little of her school years except that she felt alone and was teased for her Italian name, at a time when war was looming. Mum spent time with various members of the Ascoli family (see Aunt Alice’s memoir) and they were living in Essex when Mum went to Westcliffe High School for Girls. The whole school was evacuated to Derbyshire and Mum was living with a couple with no children. By the time the school returned, Grandma had met her second husband, Henry Wiltshire and moved to Bournemouth. Mum stayed in Essex with the Ascoli aunts, finished her schooling as a prefect and went to Saffron Walden Froebel Teacher Training College, in the same year that her sister, Chris, was born. Mum’s first teaching job was in Walthamstow and it was through the influence of these independent aunts that she met Quakers and her first husband and our dad, Alfred Willson, as helpers in a youth club that was later to become part of Quaker Social Action in the East End of London. They married in 1948 and lived in Haringey, where Jan was born. They were fortunate to move to Sudbury Hill, and to a house next door to the Fermer’s. Stephen and Angus were born here, and we went to Wembley Meeting. Sadly, history repeated itself and our father died in 1956. All the time dad was ill, and Mum was visiting hospital, we were looked after by Peter and Denis and Mary Fermer. We moved to Barton on Sea to be near Grandma and Mum did supply teaching at Ashley and Tiptoe, riding there on her bike, with Angus on the back. We had happy times playing outside on the unmade road and on the cliffs, and with good neighbours. Peter used to visit on weekends and in 1959, he and Mum were married at Westminster Meeting House where, in the Quaker manner, we all signed the Wedding Certificate.

Lorna Fermer, August 2010
Lorna Fermer August 2010

Living adventurously
We moved back to Essex, as Peter worked in London. From there we went to Friends School, Saffron Walden as boarders. Being a Quaker was always important to Mum and she was trying to build a family that we could always be a part of. We lived at South Benfleet and went to Leigh-on-Sea Meeting. Mum taught in the same school we attended, indeed Angus was in her infant class for a year. Mum and dad did a grand job of being parents and this was the longest time we had all lived anywhere. Mum grew vegetables and fruit, and dad was very much a handyman. We seemed to have epic holidays making use of the sleeper-train to Oban and featuring Caledonian MacBraynes Ferries and a climb up Ben Nevis. Some of this must have been quite arduous for them as we were often camping with a huge canvas tent, and a car well overloaded with stuff. It was good team work. In 1966 we toured Scandinavia with this tent and had a particularly memorable time. It was both inspirational and living adventurously. The move to Crewe opened up their exploration of Shropshire, North Wales and Derbyshire .

Some might say Mum wasn’t always easy to get along with. Perhaps, misunderstood like the stuffed-toy magpie she kept in her room at Quaker House. There were many times in her life when she had to stand up for herself and she could be headstrong. But she was always loving and caring and supportive of most of what we did, even if it parted her from us. She gave us wings to fly. Mum had a wicked sense of humour, sometimes a little risqué, and had a great sense of fun. Her failing health took her from us, really, before CoVid intervened and forced a distance between us. She was fortunate to leave us suddenly but peacefully. Mum took great pleasure in her family of three children and welcomed their spouses, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Lorna was always keen on trees, the New Forest in particular, and it is very appropriate that she will be buried next to Peter in the woodland. We can all, family and friends, think of them both when we enjoy a tree or when walking through woods.

Lorna Ascoli, 1940
Lorna Ascoli, 1940

Three trees stand in a row,
Separate but connected,
Two young beeches
In their glory of autumn
According to the eternal cycle of the seasons,
One ash, old, bare and bent
Involved in the eternal cycle of life and death.

A leaf falls from the beech,
Twists and turns as it slowly descends,
Revealing its rusty gold in the sunlight,
Deep bronzy red in the shadow.
Curved at the edges, boatlike,
It floats along the air’s wavelets,
And rests on the carpet of its former companions.

Once it was green and vibrant,
Fulfilling its vital task
Transmitting the sun’s energy to the tree.
Now it’s no longer needed,
But not useless, not dead.
As it decays in the earth,
Gradually by the mysterious processes of life
Its essence will pass back into the tree that bore it,
Giving of itself,
Completing the cycle.

My greentime is over, my chance of giving almost gone,
When the time comes to go, no longer needed,
May I fall like a leaf.
As my body disintegrates, my personality vanishes,
May that speck of the Light that was in me
Be re-absorbed into the Ground of my Being.
Thence may it seep into the massive, gnarled trunk of the world,
Percolate through its intricate branches,
And bring a spark of hope to a bent twig,
A gleam of love to a striving bud,
A flicker of joy to a trembling leaf.

Betty Walters

We are not allowed to have a collection, so we are asking that if you wish to give to a charity in Mum’s name that you do so directly with the charity. This could be a charity of your own choosing, or to UNICEF-UK or to Quaker Social Action (QSA), both of which Lorna supported.

At the Meeting for Worship Mary Cains kindly shared these words about Lorna.
I have known Lorna for 70 years. She, with Alfred and their toddler daughter, moved into the house next door. The families soon became friends and Janet was often to be seen standing at the fence waiting for someone to lift her over into our garden. Then Stephen came along. I remember being asked to baby sit Jan while Alfed took Lorna to the hopital. Later came Angus and the family was complete. However this was not to last and Alfred died suddenly leaving Lorna with three children to bring up on her own. She onviously found this hard and decided to move to Barton to be near her mother. During this time it became apparent that my eldest brother was missing from home at the weekends. Then one weekend he came home and announced that he and Lorna were engaged.

They were married for over forty-five years and created a happy family life. Thank you Lorna for giving Peter the happiest years of his life and I was proud to have you for my sister-in-law.

* Postscript
Lorna attended Stoke Meeting and was Clerk for a period in the late-60s and 1970s. She was an active Friend attending Staffordshire Monthly Meeting (now Area Meeting), Yearly Meeting, Swanwick Peace Conference and Friends’ Education Committee. One of the memories Mum shared of her time as Clerk was hosting a Churches Together meeting (or similar) and all the men thought she was there to do the tea! Different times.

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