“It is a great honour and a privilege for me to have been asked by Eleanor some months ago to say these few words today. I suppose Eleanor must have known me just about all of my life. Certainly I cannot remember a time when she wasn’t around. My connection with Eleanor was through church, where she and her sister Hazel were around from as long ago as I can remember, and I will always have, as all of you in your different ways will always have, memories of Eleanor and the person she was. Eleanor’s lively mind, sense of humour and active life made her the person she was – kind, practical and sensible, and always ready to see the good in everyone. She was nobody’s fool and had a strong sense of social justice.
Eleanor Margaret Broad was born on 20th January 1921 to Tom and Phyllis Broad. Phyllis was not only a City Councillor but also a Director of the Co-operative Society and that Labour Co-operative ethos was at the heart of Eleanor’s upbringing. She went in due course to Heaton High School, and later at the age of 17 joined the staff of Nesco, the North Eastern Electric Supply Company in Carliol House in the centre of Newcastle.
When war came in 1939 she was evacuated to Beaufront Castle in the Tyne valley near Hexham.
Life took a sudden turn for Eleanor in 1942, when at the age of 21 she was called up into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and sent to Compton Bassett in Wiltshire for basic training. After three weeks of square-bashing which, she told me, kept her fit, and being issued with her three uniforms, one to wear, one in the wash and one for kit inspections, she was posted to Coastal Command at RAF Silloth in Cumbria. From there she was sent off to London to train with the GPO and her wartime service was spent working in and running military post offices, even going as far as RAF Alness in the far north of Scotland where the flying boats were based at Invergordon. Eleanor described it as a great education. She made friends, some for life. She loved the camp dances and didn’t have to think what to wear – a clean shirt and collar and dress uniform was all that was needed. Because she worked in the Post Office she was issued with a bicycle and took advantage, wherever she was posted, to cycle miles around the local countryside. She always managed to find a little cottage tea room or farm where they’d serve up two rashers of bacon and a fresh egg plus bread with butter. Luxury! Eleanor remembered a railway station where the local Women’s Institute made the best hot dogs which would set her up when going back to camp from leave – tuppence each old money (or a bit less than one penny in today’s currency).
Eleanor had a wartime romance which was serious enough to lead to plans to be married in 1947, but the relationship ended and she returned to Carliol House to what became the North Eastern Electricity Board. In 1953 she became a member of the Unitarian Church in Newcastle. There she found a faith which sustained her for the rest of her life. She also found friendships and an outlet for her many talents, chiefly in the Durant Players, the church drama group which presented two plays a year for many years. Eleanor appeared in a lot of the plays, and also worked backstage and front of house, wherever help was needed. She also was a willing helper in the Luncheon Club, which provided meals for the less fortunate, sang in the church choir, and was from time to time elected to the church committee, the last time as recently as 2012. In her early days on the committee she told me she was quite overawed by the powerful local businessmen who were on the committee at that time. That came to an end when during one discussion about some church matter the equally powerful and formidable lady who was in the chair at the time looked at her and demanded, “Well, Miss Broad, what do you think?” She was gratified to realise that she would be listened to.
Whenever a service at church called for someone to read a lesson or a story she would always be pleased to do so when asked (although being modest as she was, would not push herself forward). When she did a reading it would be beautifully prepared so the meaning came across in the delivery.
Away from church, Eleanor was involved in the local political scene where she met Francis Bell (always known as Nobby). In April 1959 Nobby was Deputy Lord Mayor of the city and Eleanor had what she described as a wonderfully informative and interesting year as his Deputy Lady Mayoress. Romance blossomed with Nobby, and Eleanor and he were to be married in January 1966, but tragically, three weeks before the wedding Nobby died of a massive heart attack. Some few years later Eleanor met Ted. Although there was never any suggestion of romance, they became firm friends, on more than one occasion going on cruises together. She was delighted when sister Hazel met and married Douglas and became very much a part of that extended family. When Hazel died, Eleanor remained in regular touch with Douglas and continued to visit him in Alnwick for the rest of his life. Douglas’s family became Eleanor’s family.
Away from church activities Eleanor enjoyed walking and going to different places. The Milkhope centre at Blagdon was a favourite place for its coffee shop, farm shop and other outlets. She enjoyed meals out with friends, and also cooking at home. And she loved drama. She was also a devotee of Radio 4 and a great reader, often political biographies. These of course stimulated her enquiring mind. She loved discussing things and if you happened to disagree with her view she would always give the alternative view her full consideration.
What was remarkable about Eleanor was the way other people related to her. She was totally without affectation and always interested in other people. She was delighted to welcome the newer members of the church and was much loved by them, for whom she was an engaging conversationalist. Their descriptions of her to me in the last week are illuminating. “A great lady.” “Such a strong person, both in mind and spirituality.” “A big loss.” “A lovely lady.” Simply, “A good person”.
It was a delight to go to see her, when conversation ranged widely and two hours would pass pleasantly as though it were only two minutes. With her family background she was always interested in what was going on in the world and in the political situation, though she had no time for the modern breed of professional politician.
Her concerns were never for herself. This was never more clearly shown than in the fact that she had taken the trouble to pay her newspaper bill up to date and had cancelled her papers, knowing she wouldn’t be around to read them any more. I close with something that Eleanor said to me one day earlier in the year. We’d caught up with our news, chatted about past times and generally put the world to rights as we usually did. Then, just as I was about to leave she said, “You know, I’ve had a good life”.
Eleanor, those of us who are here today, and many more who couldn’t make it, have had our lives enriched through the sheer pleasure of having known you and counted you a friend. May you rest in peace.”
(This eulogy was written and read out by Maurice Large at the funeral on Thursday, 1 October 2015. A memorial service was held at the Church of the Divine Unity on Sunday 17th January, 2016)