In loving memory of the late Ms Brenda Cowen who sadly passed away on 23rd November 2014.
Brenda was born in March 1948 in Peckham, South East London, to Ted and Doris. She grew up with them, her nanna, granddad and uncle with lots of other close relatives nearby.
The cousins, Brenda, Lesley, Jeff and Alan spent a lot of their childhood days together, all going to the same primary school and Lesley and Brenda attending the same secondary school, Honor Oak Girls’ Grammar School.
Brenda was an avid reader, interested from an early age in many things but particularly in music, literature and history.
Out of school the children used to put on plays for their long-suffering family – usually fairy tales which Brenda adapted, chose the music and played the piano for.
As the eldest– she could be quite bossy – but she certainly got things done!!!. Brenda and Lesley took regular piano lessons with Mrs Morgan, better known to them as “Old Ma Morgan”, just round the corner. Brenda went on to win a scholarship at the London College of Music.
It was a happy time which Brenda recalls in her diaries as one of love, kindness, jam tarts and a delight in “Rag, Tag and Bobtail. “ Brenda’s school days resulted in brilliant academic qualifications and best of all, lifetime friends.
In 1967 Brenda started work at Orpington Library. She went on to study Librarianship at Newcastle Polytechnic qualifying in 1970. Subsequently she worked in Beckenham. Friends from her librarian days still keep in touch and meet up regularly.
Love of books led Brenda to embark on a degree in English Literature at the University of London. She graduated in 1976, then took the surprising decision to go into psychiatric nursing. She applied for a place on a diploma course at Runwell Hospital in Essex, where she gathered more lifetime friends.
She worked as a psychiatric nurse at Cane Hill in London as well as Runwell and in 1983 she got her first job in Peterborough . Her plan was to stay there for six months, but she stayed working in the NHS in Peterborough up until she retired some 9 years ago.
Her time in elderly and adult mental care as a Deputy Sister and then Sister at York Ward, St John’s, Ward 1 of the new Edith Cavell Hospital and finally Dove House was a productive and happy one, though, being Brenda, she was often frustrated by the problems which continue to beset the mental health care system.
Brenda’s many friends and colleagues from those days talk about her fondly as a friendly, funny, kind, no nonsense person who got things done and who was lovely to work with. But woe betide you if you didn’t pull your weight.
Brenda was apparently a stickler for properly thought out care plans and known for her “straight to the point” notes left for anyone who didn’t do things properly.
Colleagues on her Red Team, used to dread getting one of Brenda’s notes. Biting, but very effective.
Brenda’s family, and the friends she kept from school onwards were central to her. She was very close to her mum and dad. Her mum died in 1995 which made the bond between her and her father even stronger and, before her dad passed away in 2011, they went on many outings and holidays together.
They enjoyed each other’s company enormously and argued over politics and ethics in pubs all over England, usually while doing a pub quiz at which they were experts; they both loved a good argument. It was a great loss to Brenda when her father died.
However, Brenda’s many friends helped her through the bad times and were with her to enjoy the good times. They were all very precious to Brenda, despite sometimes getting the sharp end of her tongue . . . The - “for goodness sake" - if you fussed too much.
Brenda was fiercely independent and never wanted to worry anyone even when she was going though tough times with her health and was in and out of hospital.
Brenda loved life and had always enjoyed the theatre, opera, ballets, films. She enjoyed going out with friends , for drinks, meals, trips to museums, concerts, galleries, but it was sometimes a great effort because of her failing health.
Widely read and with a great interest in current affairs, Brenda was someone who really cared about fairness and justice, the state of the world and the plight of animals. She supported charities like Amnesty International and Action Aid. She sponsored animals through the Cats Protection League and Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
And she was part of an organisation called Human Writes – corresponding with Bill, a prisoner who had for many years been on death row in the US.
And of course there was the Brenda’s own history as a cat lover.
She had her first cat for 16 years. He was called Silas after St Silas parish church in Peckham, London.
After Silas there was Sisi – named after the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Brenda’s passion for central European history) and then her beloved Sigi or Mr Sigs named after Sigmund Freud. Mr Sigs now has a new home in Hanover Court – so he is remaining in the territory he knows – among people he knows, not to mention cats he knows.
She would want to feel that Sigi is as safe and happy with her old friends at Hanover Court as he was with her.
Something else that Brenda loved was her garden with her beautiful flowers planted by George and her ornaments – animals and fairy creatures. In fact she used to play a game with Facebook friends called ‘Fairyland’. She was fascinated by fairy tales and legends and collected obscure tomes from book shops all over the country.
Despite enjoying her flights of fancy into fairyland, Brenda was a realist, down to earth and pragmatic. She didn’t complain about her lot, she just got on with it.
She was a well-respected colleague and a well-loved relative and friend. She would have been overwhelmed to see so many gathered at her funeral. We only wish it wasn’t to say goodbye.