You are here

Tribute by Mavis Curtis

I first met Alexandra in 1974 . I’d just started in a job with the local Social services department in Keighley, as a social worker for under 5s. My remit was to register play groups and childminders and provide any support they might need. I knew a fair amount about children, but nothing at all about registering a playgroup. At that time, when social work departments were fairly recently set up, the registration process was non-existent.

Your position in the hierarchy was signalled by the size of the blotter on your desk. I had inadvertently been given a very large blotter, and as my boss went to try and get himself a bigger one, he threw a letter in my direction and said, “Deal with this straight away.”

It was a large piece of white paper with some very black, decisive writing on it which said something like, “ Sir, I first applied 6 months ago to run a playgroup in my own home and have written several times since. I have received no reply. If I do not receive a reply in the next two weeks I shall contact my local councillor on the matter. Yours sincerely, Alexandra Davies. “

Obviously a trouble-maker. Obviously not someone to be messed about. I rang and made an appointment to go and see this troublesome woman straight away.

I found to my relief that she knew what she was doing. I carefully hid the fact that I didn’t, and together we worked out how the playgroup would run. Well, to be more accurate, I think what probably happened was that she said what she intended to do and I agreed, because I realised, even at that first meeting, that she was well organised and knowledgeable about the needs of pre-school children.

Together Alexandra, Jacqui Leach and I along with one or two others set up and ran the Keighley branch of the Pre-school Playgroups Association. Alexandra was treasurer, I was secretary and Jacqui ran what we called the stock shop, where we sold paper and paint and anything else a playgroup might need. Catriona was in on the act, of course. Every month when we held a stock shop session Catriona came along and slept on the floor under the table piled high with deliveries from the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation.

Because social work departments deal with children who have often had a difficult time, there weren’t many people in my bit of Social Services who knew much about what I might call normal children. They often dealt with children who had difficulties. So it was difficult for me at that time to find anyone within the department who I could have a meaningful conversation with about young children.

So I turned to Alexandra. She did not disappoint. She would listen carefully to what I had to say, ask relevant questions, help me towards a sensible conclusion. She didn’t give me an easy time of it. I had to argue my point and justify my opinions and decisions. I sometimes felt after these discussions as though I’d been through an intellectual wringing machine. But I appreciated the intellectual rigour and knew that I could rely on her absolute discretion.

Over the years we kept up our friendship. We loved to talk. As our families grew up it seemed to me that we were a sort of extended family. If the Davies’s came north they often lodged with us. If we came south we stayed with them. Alexandra and Stuart would have long , friendly arguments about this and that. They could keep them up long after John and I had given up to either read the paper or make cups of tea. If our daughter Lucy came to London she would come with Alexandra and John’s telephone number in her pocket, in case of emergencies. It was comforting to know that there was someone there if she should need help.

So over the years, Alexandra has provided a safe place, a place where good books are not only arranged on long shelves in alphabetical order, but have been read. A place where the cooking was outstanding; a place of order and stability.

Nurturing, I suppose, was what she did so very well and not just for her own family but for everyone who came within her orbit. She gave generously of everything she had.

Neither she nor I are religious, but there is one well known prayer which asks for the strength to change what can be changed, the patience to accept what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. I think Alexandra didn’t need to ask for those qualities. She had them in abundance.

A life well lived, Alexandra. Thank you for everything.