Christine Donald (1939-2021)
Former Chair of Tewkesbury Historical Society, Christine Donald, passed away on Christmas Eve 2021 at the age of 82.
Chris was born on 17 September 1939, in Wolverhampton, the eldest of five. Her surviving sister, Sheila, who still lives in Wolverhampton, was the youngest of the family, many years younger than Chris and was ‘mentored’ by her. She attended Wolverhampton Girls’ High School, then on to Bedford College of Physical Education, one of the top PE colleges in the country, now part of the University of Bedfordshire.
During her professional life, Chris taught PE in various secondary schools, in locations such as Telford, Reading and Bristol where staff at many of these schools spoke very highly of her concern for her charges in every area of their lives. Chris finally ended up at Oakley School in Whaddon, Cheltenham; when that was closed down, instead of going elsewhere to teach PE, she moved onto the Gloucestershire County Council’s team of teachers teaching children English as a second language.
This new phase of her career took her to primary and secondary schools throughout the county. Despite no knowledge of the languages of the countries from whence the children had arrived, she managed to get them speaking very adequate English within a term, quite an achievement. Beyond this role, she gave these children much pastoral care - above and beyond her normal duty. Some had parents who worked long hours and were unable to give their child all the support they needed in a new country, so Chris would collect them from home to get them to school on time as the parents would be sleeping after their work. Knowing that breakfast would not have been provided, she would get permission from the school to take them off-site (teaching English through shopping) and buy their breakfast in a local cafe. If she noticed that a child had only a flimsy coat in the winter, she would ‘find’ them a second-hand warm anorak, saying that it was one that was not needed by a family and could be given away. With the Chinese pride of not accepting gifts, this was her way of 'saving face' for them.
She continued with this work until early retirement was offered by the Council.
Retirement gave time for all sorts of activities. History and genealogy chiefly among them, a passion for ‘all things old’. She visited many old churches to photograph and research some aspect within. (In this way, she was able to provide me with details of Civil War burials in a church in Cirencester.) Locked churches? No problem. Chris routinely armed herself with addresses of key-holders, (usually long-term residents and worshippers) who would accompany her and, through a pleasant afternoon’s chat, provide much additional knowledge.
Many hours were also spent at the Gloucester Records Office, transcribing masses of old documents onto computer so that they would be easier to keep for posterity. She also transcribed old editions of a Tewkesbury periodical in the Town Hall. It was perhaps inevitable that she joined the Tewkesbury Historical Society and served as our Chair for three years between 2000 and 2003. She is chiefly remembered for starting up the Society’s Oral History initiative, which continues to this day and is recorded on the Woodard Database for all members to study.
This interest in Oral History also took her on regular weekly visits to Marina Court in Tewkesbury to lead groups of elderly people as part of a scheme to aid them with their sporting memories - an initiative that was supported financially by Sport England. These sessions were really enjoyed by both participants and visitors, as they listened to each other’s experiences. Chris would often chat with an individual, then, during the following week, visit where they had lived or worked. Back she would come with photos to show to them, bringing back many happy memories and historically interesting information. She even traced family trees for them or traced details of others who had lived and worked in the same place. This work will live on, as Chris has kept much of her research; her boxes of information will be given to the Society of Gloucester Records to evaluate its potential for posterity.
There were many other hobbies; cross-stitch, painting, sketching, writing poetry, bird watching and walking - all in the days before her final illness. Besides all this, there was one activity that Chris quietly served in the background - being a devout Christian, she did a huge amount of work with the charity ‘Broken Rites’ (www.brokenrites.org). This national organisation supports divorced clergy or ministers of other denominations undergoing difficult divorces or separations. She gave support to many such ladies as she had personal experience of what it was like when a church couple’s relationship broke down and the adjustments that have to be made, especially when there were young children or homes having to be given up. One doubts that many were aware of this part of her service to God through this organisation.
Chris is survived by her son, Angus, his partner and their two children and Chris’s sister Sheila and her two children, Neil and Hannah.
[Sam Eedle (Current THS Chairman), with assistance from Pauline Shaw (former THS Committee Member) January 2022.]
[Photograph is of the THS Committee in 2002: Christine is front left next to Wendy Snarey, Pauline Shaw, Wendy Spence. Rear l-r the late David Willavoys, Clif Burd, Bill Rennison & current President, John Dixon.]