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Helen Dwyer 6th March 1920 – 3rd January 2024

It is an honour that I have been asked to give this eulogy for my dear second cousin Helen.
I will be honest, I have found it quite daunting. How can I do justice to someone who has lived 103 incredible years? But not only that, someone who has touched so many people in such a profound way. Helen was just such a wonderful human being. She saw the good in every one and never liked people to be treated unfairly.
Helen lived through a century of extreme change. Her appetite for news, current and family affairs never waned. A bit like her appetite may I add!


                                 Helen was born in 1920 to Annie (in picture with Helen) and James Dwyer in the borough of St John’s in Rochdale and remained there for her entire life. She attended St John’s primary school where she began her lifelong devotion to Our Lady.
Helen’s aunts Mary, Lena and Francis played a big part in her early life. My mother, Joy, who is Helen’s cousin, remembers weekly visits to Auntie Annie’s for tea with her mother Mary. As a child when I lived in Rochdale, I also visited with my mother and grandma. I recall Auntie Annie wearing clogs and that they had a rag rug in front of the fireplace.
I vividly remember thinking that Helen was really light on her feet, a bit like a fairy!
Helen was always fascinated to hear stories about her paternal Grandfather Joseph Forrest who was born in 1866. Records show that at the age of five he was a chimney sweep with his father, Henry Forrest who was born in 1841. Joseph Forrest later became somewhat of a celebrity in Rochdale as a steeple jack. He drew crowds of up to 10,000 people who would came to see him demolish a chimney. Special trains had to be laid on to ferry the crowds to watch the spectacle.

As a young lady Helen loved to play the piano and sing. When her father passed away Helen’s close bond with her mother became even deeper.
They would often travel to Southport and stay in a guest house close to the Catholic Church. They would frequently visit the theatre in Manchester to see musicals and shows.

Helen’s love for the theatre continued into her later life when she became an inaugural member of the Rochdale Catholic Theatre Guild.
Helen’s involvement focused on the concert party to provide shows to care and nursing homes right across the borough. Helen was present at a concert in St Gabriel’s hall where the ladies were singing some challenging songs under the direction of Margaret Needham. Margaret was at the front leading the proceedings. She was reaching for a very high note when the elastic on the skirt of her costume snapped and …. All was revealed! There was no place to hide and Helen, the rest of the chorus and audience were in stitches!

Helen was never phased by travel. My mother, Joy, moved house from Rochdale to Staffordshire, and later to Essex, Weston-Super-Mare, Guildford and Spain and Helen visited her come what may. She spent Christmas with us in Windsor one year. As ever she joined in and became part of the extended family. Always interested in everyone no matter what their age. She never failed to send my sons birthday cards with some money well into their teenage years. My husband and I had a small wedding but we were thrilled that Helen came as she was a very important person in my life.

Helen’s travels went much farther afield. They included trips and pilgrimages to Walsingham, Lourdes, Spain and Rome.
When Geraldine and Christine were clearing Helen’s flat they found a letter dated July 3rd 1952, responding to Helen’s request for an audience with Pope Pius 12th.

The trip consisted of a coach to London, a ferry across the channel and then on to Rome. Helen recounted the journey to Geraldine on her 103rd birthday. Every detail of the trip was etched on her mind. Unfortunately, there were not enough seats on the coach for Helen. But the driver’s assistant gave up his seat for her and she had the prime seat for the rest of the journey. In Rome a car picked up Helen for the audience with the Pope. No sooner had Helen knelt down in room A of the Vatican when she heard the announcement that Papa was coming. Helen said she saw two sequinned, slippers and stood up to his eminence with whom she engaged in conversation for a few minutes. How amazing is that!
The journey home was eventful. Helen lost her meal vouchers and the ferry home was delayed so they missed their coach connection. They finally ended up at Euston station and booked a ‘special trip to Manchester’ with just enough money for the bus fare home! She said you couldn’t write it!

Christine Evan’s, who met Helen in the piety shop and then became firm friends, shared memories of travelling to Cheetham school of music to listen to recitals. One visit culminated in Helen’s desire to ride on the Wheel of Manchester much to the amazement of the wheel operator.
Christine said they always stayed in touch exchanging newspaper cuttings

Helen would often collect and share interesting snippets from the Rochdale Observer and send them on to people she thought might be interested.

Helen aged 20

How she enjoyed life.

Robert Marcroft Helen’s second cousin, asked Helen what was her secret for a long healthy life?
Robert suggested it could be a healthy diet or a regular tipple of whiskey. Helen in her dry wit said it was “probably because she never married!”
On one of Joy’s and Helen’s regular phone conversations Joy asked Helen if she was lonely. ‘How can I be” she said “I always have the Lord with me”.

So many people have shared their admiration and love for Helen. These include Maureen Kelly who lives in York, who knew Helen for about 50 years. Colin and Carol Cox from west Yorkshire who knew Helen through Colin’s mother who was a close friend. Barbara Marcroft commented on Helen’s amazing memory for historical events. How she never got angry but the phrase she used if she was irritated was ‘glory hallelujah’. Barbara also said she has now adopted Helen’s “God Bless” at the end of a phone call or visit in her memory.

Mr and Mrs Young from Fleetwood talked of their lovely continuous friendship with Helen.

One thing Helen taught me was how to make fluffy omelettes. In her day Helen was what we would now know describe as quite a ‘foody”. She worked in a mill canteen and taught Home Economics at night school. This skill made her perfect for her role in the presbytery with Cannon O’Connell and later with Father O’ Driscoll a position she relished.

Helens 100th birthday along with a card from HRH Queen Elizabeth was quite a highlight.
She celebrated with a grand party at Margaret Ward Court just before the awful Covid lockdown.
Helen was proud to receive a papal blessing. It has been placed on the altar for the duration of this service.
Helen’s centenary year also entitled her to a civic meeting with the Mayor and Mayoress of Rochdale. What made the visit particularly special was that councillor Billy Sheerin, who had been a member of the Rochdale Catholic Theatre Guild concert party with Helen over 60 years ago and one of her closest friends, was Mayor that year. A civic visit that would normally last about 30 minutes went on considerably longer as they shared many happy memories.
Later Helen also celebrated her birthday with a family meal. Barbara showed her grandchildren the photographs and one of them thought Helen was the queen! Funnily enough she did actually wear a crown on her birthday!

Lots of people remember Helen for her impeccable dress sense. My mother remembers her when she was young being very excited about a new dress for Whit Sunday.

Helen lived very comfortably at Margaret Ward Court for many years latterly under the supervision of Debbie. A resident has gifted a photograph which has been placed on the coffin.
Helen also liked a bit of a flutter and was a frequent winner of prizes and winnings at the regular Margaret Ward Wednesday raffle. The staff have said that she made the place livelier.

Despite her advancing years Helen would always look to attend mass at least once a week. Her commitment to her faith is an example that can be an inspiration to everyone who know her.

In her final days Helen was surrounded by love from her family and friends and we are thankful for the care and support she received from so many people.Helen we are eternally grateful for the time we had with you. Her legacy will continue to inspire us. May you rest in peace, embraced by the faith that has guided you every step of your extraordinary life journey.

Lorraine Drewett.  Thursday 1st February 2024 at St John the Baptist Church

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