Sunderland's most senior church figure paid tribute to the huge amount of love Denise Robertson showed for everyone around her as she addressed the congregation today at her funeral.
Canon Provost the Reverend Canon Sheila Bamber spoke in glowing terms about the late TV agony aunt, who was married in 1997 at the same church where hundreds of people today said a sad farewell after her death at the age of 83.
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In her address, she told those who came to pay their respects: "I could begin with the biographical details, with Denise’s birth here in Sunderland as Denise Broderick in June 1932; of her early life with her parents and sister, her father losing his job and all that meant, her marriage to Alex, with the birth of Mark. After Alex's death she married again, to Jack, in a package that included four more sons, and then, after more heartache and hard times when Jack died, her marriage to Bryan, getting together again after knowing each other in their teenage years and marrying in this Minster Church, St Michael’s, Bishopwearmouth, as it was then. But you can read all that on line, and in Denise’s very direct and honest autobiography.
"I could begin by paying tribute to Denise’s amazing colleagues, who have been a whole other family for her, and to whom she has been such an inspirational figure. As her son Mark says, she was everyone’s mother, or grandmother, or aunt or ‘go-to-person’; someone you could say pretty much anything too, and who would encourage and support you. In one of the on line tributes Phillip said her praise was worth a lot because it came from a real appreciation and wish to encourage, and Eamonn’s tribute spoke for you all. The way everyone from behind the scenes gathered to pay tribute to Denise publicly was and is a remarkable testimony to your love for a wonderful lady, who built relationships with everyone simply by being Denise, all the time, through and through. But you can watch the clips, and see the reporting.
"I could speak on behalf of all the charities that Denise has supported over the years. We’re remembering the Bubble Foundation especially today, so dear to her heart – she was President for 23 years, working tirelessly with the foundation to save the lives of babies and children born without an immune system. But alongside that there’s her support for the Sunderland Carers or her work with the unemployed, or her pride in the football club, or her support for the East Herrington Flower Club (have a good look at the flowers in the porch on the way out), or for new writers or . . . over 40 other groups that have benefited from Denise’s attention, wholeheartedly given. Everyone is so grateful for that, it has meant so much, and added so much more than just kind words and generous gestures through Denise’s genuine care for the needs of others – which always superceded her own needs.
"I could talk about her writing – books, letters, column inches, blogs and websites. Clear, straightforward, compelling. Funny. Realistic. Authentic. Writing herself out of debt when times were tough. All that background stuff that she did behind the agony aunt front – only a very few of the millions of letters made it to the small screen, but all the others were just as important. Writing up to the end – there’s another book somewhere out there. You can read a lot of that stuff – and laugh and cry, and link it back into your own memories and experiences of Denise.
"I could talk about dogs – Titch who was thrown over the fence into heaven on earth. Or railway journeys – London and back in a day because it was always better to be at home – London and back twice in a day – that’s going some! About North East roots – Mastermind on John George Lambton and Penshaw Monument. About family gathered, and building relationships – being a stepmother is never easy, but Denise set her mind to the job – her mind and her heart – and that was a formidable combination. Grandchildren and great grandchildren – embellished with her love, secure – she was at the heart of the family and you, her family were at the heart of her.
"I could notice, as I have over these past days, how kind everyone has been, how warm, how generous, how loving, how appreciative. I could share some of the stories that people have told me about Denise just as I’ve been going about – how she opened the flower festival here and gave us a great boost; about options offered and contacts shared – so helpful without telling you what to do, without judging; about tough times shared in the east end; about encouragement to a young writer never forgotten; about down to earth and practical rolling up of sleeves; about childhood sweethearts married in the end, when Bryan could afford Denise.
"I could do all these things and more, and we’d be here for the night and there would still be more to say. I could ask all of you to share a memory or two, and I hope you’ll do that today as you have been over the past days. And as you do that to give thanks to God for the way in which Denise has influenced you, changed you, things that can never be taken away from you because she’s shaped the person you are. Everyone here, whatever relationship, from the closest of genetic ties to the smallest encounter, even second hand ones, for I never knew Denise, but I feel as if I have.
"But I’m not going to do any of those things. There are only two things to say. One is reflected in the reading that you chose, where Jesus talks about the many dwelling places that there are in his Father’s house. Places ready and waiting, welcoming and full of peace for those who trust in God. We can smile when Mark envisages there being a bit more work for Denise to do in heaven – smile and be glad, for God knows every part of Denise as God knows all of us, and it’s so clear to us that this is what made Denise ‘tick’ that of course God will know it too. Denise had tremendous gifts of love and empathy, God given gifts that strengthened and sustained her, and equipped her for life here on earth, 83 years lived fully and well. And now he’s gathered her to himself, because her work on earth is done. And we can be assured that for Denise all is well, in that greater glory that is beyond our understanding.
"And the second is that everything that Denise did and was and is and will be springs out of her family. Out of the love that sticks in there, that never gives up, that welcomes and encourages and forgives and gives - that gives life to others and in so doing gave life to Denise. Your family is strong, tied together with love, enough love to embrace all this lot and those thousands – millions of others that you were loving enough to allow Denise to love too. She showed you by her example how to share and how love is not diminished by being shared – and that is such a tremendous gift - more than humanly possible, the gift that above all I pray that you will carry with you, and pass onto your children and your children’s children and their children too. If there was so much love in Denise, that generated so much love for her – think how much more loved she is by God who loves absolutely without limit – St Paul puts it well when he writes ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
"St Paul gets all the good lines, his is also the one about ‘love never ends’ when everything else – fame and wisdom and kindness and all the rest is gone – nothing but love remains, for ever. Thank you Denise for living love so fully, and thank you God, for endless love. Amen."