A eulogy to gill astarita

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The eulogy I made in honour of my wife Gill Astarita at her funeral 5/11/58 to 4/11/08

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A eulogy to gill astarita

  1. 1. A EULOGY TO GILL ASTARITA BY MARK ASTARITA I want to take you on a bit of a journey with me and my time with Gill, and I’d like to begin with telling you some stories about the music that you’re hearing today. Because every piece of music has some poignancy in our lives. And it all started with the piece of music that preceded me, the theme tune to the film Cry Freedom and the struggle against apartheid. The reason why that film was so important and that music which I hope you found inspiring, was important to us both, was that I met Gill at an anti-apartheid disco, organised by Dave a good friend of ours at Middlesex Polytechnic where Gill was a student in her final year. I went along to the disco and was happily dancing and drinking as one does. When a good friend of ours, Fe, who, took me to one side and she said I want you to meet a friend of mine and we stepped outside and she introduced me to Gillian Bucknall. Now Gill was dressed head to toe in black, Doc Martin’s I’m pretty sure and with huge hair, black, spiky, Kate Bush eat your heart out hair, with some red streaks in it. Massive saucer like eyes, lots of black mascara and she was gorgeous with a hint of don’t mess with me in her look. Fe and Gill explained that Gill was doing her final year and she was doing her thesis on women in politics, and she needed to meet some women both from the Conservative party and the Labour party and was wondering if I could effect some introductions as a local politician, in other words could I help her with her project.
  2. 2. Well boy, I certainly was keen to help and that night a bunch of us went back to my flat, and I remember sitting on the floor with Gill, lots of smoking, lots of beers, having the most intense conversation about everything to do with politics, the state of the world, and Gill unravelled her story. How her mum had died when she was 14, her father at 21, how she lived in a council house, failed her 11 plus, went to work once or twice a week to pay the rent, had lodgers and strangely enough much to my surprise was a year older than me. Both Scorpios, both deeply passionate, and we had this incredible verbal sword fight. I would thrust, she would parry, and it was infectious, and she was captivating, and delightful, and challenging, and sassy, and ballsy, and I fell in love with Gill that very night. The next day I wrote a letter, it seemed a bit silly at the time, and I said how much I’d enjoyed our conversation and how I’d very much like to see her again and of course I would be delighted to help her with her project but wondered if she might like to go out for a drink or the pictures one night soon. I remember telling her this story how I went to the letterbox and as the letter dropped in, if my hand could have grabbed it back it would’ve done. I felt sure I would be disappointed and felt she was sure to run for the hills project or no project and I would never see her again…. after all here was this enchanting, ultra cool student and here was I, this pretty un-cool factory worker. Why on earth would she see anything in me? Well Gill did ring back and we arranged to go to the pictures Saturday night. We went to see Cry Freedom hence some of the music from today and so began a love affair. Anyway I was still at the factory and Gill was studying for a final degree mostly at my flat and it seemed to me she didn’t do much work.
  3. 3. Back then Gill loved her bed and rarely stirred before midday. She seemed to cruise through her degree and thesis going on to get a first class degree, and I know her parents would’ve been so proud of her as were her family. And it’s funny, everyone talks about Gill as the dynamic, powerful, incredibly imaginative entrepreneurial woman, yet deep down underneath that beautiful exterior she felt she was just a working class girl who cheated the system and beat it! Others have spoken of her skill and talent but let it be absolutely clear, 20 years ago Gill was a pioneer professional, female, fundraising manager. Largely self-taught, with a natural talent for inspiring people to give. Not twisting their arm, not winding them up, inspiring them to believe like her in the things that she believed in. At Prisoners Abroad I remember her coming home day after day, anxious that if she didn’t achieve this weeks target, this months target, people wouldn’t have got paid, and prisoners in some of the worst prisons in the world were not going to eat the next month. I know she will be deeply honoured that the Institute of Fundraising is to rename their Fundraiser of the Year award to now be called “The Gill Astarita Fundraiser of the Year Award” for evermore. I think it’s a fitting tribute to a pioneer fundraiser, an outstanding fundraiser who never sought the limelight but will be so chuffed that she will be remembered forever by her peers in this way. Now It may come as a surprise to you that knew Gill as cat women…… but when I first met Gill she was a dog lover. In that she’d had dogs as a child and had never had cats.
  4. 4. Our first cat Lenin was the bully of the neighbourhood and it was slightly embarrassing that while he was an all black cat and named after a Bolshevik, sadly our next-door neighbours drew the wrong conclusion and were convinced he was named after Lenny Henry. Rosa was our second cat named after Rosa Luxembourg of course, sadly she died at the vets very early on and the idea of Bolshevik cats disappeared. Along came Cassie, Pippa, Oscar, Daisy and Alice. She adored her cats, they were the best fed, best kept, best loved cats in Islington and Hackney and they miss her lots. In Daniel rather than ever a just being a boring stepmother she was his game master first and foremost. They would, when he was in his early teens spend hour, upon hour, upon hour on the play station, and then on computer games. My Sunday’s involved picking him up cooking the lunch and taking him home the rest of the time Gill and Daniel would be upstairs screaming at the screen kill it kill it! Gill’s other vices, which were many mostly revolved around her shoes and holidays. I’ve just cleared out her wardrobe and there were 300 pairs of shoes. She had a room for shoes; Imelda Marcos had nothing on Gill. The shoes on the coffin Gill married me in. She was stylish and pretty and very unkeen on making 50, which of course she never did. Holidays were our first love. The moment we returned from holiday Gill would book the next one. In particular Goa, where we went 10 or 11 times and Capri, which she loved where my dad’s family were from.
  5. 5. Goa and beeches reminds me of the music you came into ‘Wonderwall’ and which brought back such evocative memories for us both. On our first trip to Goa we would jump on the scooter down the Baga beach leaving Linda and Chris in the slightly more crowded area, and there on two rickety beds with a couple of cows in the background and one shack that clearly had one CD they would blast out day after day their new CD of Oasis. Wonderwall always brought back wonderful memories of empty beaches, golden sands, beautiful seas, and incredible culture. Gill loved the sun and would always come back an incredible colour with a silver bangle or 3. We always dreamed that one day the sun would beckon us to live out an idyllic retirement. It was sadly not to be. Now Nessun Dorma, to which you were all spending some time thinking about Gill, brings back memories of another holiday to Egypt at the Hilton Hotel. This was a culture trip early morning visiting Luxor and the majestic Karnack and Valley of the Kings, but every evening as the sun set and boy was it a big sun on that Nile, they would blast out opera. And the moment the sunset Pavarotti would sing Nessun Dorma and everything in the world seemed good Not all our influences on each other were quite so spiritual. When we met she was a veggie and I had quit smoking for a year. Within 2 weeks she was eating bacon and I was puffing like a chimney!
  6. 6. You know one of the things we both loved more than anything was hiring a motorbike in India, which I have to tell you is unbelievably dangerous, but boy do you feel alive, you never feel more alive than on a scooter in an Indian town, at traffic lights when 500 motorbikes scream for the available space. Gill loved it, I loved it, and I will remember forever her clinging onto me as we sped through those wonderful windy roads with paddy fields and water buffalo, the sun on our heads and joy in our hearts. It was exhilarating with all our senses on edge hurtling through the country side in Goa. Our last but one holiday was to take us to a place we’d always wanted to go – South Africa. We’d met because of apartheid and that’s why as you leave you will hear again from the film Cry Freedom, in fact the music to Steve Beko’s funeral, what is now the South African National anthem. We had the most incredible holiday in South Africa. It was probably the last time that Gill was really well. We ate like kings, we had an incredible Safari and we couldn’t wait to go back. Soon after Gill was diagnosed with gallstones. It wasn’t gallstones and just about 11 weeks ago, when she got quite ill after some months of losing lots of weight, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We knew it would be a death sentence, we didn’t know how long. It wasn’t to be long. She endured not a very nice illness with great fortitude. I know it’s trite to say and everyone says it, but it’s true and those who came to see bear witness to my words….. She never moaned once.
  7. 7. Work and travel played a big part in both our lives so I and some colleagues are putting together a fund with the charity the Resource Alliance to support up and coming fundraisers in places like India and Africa and to carry on doing the great work that she, and I, and others attempt to do each day. For just £150 we can help train a new fundraiser. Gill and I both started our fundraising going to a 2 day course at the Directory of Social Change and together we went on to raise many millions of pounds for good causes. Gill, as a consequence of her effort, blood, sweat and tears, made sure that there are people alive today that wouldn’t otherwise be, that people whose lives may have been destroyed through drugs and alcohol found help and sustenance, that those who struggled with disability got a chance to do what you and I take for granted, and lastly that there are children today that can read because she and others made it possible, and as a consequence they will lead fulfilled and enriched lives forever. Maybe this fund will mean others to can change the world and you can to by helping us make this fund possible. To those who have already pledged to give thank you. But first and foremost I know Gill would want to thank Daniel, I couldn’t have done it without you Daniel, and I know you’ve done so much growing up in these last few weeks. And I wish for anything you hadn’t had too. Gill loved you from the bottom of her heart. She never pretended to be your mum; she only hoped to be your closest friend. She never ever questioned our support for you over the years and she only ever wanted the very best for you. She was so proud that in the last few weeks before she died you got a great new job and a good degree.
  8. 8. I know you’re going to miss her bitterly as am I and I know you’ll treasure her memories forever. She loved you as if you were her own and you were there for her right to the end. I know she took huge comfort from that and told me so many times in her last few weeks. I need to thank her sisters Shirley and Linda. Linda and her husband Chris came down daily when Gill went into St Joe’s helping Daniel and I look after Gill while Shirley was in many ways her other mum especially in her early years after her own mum had died. Nothing ever will replace Gill. She was unique. Big hair, big jewellery, big laugh, big eyes, big personality, big heart. She worked at such a pace it was so hard for others to keep up. She could type faster than I can talk and write beautifully yet she could come home and never be happier with a cat on her lap or maybe two, book in hand or pottering around her wonderful garden or lying on a beach bed for hours. When you employed one of us you got 2 for the price of one. We were always each others cheer leaders, coaches and mentors. We never got our supervision at work we had that over the dinner table at home…. Dinner seems so terrible quiet right now. The very last piece of music you will hear as we leave Gill choose 2 weeks before she died. It is by Fat Boy Slim and it’s called “Praise You” and I am sure like me you will.
  9. 9. Gill has left the biggest hole imaginable. We can fill it full of memories of her with all her joy and laughter but we could never ever dream of replacing such a wonderful woman we can just try to honour and remember her the very best we can. She was such a special person to be with and with whom I felt, and I know she did to so utterly comfortable and content with. Gill I never ever understood why you chose to be with me, why you chose to stay with me, what first attracted you to me, what made you love me so much. I probably never will because I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone so wonderful would want to be with me. Gill thank you for being you and while the last 10 or 11 weeks have been the most awful of my life I wouldn’t change the hours, days, months and years we had as one for a second. We lived and loved life to the full and for that I shall be forever grateful. Gill you lit up my life and one day again together as stardust we’ll light up the universe again.
  10. 10. Gill has left the biggest hole imaginable. We can fill it full of memories of her with all her joy and laughter but we could never ever dream of replacing such a wonderful woman we can just try to honour and remember her the very best we can. She was such a special person to be with and with whom I felt, and I know she did to so utterly comfortable and content with. Gill I never ever understood why you chose to be with me, why you chose to stay with me, what first attracted you to me, what made you love me so much. I probably never will because I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone so wonderful would want to be with me. Gill thank you for being you and while the last 10 or 11 weeks have been the most awful of my life I wouldn’t change the hours, days, months and years we had as one for a second. We lived and loved life to the full and for that I shall be forever grateful. Gill you lit up my life and one day again together as stardust we’ll light up the universe again.

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