A Life Spent Living and Giving – by Harry Townsend
Myfanwy Townsend was a nurse at Horncastle House Nursing Home on the Ashdown Forest 13 years, and a wonderful wife and mother to three sons Mark, Stewart and Cameron. When she died from Melanoma in 1999, it affected many people far beyond her immediate family, for good reason.
As the Former Chairman and active member of East Grinstead Operatic Society, Myfanwy had taken many leads including an unforgettable ‘Eliza’ in My Fair Lady at the Adeline Genee Theatre.
She had been the ‘mother’ of the legendary Felbridge Juniors Rugby Club (organised by myself for 19 years, not merely through each season in England, but also as they toured the world helping to raise funds and even, on their last (and third) tour to New Zealand (the first English club side ever to undertake such a tour), driving the team bus!
Both Myfanwy and myself had been the sole organisers of the 80 miles South Downs Way Run, the ‘World Trail Running Championship‘, which every mid-summer for 16 years drew 500 runners from throughout the world to run 80 miles over the South Downs from Petersfield to Eastbourne, where she had run the huge finishing village at Eastbourne Rugby Club.
She had been conductor of the Forest Row Royal National Lifeboat Institution Choir for 12 years and was very proud that in this time they had raised enough money (including a best selling tape of Christmas music) to buy an inshore lifeboat. We both attended the launch.
She played hockey for East Grinstead, having previously been the Derbyshire Schools hurdles champion, and trained at the Guildhall School of Music whilst qualifying as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital. After we married, she even joined the Royal Choral Society and enjoyed concerts with them at the Royal Albert Hall.
When the boys were very young, we used to spend five weeks every year trekking in a ‘dormobile’ and driving thousands of miles around central Spain and Portugal, collecting plants for Kew Gardens (where I became assistant curator) and the British Museum, camping along the way.
That first year, Myfanwy had been six months pregnant with Cameron; and we also took Mark (3) and Stewart (1), driving 2,700 miles over bumpy roads and at about two days notice! To this date, how she did it, I will never know! She took all my many sporting projects on board, and she was always interested and proud of the results. Everything we did, we did together. Whatever the boys did, she was always there, supporting and encouraging; she was a wonderful mother. And on top of that, she found time for her own interests and for work.
Yet even these only scratched the surface of what she did for others, with her wonderful smile and welcoming personality. “All I ever wanted to be was a grandma” she once said; and thankfully she had the chance to be this but for such a short time, and also to attend the weddings of all three sons.
She had been diagnosed with melanoma about 14 years earlier, but after initial treatment the disease had been in remission for some 12 years. The disease sadly recurred in the womb, necessitating a hysterectomy; and then swollen lymph nodes removed from beneath an arm were found to have become infected.
Little Hanna had been born to Cameron and Melissa in Williamsville, Buffalo, New York in 1997 and Myfanwy loved to spend time with them as Hanna grew; and then Stewart and Krysta in Toronto had a little baby boy Ronan in April 1999. Myfanwy had rushed over to help with this little three week old baby, also spending time with Hanna.
But three days before her return, a weakness in her right leg became apparent; and when she met me at Gatwick Airport after my return from what had been intended to be my last rugby tour to New Zealand, so that we would have time together to do all the things that we had planned. It was difficult for her to force her right leg to do the things that she wanted. That was the last time that she drove.
As the condition worsened, she was sent to the Royal Marsden in London for a scan within the week, and three centres of infection were found in her brain. She had radiotherapy, travelling up on the train with myself, Mark or Cameron, who had rushed over from America; how she fought.
Her healer, Chris Howe, gave enormous support; and we were so confident that despite the prognosis she would pull through. When she traveled to the Royal Marsden in September, she was determined to walk into the consulting room; she did, and she sat on the bed, and her consultant said that she had made enormous strides in her recovery.
But within the week, she had a fall as she pushed her wheelchair up the drive to go out to lunch with a friend whilst I was out; she had been pushing her record for walking, and was managing 200 yards by then; such a courageous fighter.
That evening, she walked to the car and we went to hospital; but the shock had been too much. She was very ill for 10 days; and although she came home, it was to a bed in the dining room. All the family rushed over, but it was not my lovely Myfanwy that we saw struggling there.
She still lit up when she saw little Ronan, cradling him on the bed, and Hanna; and sons Mark, Stewart and Cameron with wives Lucy, Krysta and Melissa and the children, with myself, her sister Elizabeth and friend Barbara were all with her as she slipped peacefully away. It was such a sad moment; we had been married for 37 years, and lived for each other. She was only 60, and we all loved her so much.
Myfanwy’s funeral was unbelievable; the church was overflowing with friends and so many people from her music and our rugby and running circles. We sang ‘Myfanwy’ her favorite song and our son Stewart (on behalf of his brothers) and myself spoke. Salim Sajid read a eulogy from Mark Habgood, now living in New Zealand (both former Felbridge Juniors players). She had been a ‘second mother’ to both; they were extensions to our family.
We were all determined that she should never be forgotten; and so we established the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund to raise money to strive to find a cure for this dreadful and increasingly prevalent disease. We had talked about setting up a charity to raise money to fund research into malignant melanoma long before Myfanwy died.
She had spent her life working for others; now it was our turn to work for her and ensure that her death was not in vain.