Myfanwy Townsend was a wonderful wife and mother to three sons Stewart, Mark and Cameron. When she died from Melanoma in 1999, it affected many people far beyond her immediate family, for good reason.
As well as being a nurse at the Horncastle House Nursing Home on the Ashdown Forest for 13 years, she was the former chairman and active member of East Grinstead Operatic Society, taking many leads including an unforgettable ‘Eliza’ in My Fair Lady at the Adeline Genee Theatre.
Myfanwy had been the ‘mother’ of the legendary Felbridge Juniors Rugby Club organised by Harry for 19 years, not merely through each season in England, but also as they toured the world helping to raise funds. On their their last (and third) tour to New Zealand (the first English club side ever to undertake such a tour), she even took the challenge of driving the team bus!
Both Myfanwy and Harry 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 ran the huge finishing village at Eastbourne Rugby Club.
She was the 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.
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 she married, Myfanwy joined the Royal Choral Society and enjoyed concerts with them at the Royal Albert Hall.
When the boys were very young, the family spent five weeks every year trekking in a ‘dormobile’ and driving thousands of miles around central Spain and Portugal, collecting plants for Kew Gardens (where Harry eventually became assistant curator) and the British Museum, camping along the way. That first year, Myfanwy had been six months pregnant with Cameron; and taking Mark (3) and Stewart (1) they drove 2,700 miles over bumpy roads all in about two days’ notice!
She took all my many sporting projects on board, and was always interested and proud of the results. 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, and for helping others. “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.
Myfanwy 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.
Her first grandchild 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. 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 Harry and her sons, who had rushed over from America. Her healer, Chris Howe, gave enormous support; and the family were confident that despite the prognosis she would pull through. When she travelled 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 and 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 apparent the end was near. She still lit up when she saw her family all there, but slipped peacefully away. Harry and Myfanwy had been married for 37 years, and lived for each other. She was only 60, and was loved so much.
Myfanwy’s funeral was overflowing with friends and so many people from her music and our rugby and running circles. They sang ‘Myfanwy’ her favourite song and Stewart (on behalf of his brothers) and Harry spoke. Old friend 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 and were considered extensions to the family.
The family were all determined that she should never be forgotten; and so established the Melanoma Fund to raise money to strive to find a cure for this dreadful and increasingly prevalent disease. They 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 her family’s turn to work for her and ensure that her death was not in vain.