Fulfilled living in later life

Wednesday 30th November 2022

My story: Ralph

After leaving theological college, Ralph was called to India. Back in the UK, he took up ministry roles in local communities around England. Ralph is now 95 and lives at our care home Finborough Court

“Will you let me be your servant, Let me be as Christ to you, Pray that I may have the grace, To let you be my servant too.”

In his room at Finborough Court, Ralph reads these words aloud from a well-loved hymn book. A man with a strong musical sense – he was once the lead baritone in a male voice choir – it is hymns that he often turns to to find and share encouragement and comfort.

The pictures on the walls provide snapshots of a long and fascinating life. One shows a Fairey Swordfish aeroplane, a reminder of his National Service as an engineer with the Navy where he installed radar in aircraft. On the opposite wall a painting shows the lush Indian countryside. Above the armchair is a black and white photo of a handsome young man on a motorbike – his father in France during World War I.

Ralph was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1927. Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929 Ralph’s father lost his job and the family moved back to Alcombe in Somerset where his father took up the role of local postmaster. Ralph used to help with running errands on his bicycle. After school and completing his National Service, Ralph felt called into ministry, and in 1948 he went to Wesley Theology College in Bristol.

In 1954 the Methodist Missionary Society sent him to work in India, serving the Anglican Church of South India. First, he had to study Tamil. “I wasn’t top of the class but I got there in the end,” says Ralph. He then started working with the City Mission in Chennai and its surrounding areas, often cycling around the villages to provide pastoral care to the poor and the sick.

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It was back in secondary school that Ralph met his future wife Rosalind, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that they married. After school, Rosalind completed teacher training before going out to work at St Hilda’s School in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. As this was on the other side of the country from Ralph, he had a long journey every three months to see her. “It was very romantic,” says Clare. “They used to go for picnics in the countryside and walk up a hill close to the school, named Snowdon.”

Because the accommodation for students and junior clergy was single sex, they were told they couldn’t marry until after Ralph’s ordination. However, the Bishop eventually felt sorry for them and they were allowed to marry in December 1955, three months before Ralph was ordained in the Church of India. Ralph played a key role in the building of a new church in the suburb of Kodambakkam. Under Ralph’s influence, the church was named the Church of the Risen Redeemer. Ralph also worked with a team of architects and engineers to create a housing estate for the Dalit community, many of whom had moved from the countryside in search of work. This resulted in a road being named after him – Taylor Road.

In 1961 Ralph and Rosalind had the honour of meeting the Queen and Prince Philip. They had come to visit Fort St George in Chennai and the Queen wanted to see some records in St Mary’s Church. Ralph was given the important job of showing her around. “Dad says the Queen was very lovely and gracious to them, he remembers her beautiful blue eyes. My mum went to some trouble to look the part, getting gloves and a hat especially. I still have the gloves Mum wore to shake hands with the Queen,” says Clare.

Ralph and Rosalind had three sons in India. However, when Ralph fell sick with malaria, he was put on furlough and the family were sent to Luton to recuperate. Ralph was then asked to take on an industrial chaplaincy role in Grimsby, working among the seamen on the docks. Ralph felt a real affinity with the local people and loved his work. It was in Grimsby that Clare and her younger brother were born. The family were then sent to Swindon in 1971 to serve in Queen’s Drive Methodist Church. In his spare time, Ralph built his own boat in the church rooms. “It was a labour of love. I remember when it was finally finished our whole family helped him to lift it out through the big French windows,” says Clare.

In 1979 Ralph went to superintend a group of churches in Norfolk. His role took him around rural villages and on one occasion even as far as Italy. Following an earthquake in Salerno in 1980, the local churches helped with the relief effort. Ralph and two others had the job of driving caravans of aid across from France to Italy. The trip should only have lasted a week. However, when the other vicar had a heart attack in the middle of Rome, Ralph ended up staying longer than anticipated, helping with the relief effort.

Ralph’s final ministerial role was in Bideford, Devon. With retirement came the blessing of a house left to Ralph and Rosalind by her cousin. Called Greenhollow and located in the village of Woodcombe, it was a house Ros had known all her life. The house had beautiful gardens where Ralph could pursue his passion for gardening.

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When Rosalind developed dementia, Clare and the family grew concerned that they were remote from everyone else. And so 12 years ago she and her husband took the step of building an annexe for Ralph and Rosalind at their home in Suffolk. Clare took on the role as carer. For a time, Ralph continued to preach, visiting local churches and managing Clare’s garden and his greenhouse.

However, as Rosalind’s dementia progressed and Ralph developed health problems too, things came to a crisis point. “In early 2022 my father went to hospital. He came out with COVID and Mum and I caught it too,” says Clare. “We had to isolate from the rest of the family, with me sleeping in a chair. It was all too much. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I knew I couldn’t cope any longer and that they needed more than we could give them at home.”

Clare was searching for a faith-based home when she discovered Finborough Court. Ralph and Rosalind moved in in Spring 2022 and have rooms opposite each other.

Clare says, “I’m a nurse, working as a national officer for social care, for the Royal College of Nursing. I have to say, I’ve been blown away by how lovely Finborough Court is. The rooms are beautiful and very comfortable, and the staff are wonderful. My mum is always very contented when I visit.”

Ralph enjoys chatting to the staff and other family members and joining in with the activities. Outside his window he has his own flowerbed. When Clare comes to visit, they enjoy tending it together. “He loves watching things grow, it brings him hope. He couldn’t be happier,” she says. “It is wonderful my parents can still be together and I know that they are in the right place.”

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