Posted by bms_editor at 11:47 on 7th July 2011
Mrs Margaret Eleanor Pearce
22 November 1937 – 21 March 2011
Margaret was born in Kingston-on-Thames, eldest child of Bert and Marjorie Jones. She grew up in the Stoneygate area of Leicester, where the family attended the Baptist Church. Although her early childhood was lived during wartime, home life was happy and carefree. London cousins were welcomed as evacuees. Meagre wartime rations were boosted by a fertile allotment within cycling distance, and hens and ducks in the back garden. Margaret, with her sister and brothers, learned to love the countryside and all aspects of nature.
Margaret started school at the age of four, first at Portland House, then at St John’s Primary. Piano lessons and learning special songs for Sunday School events nurtured a natural love of music, and Margaret loved singing with various choirs throughout her life. Belonging to the church meant being part of a welcoming community, with the added pleasure of becoming a Brownie, then a Guide, where in those days skills such as darning, mending, and other frugal activities took high priority. Margaret passed the 11-plus a year early, and went to Wyggeston Girls Grammar School. She had a keen intellect and took all subjects in her stride, excelling at biology, botany, and field studies. As a teenager, she developed a firm Christian faith and was baptised by Rev Norman Renshaw.
In 1955 Margaret went to London to undertake three years of study to become a physiotherapist. Here, she attended Bloomsbury Baptist Church where she met her future husband, David Pearce, then a dental student. When qualified, she came home to Leicester and first worked at the Royal Infirmary. She next went to Carey Hall, Selly Oak, for several years of training for the mission field. Because her destination was the former Belgian Congo the final year involved studying in Antwerp and Brussels, learning to speak French as the Belgians spoke it. In those years of training she made more lifelong friends, including Ruth Murley, Jill Sillitoe and Irene Woosnam, with whom she never lost touch. In 1965 these four young women made the voyage across a stormy Bay of Biscay to arrive at the port of Kinshasa. Thence they travelled to Kimpese where the BMS ran a hospital and leprosarium. Conditions were startling to Western eyes, often with several patients to a bed, and always with friends and relatives camping around and under the beds, in the corridors, and on the grass around the buildings. These would do all the catering and washing for patients, in very primitive circumstances, and were often glad to be involved with necessary treatments. It was bursting with life, despite the reality of death and tragedy around every corner.
Margaret shared a simple home with Irene, and together they made curtains and filled the house with bright homely touches, getting acquainted with a series of maids and houseboys who all needed to be taught what was required. Constant visitors, African, American or European, speaking a variety of languages and dialects, meant life was never boring or dull. As always, Margaret welcomed everyone, gave gifts, helped in thoughtful spontaneous ways, and made friends everywhere. Of course there were new languages to be learned, the main one being Kikongo, in which exams had to be taken. Teaching Sunday school was tricky and numbers in a class ranged from five to 50. Fun activities had to be invented. Services might go on for hours, with everyone wanting to dance and sing. A smattering of other languages such as Lingala was an asset, since, among her other duties, Margaret had to help train nursing and physiotherapy students, and patients came from far and wide.
Margaret and David Pearce got to know and love each other, and became engaged, marrying in 1967. In subsequent years, four children arrived – Catherine, Timothy, Rebecca and Jonathan. During extended furlough, David was given leave to attend Bible School in the Manchester area, as he wanted to do more pastoral work. Returning to Congo (now Zaire) with three small children, the couple were posted to a more remote location, Bolobo-sur-fleuve.
In 1972 the family returned to England and, after a short stay in Brixham, David found permanent work as resident dentist to industrial workers in Cheshire. The young family bought a house in Chester. Then in 1980 they moved to Tunnel End, a tiny hamlet by the canal near Preston-on-the-Hill. Here there was more scope for Margaret’s gardening enthusiasms, her dog, cats, hens and goats, and for David’s precious beehives. As always, their home was a focus of all-embracing community life, a welcome haven for all comers. For 13 years they attended Hill Cliffe Baptist Church at Appleton, both serving as deacons and playing a full part in church life.
In 1985 David succumbed to cancer and was nursed at home by Margaret until his death. The four children were all still at school. As always, Margaret proved able to cope. Her faith and her wealth of friends supported her all her life. She continued to sing in a local choir and raise funds for Christian Aid, joined the World Development Movement, and became a volunteer at the hospice. In 1988 she became a member of the BMS General Committee. She made her mark, promoting missionary support in local churches. For several years she was a valued member of the Candidate Board. Here her natural diplomacy, quick assessment of candidates’ capabilities and motivation, and excellent judgement, were put to fine use.
In 1993 Margaret made the courageous move from Cheshire to Devon, to be near her first grandchild. This involved starting a new vegetable and fruit garden on her large acreage at Stenhill, erecting fences, a henhouse and goat sheds, and planting numerous shelter belts. Everything was soon in tip-top order, and having a Nissen hut and stables, she now became a collecting point for Tools with a Mission. She joined a choir and a walking group, became a deacon at Cullompton Baptist Church, and set about befriending all and sundry.
In 1994 she was joined by her mother, and a donkey house had to be added for two new four-legged friends on the smallholding. The delightful Golden Guernsey goats won rosettes at various shows. Friends were invited to harvest soft fruits and make jam. The usual continual stream of visitors descended on the house. At the church, Margaret gradually took on no less than ten roles; including area organiser for Christian Aid, while endlessly extending her circle of friends to be nurtured and visited.
Her faith sustained her, and her regular retreats at Lee Abbey plus attendance at various Baptist summer schools and conferences were surely a great source of strength. After her mother passed away and the work of executor (which she did with her usual quiet competence) was completed, her strength and vigour began to fail. Kidney stones, a heart murmur, and recurrent bouts of malaria whenever some bug resulted in too high a temperature – all these things had taken their toll over the years. Ever practical, Margaret made the painful decision to sell her livestock and smallholding. She spent the autumn of 2010 settling into a charming little terraced cottage on the outskirts of Cullompton. She had great plans for her new garden; the four remaining hens and Punch the three-legged cat all seemed content. The attic was ready for her precious grandchildren, packed with exciting toys. But early in 2011, a heart attack, followed by very aggressive cancer, finally defeated her.
Everyone who visited during her illness remarked on Margaret’s composure. Well-wishers came in streams, as she deserved; but she was quickly bedridden and in her weakness, needed peace and quiet and her close family around her, taking turns to read aloud from her lifetime collection of favourite poems, or singing well-loved hymns. It was really no surprise that she had organised her own funeral so perfectly, choosing hymns and readings that had lifted her up in life and would console us all in her death. She beautifully lived out the promise of that stirring refrain sung at her baptism in the 1950s – “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life”.