Bye Bye Barbara

Barbara Jemson passes away on May 20th in Victoria with family by her side. She’d drifted from us mentally over the past few years and John, her husband of so many years, passed in December, 2019.

Barbara Duke was born on February 24th, 1932 in the Sub-district of Sydenham in the County of London. She has one younger sister, Rosemary, who lives in Birmingham in the UK.

Barbara began her nurse’s training at Guy’s Hospital in London on October 4th, 1950, which she completed on October 4th, 1954. Monica, a lifelong friend who trained with her writes:

It was a four-year program at Guy’s, though we took the State exam after three years, which was the length of time required by the State to become a registered nurse. We began the first three months of training in Surrey, housed in a large mansion in spacious ground. There we made beds and did housework every day, learned to give bed baths, do bandaging,  and various other basic nursing skills. We also had lectures and studied such subjects as anatomy and physiology. Once at Guy’s for the rest of our training, we were pulled off the wards for three months each year,  in our set, for a block of lectures and more academic study. We lived in a big set of flats in Earl’s Court and commuted to Guy’s each day.

We don’t have a picture of Barbara in uniform but here are some nurses at Guy’s hospital in the 1950’s – and your imagination can do the rest.

But it wasn’t all studies! Somewhere in the maze of Guy’s corridors Barbara met young Dr. John while he was a medical student. How could he resist? Once Barbara puts her mind to something there’s no stopping her! They were married on March 5th, 1955. Almost exactly two years later the young couple, Dr. and Mrs. Jemson, arrived in Canada (Halifax) heading for Manitoba. There John practiced medicine and they raised a young family for nearly twenty years. The family moved from Manitoba to Port Alberni in July 1976.

Barbara was feisty, strong-willed, determined, and kind hearted. She had a genuine and real Christian faith and loved being part of the church community, contributing, participating, speaking her mind, and encouraging. She delighted in her large family and the highlights of any year was when one, two, or all of them would visit. And she would also travel to the Mainland and New Zealand to attend functions and applaud her grandchildren. Both she and John embraced life in complementary ways, often journeying the extra mile to be present for those they loved and cherished; and blessing many, many of us along the way.

Mention Barbara and I think of hospitality, generosity, baking, and an open door – always welcoming. It’s impossible to talk about either Barbara or John without referencing the other. Although they had their ups and downs they had learned how to live and work as a team. She and John were magnificent in their hospitality; tables laden with food, new recipes, glasses of wine, laughter, intelligent conversation that was broad ranging, and lots of love and friendship. Both entertained a broad spectrum of people with all manner of beliefs, backgrounds, interests, and social standing. They were non judgmental, and accepting of all who crossed their threshold on the banks of the Somass River in Port Alberni. I’ve also had my peaks and valleys; and as long as I’ve known Barbara and John (since 1985) they have always offered support and friendship consistently, no matter what the season. For that I’m incredibly grateful and blessed.

Barbara’s kitchen overlooked the river, and while John tended the garden Barbara cooked and baked for the home, the church, and for someone who may be in need of the gift of a meal. I enjoyed many meals in their company and through the years attended celebrations and significant events with the extended family. Every year I was privileged to receive one of Barbara’s heavy and fruity British Christmas puddings drenched with brandy, carefully wrapped in gauze and wax paper tied up with string. One year I stored the pudding in the fridge and went away for three weeks over Christmas leaving a friend to house sit. On my return I looked for the pudding and not a crumb was to be found. “I opened the fridge one night and saw the cake and cut myself a slice,” my friend confessed with a guilty smile. “It was so good, that over the next week I took another slice, and then another…. until there was no more. Sorry.” How could I be angry, such was the seduction of Barbara’s baking.

One weekend we had a family camp on Quadra Island. Some friends were concerned about Barbara’s driving (now in her 80’s) and suggested to me that perhaps someone could drive her car home on the Sunday evening. Give John and Barbara more peace of mind; it was intended to be sensitive and considerate. In my famously diplomatic way I broached the topic with Barbara just before they were about to leave. “Humph,” she retorted. “There’s nothing wrong with my driving, thank you very much.” Head bent with impish glare she grasped the driver’s door and slid behind the wheel. And that was that! John, ever diplomatic and usually quietly in the background, may have muttered, “Come on then Min, let’s get going.”

When Lynn Burnip and Barbara’s daughter sent their comments regarding Barbara they both mentioned food.

Lynn writes:

Barbara was an amazing cook and baker.  She had a gift for hospitality and she was very generous, with her time, her talents, and financially as well.  She often arrived at someone’s door with a wonderful meal, a tasty stew, maybe a chicken dish. Maybe she would arrive with a yummy dessert or an armful of fresh veggies from their garden.  She did this quietly and on her own when she knew of a person or family struggling.  She invited many into her home…always a delicious meal!  Barbara  (and John)  often helped people by offering employment around their house and property…as I said…caring and generous.

In the kitchen,…I am thinking of the church kitchen when we were all preparing food for some event or other…She was definitely ‘the boss’.  Things had to be prepared to a certain standard.. her way… making pastry, oven temperature …all of it was ‘her way’…and she had a way of speaking that had us all doing exactly as we were told!  😅    She was particular about table setting and had beautiful dishes!!!

Elizabeth:

I am finding it more difficult to find the words for my Mum.  Maybe because I lost Dad not long ago and now that Mum is gone there is an emptiness that I don’t want to feel.  Both my parents are gone now and that’s a strange feeling, especially as Mum had such a strong presence in our lives.

My relationship with my Mum wasn’t always easy, but I think that’s quite common for many Mother/Daughter relationships.  If I was going through a rough patch with Mum, Dad would tell me “you know she loves you very much”.  It helped me to be reminded of that.

I will always appreciate the support and encouragement she gave me when I was going through nursing school.  There were some difficult days, but she always knew what to say to help get me through.

Family was very important to Mum, especially when grandchildren started to appear!  I think at one time Mum thought I wasn’t going to provide her with any as Phil and I were married nearly six years before we had our first baby.  I know she always looked forward to when any of us came home to visit.

Those who knew my Mum knew she could be a force to be reckoned with, but that’s how she accomplished so much.

My sister and I were going through Mum’s recipe boxes, she only had 3 of them!

Mum was such a great cook and enjoyed feeding people, that was her love language. Looking at them was like going back in time and it brought back a lot of memories…some good, some not so good! 

Growing up I always found the lead-up to any big parties quite stressful, everything had to be just right, it was a major production.  The best part though was seeing how much people enjoyed themselves at these gatherings. 

One of the recipe cards in her collection was  “A Corn Roast for 150 people”, I mean really, who does that! (Note: that was for the church corn roast John and Barbara hosted more than once!)

There were also recipe cards from many other occasions – some as far back as Christmas 1982.

After going through her recipe boxes, I was in awe of everything she did.  It was a good reminder of the many happy times we had over the years.

Even though Mum had dementia we thought she would go on forever, she had such a strong spirit.

I am just so thankful that my husband, Phillip, and our 3 kids were able to come and say goodbye to her, and that my sister Lucinda and I were with her when she went home to Heaven. I know so many people were denied that opportunity over the last year. 

Thank you Mum for everything you did, I love you and will miss you.

Our love, thoughts, prayers, and condolences are with James (Helen), Lucinda (Mike), Steven (Rose), Paul (Lucy), Elizabeth (Phil), ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Relationships are God’s gift to us. We are not meant to live alone on this earth – which is why God himself was not enough for Adam. Adam had no idea what he was missing until he met Eve! Similarly our lives are richer with family and friends, sometimes a challenge for sure. It is appropriate to appreciate and celebrate life and grieve in times of death.

In March of this year Ed Sheeran wrote and sang a song for his dear friend and mentor, Michael Gudinski, at an Australian Memorial Concert held in his honor. He mentions his daughter who was born during Covid and whom he’s never had a chance to introduce to his friend on the other side of the world. You can hear the emotion in his voice at the end. It’s a beautiful tribute that I’m sure could be sung by any of us as we reflect and think of those who have passed on. Those who’s love, wisdom, kind listening ear, unconditional belief in us, and many other memories we value and cherish. John and Barbara fit into that category, as would anyone you have loved and miss.

Listen, remember with gratitude, and perhaps shed a tear and a smile in their honor. “Thank you Lord for Barbara’s long and rich life shared with us in so many different ways. May she rest in peace and do lots of baking in Heaven’s Kitchens.”

I wish that heaven
Had visiting hours
So I could just show up
And bring good news
That she’s getting older
And I wish that you’d met her
The things that she’ll learn from me
I got them all from you

Can we just talk a while and we’ll put all the world to rights?
The little ones will grow and I’ll still drink your favourite wine
And soon they’re going to close, but I’ll see you another day
So much has changed since you’ve been away

Well, I wish that heaven
Had visiting hours
So I could just swing by
And ask your advice
What would you do in my situation?
I haven’t a clue how I’d even raise them
What would you do?
‘Cause you always do what’s right

Can we just talk a while until my worries disappear?
I’d tell you that I’m scared of turning out a failure
He’d say, “Remember that the answer’s in the love that we create”
So much has changed since you’ve been away

I wish that heaven
Had visiting hours
And I would ask them
If I could take you home
But I know what they’d say
That it’s for the best
So I would live life the way you told me
And make it on my own

And I will close the door, but I will open up my heart
And everyone I love will know exactly who you are
‘Cause this is not goodbye, it is just ’til we meet again
So much has changed since you’ve been away

John Cox

Christian Author and Counsellor

6 comments

  • Thank you so much John for sharing this. I have wonderful memories of being in the Jemsons beautiful home. I considered Barbara a role model for being a Drs wife. She was a special lady.

  • What a beautiful tribute to a very lovely lady. I knew Mrs. Jemson through her daughter, Liz, and while I haven’t seen her for many years, I remember her as described, for her kindness, generosity, wonderful hospitality and delicious meals. My love and condolences to all the family.

    • Thanks Ruth, so glad we have those memories to share.

  • This is lovely! There is nothing quite like losing your mom ! Barbara was one of the nicest ladies I ever met! Her cooking skills were amazing and I loved her hospitality, whether it was playing cards or conferring on a quilt project she always was fun! She was well loved and will be well missed , condolences to her family, she had a great life and was so proud of all her family! I feel privileged to have had her as a friend!

  • It has taken me over a week to be able to read this about our Mum. Beautifully done and brings long ago memories as so much of my recent relationship with Mum revolved around her dementia and care. She was a significant lady and I dearly miss all of her.

    • Lucinda you were there for them when they so needed support and you loved them amazingly well, and sacrificially. Bless you for that and may the Lord comfort you as you move forward.

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