Garden party tribute to farm worker who sowed seeds for care home treat

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Friends and carers will pay a touching tribute to a retired farm worker by going ahead with a special party she was planning just days before she died.

Rene Brigham was determined to mark her 94th birthday in style – and spent her final days helping to prepare a treat her friends would remember.

She died suddenly after predicting a garden party planned at The Grange Care Centre, Selby, to coincide with her birthday on June 12 would be ‘a grand affair.’

She had shown no signs of being in distress but had been adamant in her belief that she would not see another birthday, said manager Michaela Summers-Binns.

Rene even left instructions about which dress Michaela should wear for a picture to publicise the party.

Residents and carers at the home in Leeds Road rallied round to make Rene’s wish come true by making sure the garden which she loved looked at its best for her big day.

They painted fences, renovated bird tables, made raised flower beds and arranged to erect a gazebo ready for the celebration.

A garden-themed birthday cake was ordered and one of the home’s former carers Steve Birk, who performs as Neil Diamond tribute act NEIrLy(correct) Diamond, agreed to entertain.

But Rene died peacefully in her sleep on May 12 – just hours after details of the party were completed. Her funeral was held on Wednesday May 24 at St Helen’s Church, Skipwith.

She had enjoyed her final day in the garden helping paint fences in readiness for the celebration.

“Rene was very excited about planning the party and wanted to give everyone a day to remember.

“She said she had always loved being outdoors but her age made it increasingly difficult to get about,” said Michaela

“She loved watching the birds coming to our feeding stations and said she felt overwhelmed by the kindness of residents and staff who volunteered to help renovate the garden in time for her birthday.

“Rene was planning on having her photograph taken in the garden with myself and had even chosen the dress she wanted me to wear. She laughed because she said she had never seen me in the same dress twice and especially liked the one I was wearing a few days before she died.

“It was very strange because as I said goodbye the last time I saw her, she took my hand and said: ‘the party will be grand even if I don’t make it.’

“We are all very saddened and shocked by Rene’s death but have decided to go ahead with the party in her memory.

“She was such a strong and independent lady and will be greatly missed. She was so happy in the garden on the day before she died.

“We will be proud to make June 12 a special day for all residents in honour of Rene.”

The garden party will be open to all residents, their families and members of the public and will include a BBQ, buffet and entertainment.

A tree will be planted in Rene’s memory by The Rev Neil Woodall of Selby Abbey and the home has arranged for a visit by lambs from The Purple Pig Company’s mobile farm to acknowledge her agricultural background.

Rene became a farm labourer in the 1940s when she worked alongside prisoners of war who were helping at Derwent Cottage Farm. She walked with horses drawing a plough until the farm acquired modernised agricultural machinery and she became one of the first women in the district to drive a tractor.

She married in 1948 and she and her husband George moved in to a room at the Skipwith village school house, eventually taking over the tenancy when the teacher who also lived there died.

From the time of her marriage until shortly before she moved in to The Grange, a Springer spaniel was her constant companion. She had a succession of identical dogs, each one named Gem.

Rene continued to work at the farm until she was well in to in her 60s and was also a keen and talented gardener, who specialised in producing hybrid fuchsias.

She was also accomplished at needlework, painting and baking, with her cakes being in great demand for birthdays, Christenings, weddings and other special occasions in the village. A highlight of her cakes were the beautiful decorations of flowers and floral sprays she created with icing.

Her husband George, a former gamekeeper and vermin control worker, died in 1987.

Her close friends Pat Wiles and Ethel Simpson had helped to care for her at home for more than two years until she moved to The Grange in 2014 after her mobility was badly affected by arthritis.

Pat, of North Duffield said “Rene and her husband were well known in the village because he was very tall and very chatty and she was short and very shy.

“Because of her shyness it was hard to get to know her but those who did found she was a very kind lady.

“She loved the garden and used to spend all her leisure time in her greenhouse.  She also baked the most beautiful cakes.

“Rene was an extremely independent lady and although she had become confined to a wheelchair in her final years it was very important to her to be able to make her own decisions.

“She had been poorly with a chest infection earlier in the year but had rallied round.

“The final vision I have is of her and another lady she had become friendly with sitting holding hands at The Grange. I was going on holiday and jokingly told them to behave themselves until I got back but I didn’t see Rene again.

“She would be flabbergasted about all this fuss being made in her honour. But it is lovely that she is being remembered in this way.”

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