Friday, 17 January 2014

At Celia Otter's Funeral



Celia Otter
SCORES of people, neighbours, family, friends, fellow ramblers and comrade anarchists  attended Celia Otter's funeral at Westhope Green Burial site at East Westhope in Shropshire yesterday.    She died on New Year's day at Lightmoor View Nursing Home after experiencing a recurring brain tumour.

The service was Humanist, but it was performed in a small medieval church.  The graveyard fell into disuse in the 13th Century, yet the Church continued to be in use until the 18th Century.   Both it and the nearby Westhope College are part of a Quaker charity, and the graveyard was opened up as a green cemetery around 20 years ago; when Celia bought a plot on the burial site.  Memorial donations given yesterday went to Celia's favourite Charity:  the International Animal Rescue.

First impressions at the nearby railway station of Craven Arms were that it was not a very romantic place, nor was it improved when I met Martin Gilbert from Cumbria in a cafe on the main road inside Tommy Tuffin's supermarket.  This all changed as our taxi sped into the green Shropshire countryside which Celia so loved, and we strode up to the small church were the door was opened by the celebrant, Sue Faulder. 

Tributes followed and the music of Bach's 'Sheep may safely graze' played as tears fell.  Celia taught in London, and later lived in Oxford where Celia and Laurens' daughter, Fiona, was born.  A schoolfriend, Anthea Nex, who knew Celia when she was at school when they were both 13-years-old, spoke first of their experiences in Portsmouth, and of their cycling trips to Europe.  Celia we were told was both popular and forthright.

It was in London that she met the man who was to become her husband, Laurens Otter, during their activities in the campaign against nuclear weapons at the beginning of the 1960s.  Celia was later to gain a prison record for these activities which included civil disobedience against the bomb.  Martin Gilbert told me that she and Laurens attended the founding of the new British Anarchist Federation in Bristol in 1963. 

Andrea Burden, who knew Celia as a teacher in Shropshire, had met her in 1978 and worked with her.  Andrea told us that Celia had a policy of never excluding a pupil.  In the 1990s, Celia taught a Brookside school in Wellington, where she was head of school for maladjusted children.  John Latter, a local man who walker who walked his dog near Celia's home of College Farm spoke movingly of her later years.  Then the celebrant asked for others in the packed church to give their own thoughts on Celia.  Friends of Celia like the anarchist and feminist Rachel Whitaker, Martin Gilbert, and many others spoke following the poem 'Finis' by Walter Savage Landor. 

I thought about it, but did not dare comment on the timing of Celia's death on New Year's Day, so close in fact to that of one of her favourite comedians, John Fortune, who died on New Year's Eve.

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