There have been quite a few deaths of famous people in 2016, who did not quite reach their 'threescore-years-and-ten' - like Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Victoria Wood, Prince... but the death of my friend Ann, aged just 61, did not make the headlines, or become the first item on the radio news bulletins.
Her funeral was last week, and sadly I could not get to Norfolk to pay my respects. On Wednesday afternoon, I spent time outside looking at the flowers and trees, listening to the birds and enjoying the sunshine, and remembering her, and our friendship, which goes back over 50 years, from the first month my family moved to Dereham.
Ann, an only child, lived with her Mum and Dad and they all came to our church. She and I were among the girls who were there the first night our Girls' Brigade Company started, with Miss Johnston as our Captain. We did club swinging, and figure marching, and made [hideous] raffia lampshades. And we helped with the younger girls. And we complained about the uniform.
Ann's Dad John, died suddenly, whilst she was a teenager, and after that, she and her Mum, Vera, became very close. Vera was especially kind to my Mum, and used to come round to do home perms for her. Does anyone else remember the evil smell of Twink?
We were still in GB, and both did our Officer Training. We were both baptised and became church members.
I went to Uni, but Ann remained in Dereham and went to work at the Mackintosh's Chocolate factory in Norwich. Ann and Vera were good at floristry - when Bob and I married, they arranged all the flowers in the church - that was their wedding gift to us. And Ann still lived at home with Vera, whilst taking on more and more responsibility for the Brigade Company.
My Mum died in 1991, and Ann and Vera were so kind to my Dad, often baking him sponge cakes and home-made pies. In 1996, Mackintosh's closed their factory, and Ann went to work for Wilkos. She was always a cheery face behind the cash register.
Then Vera became ill and died - that was hard for Ann. But she continued her service in GB, and always made time to help others. Whenever we went back to Dereham, I'd pop into Wilkos to say Hi, and we'd catch up on the news. She always asked after my girls, and our church life, and we'd reminisce about our teenage years.
Then Ann herself became ill with cancer, and had quite a few years of treatment - but last year moved into Eckling Grange, a residential care home/sheltered accommodation scheme - she knew she could no longer look after herself. Although she had no relations nearby, there was a constant stream of friends from church visiting her, and sitting with her in her final days.
She had planned her own funeral, and requested that people wore blue [her favourite colour] so I wore a pretty blue dress on Wednesday for her. I think she would have been amazed by how many people attended the thanksgiving service.
Ann was in many ways, just an ordinary woman - she never hit the headlines, never earned a fortune, never expected special treatment - but she was gracious, and thoughtful, and cheerful, and loving. Her faith in God was strong - and she worked hard at her job, at Girls Brigade and in every aspect of her life. In her quiet way, she touched many lives, and she will be missed. I am reminded of a stanza from Gray's Elegy about the country folk whose simple lives were lived out faithfully but without fuss.
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,Their sober wishes never learned to stray;Along the cool sequestered vale of lifeThey kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Ann was not clever, or rich, or famous - but she was a good friend. I am glad to have known her, and glad that her pain and suffering is over, and glad she is with her Saviour, and reunited with her beloved parents. And I am sure that even though her passing did not create much of a stir down here, when she passed over, as John Bunyan said
"all the trumpets sounded for her on the other side" RIP Ann, my friend.