Milestones to the Kingdom

Don’s brief recollections of Anthea’s life

Anthea Heaton Page was born in Lutterworth Cottage Hospital on 11th July 1943. Her father Peter Page, a Lancaster bomber pilot under Guy Gibson, had been posted missing in action on her parent’s wedding anniversary 3 weeks earlier and news of his body being discovered was received shortly before her birth. Her mother, Joan (nee Heaton), was very poorly for the first few weeks of Anthea’s life. They went to live in Lutterworth with Anthea’s grandparents, Frank and Hilda Heaton – but being Leicestershire – the ‘eatons! Frank was the maths and music Master at the Lutterworth Grammar School. When very young Anthea had measles which left her with perforated ear-drums. Anthea’s mother returned to work as a Teacher in Leicester City, lodging in Leics during the week and returning at weekends. Anthea had a very strong bond to her Grandma Hilda, “Gangan”. Then at the age of 3 they lived on the outskirts of Leicester and Anthea started in the Nursery section of the school in Benbow Rise where her mother taught. She loved it; she could play all day in the Wendy House “She’ll make a great mother, the way she cares for the dolls”. When she was about 6 or 7 she still hadn’t started to read so her mother asked her teacher what the reason was. “Anthea had never asked for a book” and so she hadn’t been given one; she was still keen on the Wendy House! Leicester had a so-called progressive school system, led by what the children wanted. So a book was provided and soon Anthea caught up. She had a deep love of books and could recount the storyline in numerous books. There was rarely a week without the tally of books purchased, notched up one or two or half a dozen!

Anthea used to tell of, at the age of 8, crossing Leicester by bus and getting home to an empty house, lighting the coal fire – paper, sticks, then coal, and starting to get the tea awaiting her mother’s return. She learned early on to be independent and resourceful and to cope with the trials of life which a whole generation of children brought up by War Widows had to deal with.

Before her teens, began her love affair with North Norfolk, with both mother and Grandpa being teachers, they would travel to Thornham for the long summer holidays.

Her grandfather had a large field in Lutterworth with greenhouses, hens and geese as well as lots of vegetables and soft fruit. Anthea developed her love of horticulture at the side of her dear Grandpa.

Anthea narrowly missed passing the 11 plus, so there was an appeal and she had to be assessed by the Director of Education, who when he heard that she wanted to be a horticulturalist, thought that would be a wasted Grammar School education, but fortunately he relented and Anthea went to Lutterworth Grammar School just at the time when her grandpa was retiring, only to take up evening class teaching until in his 80’s.

This was where she met so many Christadelphians – the Aucotts, Norman Thompson, the Gambles, and the Hunts and shortly after she started, the Ashtons moved to Lutterworth, Albert was the Town Clerk (often clashing with Anthea’s Mother!) Anthea and Elisabeth Ashton were dancing partners and heavily involved in the school’s amateur dramatics. One of the last public outings of Anthea was to the funeral of the then new music master who transformed the music and dramatics scene at the school soon after she started there. Anthea was often at the Ashton’s house, Elisabeth’s mother was very good at dress making (and they had an Aga cooker which Anthea loved!) Anthea was struck that they always gave thanks before meals.

At the age of 11 Anthea’s mother took her to Holland to visit her father’s grave, then travelling on to Denmark. This trip across Europe struggling to rebuild after the war, made a deep impression on her.

It was at school that she formed a friendship with the Buddens of Countesthorpe; Pat became a lifelong friend, travelling together on the same school bus. She loved spending time with Pat and her brother and sister – a family which she could only dream about – and was always reluctant to return when her mother phoned to say it was time to come home!

Anthea had only been at school a couple of weeks, it was wet so she was in the class room and sitting on the big iron radiators. Norman Thompson came in and pinched one of her shoes. A chase ensued and when Anthea finally obtained the shoe she hit him on the head with it. The steel-tip heel had a dramatic effect as Norman fell to the floor, clutching his head and blood streaming down his face. He was carted off to the hospital for stitches and Anthea, in tears, was sent to the Head Master. “This is not a very good start to your life here Anthea.” “No Sir” she sobbed, but was considerably cheered to be told by the Head he was surprised there was blood and not sawdust! When very recently Anthea recalled this incident to Bro Norman’s wife Carol, Norman had a slightly different version, but we will stick to Anthea’s version!

Anthea’s mother sent her to Confirmation Classes at the local church. Anthea wasn’t too keen, but her mother insisted. She raised too many questions. Things had to be practical and logical – after all a mix of Welsh, Yorkshire and Jewish blood ran through her veins. In the end the vicar had a simple ruse. He would let the Scotty dog loose and when Anthea arrived would send her off to search for it, keeping her out of the class for some time! She couldn’t make sense of his explanations about the Trinity. “Think of three people getting into a car”, she was told, “When they are in the car they are One but when they get out they are Three.” “Rubbish” she said, “I travel in the car with my mother and my grandfather, we aren’t one, we are still three!” At least you knew where you stood with Anthea! When she asked about what the Book of Revelation was about, she was told, not to worry her pretty little head about it, it was A BIG MYSTERY!” “But it says there is a blessing to those that understand it.” To which there was no logical answer to satisfy her curiosity. The vicar told Anthea’s mother that he would be glad when she had completed the class as she was always disrupting the class with her questions! She was duly confirmed by the Bishop of Leicester, “but when he put his hands on my head I didn’t feel any different”!

The year Anthea was taking her O level exams she had severe neuritis in her right arm – when she was eventually taken to the Dr (the previous generation had to pay to see a Dr and it took a while to adjust to a free National Heath!) the Dr called his colleague and said you will probably never again in your practice see a case of this in a person so young. Anthea liked to be different! She was off school for about 6 mths, her school friends would bring her lessons after they finished school. Left alone in the house for hours, with few books, she started to seriously read the Bible for herself. She rapidly came to the conclusion that much of what she had been told didn’t appear in the bible! She couldn’t find any evidence of the Trinity, nor of going to heaven at death, nor of a personal devil. She loved the Psalms, Isaiah Jeremiah and Job. She could see that there was a lot about the Jews as God’s People and that they were a special people, but how did the Jews fit in today with these visons of the prophets? The Vicar had no answer, nobody had an answer.

Because of her illness Anthea lost a year’s schooling. She went to Brooksby College on day-release and worked at what was then Harrisons, the seed company in Leics, sometimes on the trial grounds at Syston, other times in the seed warehouse. She was advised to go to the Horticultural College at Studley. On learning that this was an all-girls college, that didn’t appeal, opting instead to go to Pershore College (well Institute in those days) where the girls were greatly outnumbered by the boys.

This is where our paths begin to cross (says Don). Anthea had ended up living a few doors from her Grandparent’s house in Lutterworth. She would look out on the Rugby Radio mast lights at night from the upstairs window, as I did at Crick; geographically only 8 miles away as the crow flies. She had only ever visited Rugby once that she could remember. We had both picked Pershore as our College, I did 2 years of “practicals” and Anthea one, but because of losing a year with her arm, we both arrived there in Sept 1962. In fact we arrived within a few minutes of each other, for in the queue waiting register with the bursar, I turned round and this lovely, fresh-looking girl standing  a couple of people behind me caught my eye and she asked if this was the right queue for the horticultural dept., I gave my smile and said “I think so!”

It was a tough course – 2-year course rolled into one. At first I sat at the back of the classroom, but not enjoying the company, about the 3rd day I sat at the front. Desks were in groups of 3. My dormitory was close to the class room so I was early.  In walk Anthea and Rose (Meredith) a farmer’s daughter with whom Anthea had made friends – a friendship that still continues- they said to each other, “Will we have him sitting with us?” They decided yes they would. Thus began a friendship which was to last for over 52 years! It was amazing the number of people we commonly knew.

We were split alphabetically into pairs for the practical work. Early morning duties at 6.30am could consist of feeding the pigs, shovelling coke for the greenhouse boiler, sprout picking, etc. etc. Page was followed by Pearce. But here was the rub! Not only was there another Pearce, he was also D Pearce, moreover he was D.F. Pearce! But he had an extra initial – D.F.J. Pearce! So strictly, D.F. comes before D.F.J., but his name was David mine Donald, so he had the privilege of working with the lovely Anthea. We were just good friends and Anthea was enjoying going out with the generous pool of boys.  There was something like 13 girls and 80 boys, and her mother had told her that she ought to be able to find a husband with all that choice! Anthea had been told by someone that she wouldn’t be able to go out with me because I belonged to s strange religious group who only married in their own faith. This indeed was largely true, but there was an affinity. We always sat at the same meal-table. When she bought a Lambereta scooter, I taught her to ride it, (I spectacularly fell off it making too tight a turn in the College carpark, cracking the windscreen – £25 it cost me to get a new one!)

The new term in Jan 1963 brought a spectacular change to our life at Pershore – one of the snowiest winters – lasting until Easter before it all went. Life came to a standstill. The outdoor practicals became impossible. The College (“Institute”) had purchased a new aluminium multi-span greenhouse and we students had to put it up. Aluminium is very cold and handling large sheets of glass in snow and ice quite dangerous. When the snow did eventually go there was a mad rush to get through the required practicals to be marked on.

Our personal lives changed in May 1963, on the occasion of our exchange visit with the Oaklands Horticultural College in St Albans which served the needs of the Lee Valley in Hertfordshire, a big tomato growing area as well as Rochford’s the pot-plant people. Quite a different horticultural set-up to Pershore which served the Vale of Evesham where fruit and veg were the order of the day.

One evening there, we went for a walk around St Albans, our hands entwined and we both knew that this was something special. I took a deep breath and put my cards on the table. “I will go out with you if you will come along to one of my meeting Bible Talks”. This threw her at first; none of her boyfriends had ever asked this of her! Then she said the most amazing thing! “If you can tell me how the Jews fit into God’s plan I will come.” As an afterthought she threw in “And if you can explain the Book of Revelation” No problem to either of those requests!

So began Anthea’s visits to Worcester meeting, then when College finished she obtained a job with Rochford’s house plants; she had loved the visit there when at Oaklands. Here she came under the wing of Bro Simon Hodgson’s parents, Eric and Eva. At the weekend she would stop with them whilst Eric went through the first principles of our faith and on Sundays go to the Ware Ecclesia. She was baptised in Feb 1964 at the Finsbury Park Ecclesial Hall as the Ware meeting met in rented accommodation. When asked who she would like to speak at her baptism, she didn’t know many names, but had been very impressed with a talk that Bro Harry Tennant had given on the stars in the sky. And he kindly agreed to speak.

They were not used to handling baptisms, after her baptism there was a quick huddle of the AB’s Anthea’s feet had floated up and hadn’t been covered. So she had to get back into the wet gown and be baptised again. (I do assure you that in all my years I have never heard of this happening before or after – but if it was going to happen, it was sure to happen to Anthea!) Bro Harry spoke of this new page in Miss, now Sis, Page’s life.

Soon after this Anthea obtained a job at Neweys on the outskirts of Stratford who specialised in young plants. She had digs in Tiddington and was picked up on Bible Class night by the Williams for tea and then to Bible Class. At the weekends I would pick her up and in May 1964 she transferred membership to the Rugby Meeting, which would last for over 50 years! After about a year she obtained a job in Rugby as Assistant Manager at Bernhard’s – one of the first Garden Centres to be established in the UK. She had digs in Bennett Street.

We became engaged at the Easter 1964 and married in the Christadelphian Hall in Oliver St., June 26th 1965 when both 21 and able to get a mortgage.

Being a Conscientious Objector was very hard for Anthea’s family, if only I or somebody had realised this at the time and explained that it was right that her father gave his life to defend his country, we are not pacifists – far from it. Anthea’s mother was prepared to cut Anthea off and her grandparents agreed that they would abide by what she decided. However an uncle who had worked with Christadelphians and knew that they were not a crazy cult, persuaded them not to take this course of action. “Anthea will marry Donald and have children and if you cut yourself off, Anthea will live her life and you will not be part of it.”

Our first house was a 2 up, 2 down terraced house in Newland St, New Bilton. A fellow worker at Bernhards wanted to sell, so it was all done without an estate agent. A year later Erica was born, and recognising that under the fall-out of the Rugby Cement Works chimney was not the healthiest place to live, so after doing the property up we looked for a house on the other side of town and moved into 76 High St in Oct 1967. Matthew followed but Anthea had a difficult pregnancy and ended up for a while in hospital where she met Rita Atkins in the next bed and the start of a life-long friendship. Then were two miscarriages, in the 2nd of which Anthea nearly lost her life, haemorrhaging so badly as there was no doctor on duty, it being the weekend. One had to be fetched from the Maternity Hospital a few miles away.

So her dream of 6 children had to be put on hold and we discussed fostering. She recognised Rita pushing a pram past the house and she spoke to her, and both of them shortly after started fostering. In 1973 Marc came as our first official foster child; we had looked after others privately. Marc never went home and we adopted him in 1978. A steady stream followed, so Anthea always reckoned that all told we must have handled about 50 babies and youngsters, some of whom we still see. Among them was Jasmine. Anthea always had a liking for Indian babies, they were such a lovely colour, and we were pleased when, due to circumstances, we could have her as our own.

As well as looking after the children, Anthea would help me at the Garden Shows where we displayed the Access range of Garden frames. The 1st show we did in Edinburgh was before we were married. We would pack the frames in the caravan with their back boards and a small specially designed “office” and a playpen when children very young and trundle off to Bristol, Southport, Harrogate or were-ever. The children loved it and made friends with the children of other stand-holders. In 2012 we returned to Chelsea to celebrate 50 years since I had first gone with my father.

Later, a week at the East Anglia Camp brought us a new circle of friends including Ed and Jen Mander. Also a young brother, Steve Ridgway, whose blueprint for a bride that he set out to Anthea within a few hours of our arrival was completely matchable down to the eye colour. Anthea introduced Erica to Steve the following week, with rapid results!

As the children grew older the holidays to North Norfolk were supplemented by coach trips abroad. Anthea soon got to know the lives of a whole coach full of people on every trip!

Anthea loved the garden at 76. It started life as a complete wilderness; we found many treasures hidden as we hacked it back. The many trees were all planted by us apart from the ancient apple tree. Anthea’s other love was shopping, travelling into Rugby of the bus and chatting to everyone she met. As one shop-keeper remarked this week, “we often put the world to rights!” Her knowledge of virtually any subject was always very impressive. She was an avid reader and collector of books especially on the Jews during WWII. She made several trips with me to Israel, loving the atmosphere and the archaeological sites. Our last trip was in 2008 to the Bible School where I spoke. We had some wonderful tours organised by Sis Betty-Lou Lewis of Florida.

Anthea and her college friend Rose had talked to travelling to New Zealand on leaving College. Marriage and children intervened, but the opportunity came when I was asked to do a speaking trip in New Zealand. We were able to plan a month long tour, zig-zagging from the north of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island and ending up in Christchurch. Travelling from ecclesia to ecclesia with wonderful Bed and Breakfast’s in-between. A treasured time, especially the time we shared with Bro Don and Sis Beulah Edwards of Christchurch.

As my companion in the Truth, Anthea had to bear the burden of my frequent hours of preparation of talks and articles. Taking over the annual writing of Milestones which my father started in 1977 following my father’s death in 1994, meant that our freedom at the year-end was curtailed, with December occupied in writing it, then January spent with the preparation for printing and February with the distribution of the booklets. Anthea’s contributions to proofreading this and the Quarterly Updates were invaluable.

As the Recording Brother’s wife for many years, Anthea’s understanding of human nature was a wonderful gift. She could often see the root of the problem long before anyone else, and have the skills to provide solutions. Not an easy ecclesial role in a fairly big ecclesia.

There was involvement in many activities in the ecclesia. Working in the CYC and Sunday School, cleaning the Hall, catering, working on various committees. For 7 years we ran the Rugby/Lichfield week at the Anglesey Camp, our children forming many lasting friendships. We were known to have strong discipline on our week, Anthea often had stern words to the youngsters who were at an impressionable stage in their lives; yet we never had any problems in numbers wanting to come! We had help from Bradford and so we reciprocated and had many enjoyable trips there. She travelled with me around the country on my speaking appointments and going to Fraternal Gatherings.

The ecclesia was always the centre of our lives and all the children and foster children were taken there from a very early age, but granddaughter Bethany beat them all, she wasn’t even a day old when she experienced her first Sunday School Party!

In more recent times she was strongly involved in the collection of clothing for Jewish Relief. Trips to see the Manders involved a load of black sacks full of clothing which Bro Edgar and Sis Marjorie Hall would sort and despatch in tea-chests to Israel. This was then taken over by Bro David and Sis Jackie Griffin with a collection point at Olivet in B’ham. When the wheelie bin collection points were rolled out, Anthea organised one for Rugby. Her love of God’s children drove her to peruse the charity shops to pick up bargains in babies and children’s clothing and the bargain rails in the stores, she gladly spent her money to help the Jews. As the net of useful materials widened – even rags can be sold to raise money for wool for knitting blankets and jumpers – so the volume increased. Our Hall way at home was often stacked up with bin bags of clothes (and white sacks of newspapers for recycling). So the trips to Olivet or taking them to Bethany and Peacehaven for onward transmission increased. When Erica started to work there and then at Kingsleigh House here was another route to get material to B’ham. Anthea often remarked that it was a wonder that any-one at Rugby had any clothes left, such was their generosity.

She was a peoples-person. You had to take us as you found us; her skills were in relating to people and their problems and offering her considerable experience to the situation in hand. She could be sharp if she thought that the job was being shirked, but she had a knack of engaging with all. At the school gate, on the buses, in the market, on holiday; Anthea would be engaged with people. She was a one off, and then the mould, I think, was broken. The combination of her Welsh, Yorkshire and Jewish blood together with her difficult life as an only child during the post war years shaped her independent spirit.

She had little time for computers, the pen was mighty in her hand and I often marvelled at the wonderful things that she would write especially to those poorly or bereaved. Birthdays and anniversaries were all remembered (normally) (Sorry folks I won’t be able to match her service in this dept.!) She always said she preferred funerals to weddings, for here you had a glimpse of the real person, not the show and glitz of a wedding.

She loved animals; we had Gypsy, Sandy and Scamper that spanned most of our married lives, and many cats, as well as hens and children’s pets of various sorts.

This wonderful mother to Erica, Matthew, Marc and Jasmine and Nan to Jessica, James and Sam; Rebecca, Megan and Bethany; Jakob and Lexie; foster mother and child minder to many others, touched many lives.

That life came to an abrupt end. Anthea had long had problems with her back, finding many chairs most uncomfortable. It was only a few years ago that it was discovered that she had bony growths on her spine which pressed on her nerves. An operation would have been very dangerous so it was a matter of enduring the pain. It wasn’t helped when about 3 winters ago, during snow; she slipped at the bottom of our front door steps and hit her back against the stone step. Travelling by car became increasingly uncomfortable, having to lean forward to try to find a less painful position. Her stomach became more and more painful and she became less interested in food, again finding she had to bend double in order to eat. It was clear something was not right and several times she said that she was dying, but then Anthea always thought that she had an extreme illness, which never turned out to be the case. But this time she was right. We visited the Dr’s in Jan and she commenced a series of tests which showed low sodium levels which explained her symptoms, but a scan showed up nothing more than a gallstones, and that probably of longstanding. Continuing blood tests revealed that her sodium levels were getting critically low. It was an Atrial Fibrillation (AF) incident – only her 3rd, the last one was in 2011 on Jan 30th. that triggered her being taken to Walsgrave where a delightful Registrar became involved. His grew increasingly concerned at the indications from the blood tests that he phoned us on Feb 5 to come in early the next day when he would do his best to organise a more powerful scan, which he did and later that day he broke the news that she was in fact suffering from cancer of the gall bladder, a fairly rare cancer (600 cases a year in the UK). So we returned home to digest this life changing news. The registrar had arranged for us to see him the following Fri (13th Feb) when he could tell us what their plans for treatment were, following their round-table discussions on Thursday. Having coughed up what appeared to be blood the evening before our arranged visit, we took Anthea to A&E and so she was already in hospital when I met the registrar on Feb 13th, who said they needed to arrange a biopsy before they could plan treatment. So Anthea, being Anthea, said “I’m in hospital get on and do it while I’m here.” “That’s not how we do things” she was told, but they of course did! On Wed 18th Feb she had a very painful biopsy (the requested painkillers hadn’t materialised). We saw the specialist team on Mon 23rd Feb, where we were informed that it was incurable. With the onset of jaundice she had to wait until a stent could be fitted, and if successful would see us in a further fortnight to see if there was any palliative treatment that could be carried out. The stent was fitted Mar 3rd and proved to be successful, the yellow colour completely disappearing by the time she came home from hospital. She returned home on Sat 7th Mar. for what we thought would be a few months, but proved only to be a few hours.

And so God drew to a close the final page of Miss Page’s life.

Her faith was strong to the end. She struggled to the meetings though often having to sit during prayers and hymns doubled up with the pain. She continued to go to town up to the day before her AF incident. To see her so weak in hospital, needing a wheelchair or a zimmer frame to get to the bathroom and needing assistance when there took a lot of getting used to. People visiting were shocked to see how weak she was. She would be the one comforting them, telling them that she wasn’t afraid to die; but she did hope that she wouldn’t suffer like she had seen Pinaz suffer 2 years earlier. Anthea fell asleep on the same date as Pinaz, spared that pain she dreaded. She was so happy to come home and be in familiar surroundings, to see the pictures of her latest (3-day old) grandchild and to see pictures of Jessica in the wedding dress she had chosen that afternoon. She had hoped to reach our 50th wedding anniversary in June and the wedding in July, but it was not to be. The day of her Master’s return must be so near.

She found the many emails and cards so encouraging; never underestimate the power of words to comfort. Since her falling asleep the postman has brought an amazing quantity of cards, which have touched us all; as well as many emails which have been so wonderful to receive. Truly we have an amazing world-wide community with a living truth.

So she sleeps in the certain hope of the resurrection, when her Master will call her from the earthy bed she will shortly be laid to rest in.