Royal farewell for ‘exceptional’ Petworth 101 year old

Princess Alexandra, who came to pay her respects for her former employee.''Picture by Louise Adams C130271-1 Mid Ashby
Princess Alexandra, who came to pay her respects for her former employee.''Picture by Louise Adams C130271-1 Mid Ashby

THERE was a Royal farewell for Petworth’s Mary Ashby, who died on Monday, February 11, at the age of 101.

Her funeral took place on Tuesday february 26 at Duncton Roman Catholic Church, where many friends came to say their goodbyes, including former employer and friend Princess Alexandra.

Mary made the most of each and every one of her 101 years, from secretarial college to turning down a job with Winston Churchill, working in Ireland, becoming private secretary to Princess Alexandra, and then giving it all up for a life devoted to others in Petworth.

She moved to the town more than 30 years ago, and spent her time volunteering at the Petworth Cottage Nursing Home.

She organised the volunteers, drew up the rotas, organised the tea and coffee in the home, and even took the minutes at trustees’ meetings on her old typewriter.

Phyllis-Ann Dutton-Forshaw volunteered with Mary over the past three decades, and they became close friends.

“She trained all the volunteers, she wanted it absolutely just right. She was an amazing person,” she said.

“She was quite strict with us. She wanted things done properly.

“Somebody came in and we had made the coffee. I said to the visitor, ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I took it, and she held me back and said, ‘Never take a cup of coffee without a tray’.”

Mary was described as an ‘exceptional’ lady, who drove until her late 90s and would run errands for people many years younger than herself.

Her homemade marmalade sales became a fixture in the town, with all the proceeds going to the Red Cross, and she spent a lot of time fundraising for the nursing home too.

But even though she did so much for others, and was even awarded an MBE in 1999, she was a modest woman.

“She never talked about her life. She was a very unassuming person,” said Phyllis-Ann. “For her 100th birthday she did not want celebrations at all.

“We wanted to give her a party but she would not have it – but she enjoyed it.

“Princess Alexandra came down for the celebration and I think she was pleased about that.”

Mary volunteered right up until her late 90s, but 18 months ago she finally had to take up residence at the nursing home herself.

“After working there for so long, she never thought she would end up there. But she was still very much on the ball,” Phyllis-Ann said.