On Tuesday 18 July St Luke’s Church was full as friends, neighbours and family gathered for the funeral of Rita Yardley. Here, Revd Liz shares her sermon about a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to caring for others.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ No matter what Jesus said, it’s very human to feel troubled when we lose someone we love. Because it takes time for the sadness, the emptiness to pass. When he said ‘do not let your hearts be troubled, I don’t think Jesus was saying ‘don’t feel’. Don’t cry. Don’t mourn. Jesus knew grief and loss. He doesn’t ask us to deny our feelings or bury them out of sight. But he is saying that we can trust that God loves us too much to allow us to be lost. Loves Rita so much that God’s prepared a place for her and welcomes her home.
This parish owes a debt of gratitude to Rita Frances Yardley that is almost impossible to sum up. It’s my privilege though, to have a go. When people have spoken about Rita in the days since her passing, many words have come up. One is care-taker. Rita served as caretaker at St Mary’s in Charlton Park Lane before moving on to be caretaker at St Richard’s Church Centre – a job she carried out conscientiously for 28 years. Her practical and consistent dedication to that role enabled St. Richard’s to be a real centre of community for the parish.
Two more words are Jumble sales. Rita was the unsurpassed queen of the jumble sale. She was the lady you left your jumble with and with those donations Rita would conjure up events that went down in history. Not only were they amazing fundraisers for church and for Scouts, they also met a social need. Since hearing of Rita’s death, a neighbour commented that, if it hadn’t been for those jumble sales, she wouldn’t have been able to clothe her children. Rita was a complete professional and never a soft touch. She’d let the dealers in first so profits could be maximised. And she always drove a hard bargain with hagglers.
Other words I’ve heard in the past 3 weeks are…. Tombola. She ran one for years at St Luke’s Christmas Market and she’d spend ages with fellow volunteers, sorting bin bags full of small, medium and large stuffed toys. Horn Fair – Rita ran the glass stall and during the year she would collect bowls, vases, glasses and ornaments, delegate the dishwasher run-through to others, and finally polish and display so that every piece of glassware sparkled on the day.
Welcare. An annual Coffee Morning and lunch at the home of the Griffiths’ became a regular fundraising event and Rita would sit at the door to make sure everyone made a financial contribution before tucking in.
Caretaking, jumble sales, Tombola, Horn fair, Scouts, Welcare. These were some of the practical things and the good causes that Rita got stuck into and that she stuck with for decades and decades. She was also secretary of the Charlton Society and a campaigner for the restoration of the village drinking fountain, as well as organising fundraising at the boys’ school. What made her so public-spirited? A few people have shared what Rita said about that.
When Neil was 12 days old and Rita had three boys under 5, her husband walked out and never came back. Left with a mortgage to pay and 4 mouths to feed, Rita was up against it. Welcare helped her when she was struggling to bring up her young family single-handed. She never forgot that. And Rita was enormously thankful to be employed at St Richards, a help in making ends meet. She’d received a leg up and she wanted to give back. It was as simple as that. Rita wanted to repay the debt she felt she owed. Her dedication and hard work meant she paid back any ‘debt’ many, many times over.
Here are some stories we remember with a smile and with love.
When Rita was St Richard’s caretaker, it was a popular venue for wedding receptions and parties. Mrs Yardley was particularly skilled at easing drunks towards the doors and then out of them by 11pm. It was a skill she taught well to Neil who was able to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
When The Who played a concert at the Valley and lack of forward planning resulted in hundreds of stranded people roaming the streets of Charlton late at night, Rita was the one to open up St Richards as an overnight sanctuary for grateful Who fans.
When dementia was starting to take its toll and Rita was having difficulty remembering names, Joan and Marie visited her at home. Rita looked from one to the other, apparently trying to remember what to call them, before turning to Joan and announcing, ‘you’re Joan from Shooters Hill’ and then looking at Marie with the words, ‘and you’re the trouble maker’.
The scene was breakfast in the dining tent at Cub Camp. The expectation was that you finished all the food on your plate before leaving the table, but a lone Cub was having difficulty with an unwanted fried egg still on his plate. Jean Creevy was clearing tables and Rita was attacking a mountain of dirty pots and pans when she suddenly sidled over and swiped the said egg from his plate into her apron pocket ! Not a word was spoken. Rita returned to the pots with a grin and the delighted cub was released back into the wild outdoors! Jean doesn’t remember who won best camper that weekend but it should have been Rita!
Rita made close and abiding friendships and it was her friendship with Monica Batson that led her out of her comfort zone and found her in Barbados one year. Denise can still see her mother in law sitting on a deckchair on the beach, sporting, not a swimsuit, but a dress, pop socks and a cardigan. In her characteristically friendly way, though, she bantered with the local beach traders. But then Rita could be a bit of a flirt with the boys. Denise on the other hand had to work extremely hard to gain Rita’s approval. She got there in the end! When you’re mother to 3 sons, it must be lovely to gain the daughter you never had.
Thank you Rita for these memories, and so many more. And for the wonderful way in which you laughed so your whole body shook up and down.
What of Rita’s faith and how she lived it out? When you suffer a blow as she did, it would be easy to sink into bitterness or self pity. But not Rita. She took work wherever she could – cleaning, housekeeping as well as caretaking. But as we’ve heard from Phil, never did she neglect her boys – she just managed to fit everything around them and to bring in enough money to keep all four heads above water. Rita didn’t put up a wall to protect from more hurt, or keep her head down and just focus on her own, but she noticed others in need as well, and reached out to them. She didn’t number her misfortunes, but counted her blessings.
Rita embraced non-judgementalism and was willing to seek and find God in all places and people. She once went to Taizé, an ecumenical Christian community in France, with a group from church. She didn’t enjoy the coach journey at all, nor did she enjoy sleeping on the top bunk in her dormitory. But the different type of worship, and the experience of meeting people from other countries was something she opened her heart to. She consequently helped welcome young people to St Richard’s when the Taizé European Meeting was in London.
And Rita was radically inclusive. Having gay friends was absolutely nothing remarkable as far as she was concerned. After attending a church service of blessing of a same sex relationship back in the 70’s, she commented that, as far as she was concerned “it hadn’t been a blessing service, but a marriage. You know, two chaps getting married!”
It’s so right that Rita starts her final journey from the church she worshipped at for so many years. From the aisles she so often took the collection in. From the altar rail she’d kneel at, before crossing herself very precisely and placing one hand on top of the other to receive communion. It’s lovely that Rita can be here one last time. Because her journey through dementia has been long and slow. And with it, following her religion became more challenging. It became harder and then impossible to get to church. Harder, then impossible to receive communion at home. Even the words of the Lord’s Prayer, which sparked a response when most other words had ceased to, eventually faded too. But God has always known Rita, even numbered the hairs on her head. And though she may have forgotten so much, God has never forgotten her.
As Phil has said, the fact that Rita lived years longer than any doctor would have expected, is testament to the loving care she’s received at home. What more would she ever have wanted than to be where she’d been for so long? Surrounded by beloved faces. In a community she’d served all her life. And cradled by the love of a family that never forgot her preciousness. And stayed strong as she grew frail.
‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ After more than 60 years living in the same home, it seems strange to think of Rita Yardley not being there any more. She lingered a long time at 41 Swallowfield Road. But the truth is, she always was en route to where she is now. Swallowfield Road was just a stop on the way. Rita has now gone home.
Rita Frances Yardley, 21 February 1936 – 26 June 2023
Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory