Mary Cowley Funeral Service 26/02/2021

Service of Thanksgiving for the life of
Mary Cowley
1st May 1943 - 31st January 2021

Frenchay Unitarian Chapel
2:30pm, Friday 26th February 2021

Led by Rev. John Harley and Karl Stewart
With technical support from Peter Bruce

Audio from funeral service

Music as we gather: Allegri’s ‘Miserere’

Opening words of welcome

‘Go out and walk – that is the glory of life’ – Maira Kalman wrote

Some of us have walked here today from different places, some walk here virtually from different parts of the world and this country and are joining us online, some of us have been in the fresh air of the outdoors – from the wild outdoors to this old chapel of friends – two of Mary’s favourite places – we know Mary in so many different ways – wife, mother, sister, gran, Aunt, great Aunt, friend…on her path through life she touched and inspired so many of us and I believe this chapel would have been full up to the rafters if it wasn’t for this terrible pandemic – Mary was very active in many groups too many to mention- the Thornberry Ramblers, the Macular society, the Scout Fellowship, poetry groups – she was devoted to civic culture and being part of the community – however you knew Mary you are welcome

We have walked here today to honour some of the glory of Mary’s life – the glory of her kindness, boldness, generosity, courage and honesty – we walk here today to form a cloak of love around this family, to support them in their sadness and remember Mary’s smile and gentle wisdom

Welcome to Frenchay Unitarian Chapel – a place of open minded and free worship for over 300 years and a spiritual home of Mary and Colin – indeed this sanctuary is full of memories of Mary’s insights and leadership and our treasured chats over coffee over many years

Lighting of the chalice and Opening prayer – based on “Underneath are the everlasting arms” Deuteronomy 33:27

We Welcome you all to Frenchay Chapel, as we give thanks for the life of Mary Cowley.

I’m going to start with a biblical verse that was special to Mary, and gave much guidance and comfort throughout life, this was the everlasting arms in Deuteronomy.

The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall meet with you those who may trouble you, and speak his word trough you. And say with my love I make peace with you.

Mary touched all our lives, we all have many precious memories. We give thanks for the devotion to her family, for the love with Colin and to Stephen, Philip, grandchildren and her siblings.

Mary came here to this home of faith, love care and compassion.

We bless Mary for her courageous spirit and love for life and witness. We witness the light of this flame today, this candle is lit for Mary. This is Mary’s flame may it shine and live in our memories. Thank you Mary.


HYMN - ‘Glad that I live am I’ sung by Mark Stewart on behalf of the congregation, with Andrew Rosser on piano.

Glad that I live am I;
That the sky is blue:
Glad for the country lanes,
And the fall of dew
After the sun, the rain;
After the rain, the sun;
This is the way of life,
Till the work be done

All that we need to do,
Be we low or high,
Is to see that we grow
Nearer the sky

READING - ‘Peace, My Heart’ by Rabindranath Tagore, Read by Mary’s son Philip Cowley (pre-recorded).

Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain
into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end
in the folding of the wings over the
Let the last touch of your hands be
gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, 0 Beautiful End, for a
moment, and say your last words in
I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.

HYMN - ‘For the beauty of the earth’ To the tune ‘Noricum’ as requested by Mary. Sung by Mark Stewart on behalf of the congregation, with Andrew Rosser on piano.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the splendour of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
For all these with joy we raise
This, our song of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light:
For all these with joy we raise
This, our song of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight:
For all these with joy we raise
This, our song of grateful praise.

For the joy of human care,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
For the fellowship we share,
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
For all these with joy we raise
This, our song of grateful praise.

READING - ‘Eden Rock’ by Charles Causley, read by Mary’s son Stephen Cowley

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still two years old and trembling at his feet.

My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress
Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
From an old H.P. Sauce bottle, a screw
Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely,

They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, 'See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think.'

I had not thought that it would be like this.

Charles Causley

Amazing grace, sung unaccompanied by Jaine Griffiths, Mary’s friend and piano teacher. Lyrics by John Newton who was a slave trade mariner who became a Christian minister.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
'Twas grace has brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright, shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see

We are now very privileged to hear some words written by Mary about her life…….

Eulogy - ‘My life’ – written by Mary, concluding with poem ‘Late Fragment’ by Raymond Carver

I was born on 1st May 1943 in Wadebridge in Cornwall. My parents, Alan and Gwen Pearce were living in the village of Trevone nearby, where my father was stationed in the RAF. American soldiers getting ready for D-Day were also stationed there and as quite a chubby baby, sitting in my highchair, I’m told they called me “Butch”.

I grew up in Newquay, in Cornwall, where my father was a greengrocer and fruiterer. In my teens, I helped in the shop, on Saturdays and school holidays. My mother did the books for the business and later ran a Christian bookshop in Newquay. I had a wonderful open air childhood, exploring the beaches, headlands and river with my two brothers, Robert and Michael, and my best friend Georgina. She was always George, when we were children, which was perfect, as we modelled ourselves on the Famous Five, one of whom was a girl called George. We lacked the dog, so called ourselves the Courageous Four and went off for the day with our sandwiches and orange squash to do good deeds and save the world from mad scientists. As an adult Georgina became Gina and I have been very privileged to have her as a dear friend throughout my life.

When I was five, my youngest brother, David, died from whooping cough, aged just three months. My parents were Evangelical Christians and their faith was a large part of my childhood, with services mainly in the Congregational church and visits to many other denominations, as well. In later years, I moved away from the teaching of my childhood but in recent times, I have found a spiritual home in the Frenchay chapel, with the freer and more open approach of the Unitarians. The hymns I have chosen are from my childhood nd reflect how I feel about the joys and delights of my life.

I was fortunate to have family close to us, my lovely Gran just round the corner from where we lived, my Auntie Joan and Uncle George and my cousins, Margaret and John nearby and also my Auntie Dora, who took us each year to the pantomime in Plymouth. This was the most amazing magic to me – no television in those days! - and formed the basis of a lifelong love of the theatre.

I left school, after my A Levels, and worked in the public branch libraries in Launceston and Newquay, before going to Library School in Birmingham, for two years, in 1963. Auntie Dora bought me a sheepskin coat to take with me. I don’t think any of the family believed that anyone could survive that far north! I loved all the city things, which were new to me – concerts, theatre, the energy of a large city but was missing the open air life, which I had enjoyed in Cornwall. A friend and I started going on walks in the country round Birmingham. The College of Commerce, which the Library School was part of, was next to a YHA (Youth Hostels Association) shop. This gave us the idea that we could go further afield and we had some wonderful trips, walking from hostel to hostel (sadly, not something which is easy nowadays), in the Peak District, the Wye Valley and the Lake District, opening up a world of mountains and lakes, which Cornwall did not offer, despite its wonderful coastal scenery. And introducing me to hostels, which have been such a joy throughout my life.

It was, therefore, not surprising that when I then came to Bristol to work in the Central Library, I joined the Bristol YHA Social group. On my first visit, I was talking to the Chairman, Steve, who made a point of talking to new people, when a ball of ferocious energy with blue eyes shot by. Steve said “Colin, this is Mary. Could you look after her?” Reader, I married him!

We set up home in Fishponds in 1967 and were very blessed to have two sons, Philip in 1969 and Stephen in 1972 - in alphabetical order, of course, as I was a Librarian. In 1977, we moved to Frenchay, where we had the very good fortune to live for forty years. So, many years of family life and holidays (usually camping) and visits to family in Newquay, avoiding the busy Summer Seasons, so that the boys always associate Cornwall with cold weather! And lots of walking, although not always passing on our enthusiasm for walking to our offspring! As the boys got older, I went back to the library, part-time and eventually full-time. I value the friends that I made in my library years, who I still enjoy meeting up with. Before that I did various part-time jobs and we took in students from St Matthias Teacher Training College and UWE and Bed and Breakfast visitors from Frenchay Hospital. This is something which Colin took up again after he took early retirement and we were very privileged to meet wonderful, interesting people from all over the world. As the boys grew up and starting leading their own lives, going to university and beyond, walking started to take a larger role in our lives, especially after joining the Thornbury Rambling Club. We have been so blessed with the wonderful friends we made there and the very beautiful and varied places we shared with them, feeling “glad for the country lanes” of the hymn, as well as for the more dramatic landscapes. We walked the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path with our friends, Rosemary and David, over six years, a week or so at a time – a great experience.

When I retired in 2003, we had our amazing ‘gap year’, travelling round the world – such a wonderful way of life and some stunning walking, including four and five day treks in New Zealand. Our recent years have seen us coming to terms with Colin’s sight loss. We had the privilege of leading the Bristol Macular Society group for six years, trying to give back something in return for the wonderful help and support we have received from the Society and meeting and making friends with a great group of people. In 2013, when I was 70, we had the joy of becoming grandparents to Maggie and two years later to Robert. It is indisputable scientific fact that they are the most beautiful and amazing children in the whole of human history and I have been so proud to be their Gran. And proud also to have been the mother of my much loved children, Phil and Stephen, mother-in-law of my fabulous daughter-in-law, Tori and the wife of my loyal, loving, wonderful husband and best friend, Colin.

I’d like to sum up with a short poem by Raymond Carver, called Late Fragment:

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

Closing words

Hearing those words written by Mary her adventurous spirit and curiosity for life really shines out. The Courageous Four seems so apt because courage is a thread that runs right through Mary’s life. How many of us would be able to sit down and write about our lives with such clarity like that? Mary took on the challenges of her illness directly and with a no-nonsense determination. I remember receiving an email about some chapel business that she sent from bed just before she started going downhill again. Mary had a rare quality of facing up bravely to her health issues with very little fuss while living life to the full and fully appreciating the time she had been given. This persistence seemed to give her an indestructibility that made her death a great shock for many of us. I remember with fondness stories of nine lives and many more survived by Mary and Colin in their travels together! Mary was devoted to the life of this chapel and sometimes Colin had to remind her to make her well being a higher priority than tasks for the congregation – he generally failed I believe! Colin – we know these are tough days – you losing your best friend and wife of 53 years but we also know Mary would want us all to be practical and hopeful about continuing with our paths ahead and take her joy of life in our strides. Colin – the congregation and your family and friends will be there for you as you know – we will be your walking companions for the route ahead.

Mary’s extraordinary philosophy of life – her respect for her own mortality and fierce inquiry into life reminded me of this quote from Nietzsche (Nee Chah)

“…All things pass, all things return; eternally turns the wheel of Being. All things die, all things blossom again, eternal is the year of being. All things break. All things are joined anew… All things part, all things welcome each other again, eternally the wheel of being abides by itself. In each now, being begins…The centre is everywhere. May we stay on the path of eternity.”

Huge thanks go to everyone who has worked to bring this service of thanksgiving together – its been a big collaboration and something Mary I think would have approved of

A blessing for you all

And now may the peace which passes understanding
The peace which comes with acceptance and thanksgiving
The peace of the spirit which rises above all the strains of the earth
Be and abide with us all
Both this day and forevermore

Music as we leave– ‘The Happy Wanderer’ - 1954, recorded by The Stargazers

Mary aged 9 (estimated)

In lieu of flowers, it was Mary’s wish that people should donate to the Macular Society: 01264 350 551

The funeral will be followed by very short service of committal at the crematorium for immediate family only.

Service of Committal at Westerleigh Crematorium 

Nocturne C Minor Posthumous - Chopin

Opening Words and welcome

Walt Whitman - 1819-1892

Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
To frozen clods ever the spring's invisible law returns,
With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.

The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath passed away a glory from the earth.
William Wordsworth

Thankyou for being here – we meet to say goodbye to Mary – we bring cherished memories, we may still feel lost and sad and we are thankful for the joy of being woven with her life and we come to celebrate the glory of all that she brought to those she met – some of us have travelled from just down the road – and others join us from continents and oceans away – in this ritual of marking Mary’s life we are all present and welcome and in bringing ourselves we make this time sacred

This service includes 2 of Mary’s favourite hymns

Let us sing together

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,

pilgrim though this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fiery cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through;
strong Deliverer,
be thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
bear me through the swelling current,
land me safe on Canaan's side;
songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee.

William Williams 1745, translation by Peter Williams


Let us come together for a time of prayer and reflection and stillness

Let us give thanks for every gift of life that brings us joy, peace and strength

May we be inspired and encouraged by Mary’s life and take her vision of adventuring and travel and exploring life in worship and love of family and friendships into our own lives and futures.

In visiting Mary’s life can we become more mindful of the gifts and treasures in our own selves and more awake to what we can bring to this world.

In supporting this family in this time of loss may we be mindful of all families who in living together and in sharing life’s struggles and breakthroughs discover what love means in practice

Let us share in some moments of silence for our own personal prayers and reflections


God of four seasons
Soul of day and night
Spirit of high tide and low tide
Life-force of struggle and peace, pain and joy
Help us to understand and respect death
As we seek to explore life

God of four seasons
Help us accept the never ending cycle of birth and death
And the growing and the striving and the hurting
And the loving and the harvesting and the embracing
Guide us through Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn


A few words about Mary

Colin – I never tire of the story you tell of how you met Mary – and your version of what the YHA means –I always thought it stands for the Youth Hostels Association but actually it means your husband assured

I’ve loved hearing about all the walking you did together – including the South West coastal path – and of course your passion for walking is shared by many writers and thinkers

-- Søren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher said

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

And Thoreau the American Naturalist wrote

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?
Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure
Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest.
All good things are wild and free.

Colin – I look forward to hearing more stories about all those walks you did together

When I think of Mary I also think of her enthusiasm for life – it felt to me that she lived life with no regrets – she was always planning, organising, and being proactive right til the end – very recently she was researching a bench for the garden at Frenchay for visitors to enjoy and ponder life

I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s words from a poem of hers – when she shares how she wants to look back and how she sees the world when she leaves this life

Mary Oliver

I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary appeared not to be phased by being near end of her life – she seemed fearless – her illness did not stop her from living and loving to the full – and her devotion to her sons and Colin and grandchildren was limitless – in some ways eternal - as her kind and determined spirit will live on in the lives of her family and friends

I will leave you with a poem by Dorothy Monroe who seems to incapsulate Mary’s fearlessness and zest for life

‘The Cost’ by Dorothy Monroe

Death is not too high a price to pay
For having lived. Mountains never die,
Nor do the seas or rocks or endless sky.
Through countless centuries of time, they stay
Eternal, deathless. Yet they never live!
If choice there were, I would not hesitate
To choose mortality. Whatever Fate
Demanded in return for life I’d give,
For never to have seen the fertile plains
Nor heard the winds nor felt the warm sun on sands
Beside the salty sea, nor touched the hands
Of those I love – without these, all the gains
Of timelessness would not be worth one day
Of living and loving; come what may



Mary we commit your body to the keeping of Mother Earth which bears us all. We are glad to have shared your life with you, that we knew your smile, experienced your friendship and walked the way of life with you. In love we remember your companionship and your kindly ways. May your body, your vision, your being join with the ground of all life and from your life may fresh beginnings and new generations continue to take root and flourish. May our memories of you Mary bring us precious wisdom in our understanding of this world, in God, the great unknown, and our connection with the river of life.

All things bright and beautiful

All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all

Each little flower that opens
Each little bird that sings
He made their glowing colours
He made their tiny wings

The purple-headed mountain
The river running by
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky

The cold wind in the winter
The pleasant summer sun
The ripe fruits in the garden
He made them every one

The tall trees in the greenwood
The meadows for our play
The rushes by the water
To gather every day

He gave us eyes to see them
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty
Who has made all things well

Cecil Francis Alexander

Closing words and blessing

Out of life comes death
And out of death, life
Out of the young, the old
And out of the old, the young
Out of waiting, sleep
And out of sleep, waiting

Let the horizon of our minds reach out to the great family here on earth with us – those who have lived before – may memories of them inspire us to lead fuller, deeper lives with integrity and hope and may our vision help to craft future generations forever more.


by Carl Seaburg

Between the dawn and dusk of our being
Let us be brave and loving
In our little passage through the light
Let us sustain and forward the human venture
In gentleness, in service and in thought

Für Elise, Beethoven – to leave