Last week, a service to celebrate the life of Brenda Kirby was held at Croydon Minster. The former teacher, councillor and Mayor of Croydon had served New Addington for much of her life. Over the past four years, through her courageous battle with cancer, she established a local charity to ensure that others with the disease might benefit from care closer to their homes.
The eulogy at the service was read by TIMOTHY GODFREY, and we reproduce an edited version here as our tribute
Brenda met her husband Bob while working for the overseas telegraph service. They were both working permanent nights and used to spend their break time at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. As Brenda pointed out to me, it was where the more interesting people worked.
Brenda and Bob married in 1965 and they moved to their first house in Upper Norwood. They soon moved to Frimley Close in New Addington, before finally settling in their long-term family home on Shaxton Crescent in 1973.
After bringing up their two children, Brenda went to university and obtained a teaching degree. Her teaching career took her to Kentwood School where she taught remedial before moving on to be head of drama at Ravensbourne.
Brenda passed away in the care of Mayday Hospital on Sunday September 28.
Anyone who knew Brenda Kirby in almost any capacity will know that she was definitely not an island. More often than not, she would be referred to as “Bob and Brenda”. Two very different people, yet incredibly close and supportive of one another. So the story of Brenda is inextricably linked to her husband Bob. It is this remarkable support that enabled Brenda to achieve so much.
To understand Brenda’s contribution to New Addington and to Croydon, we have to understand that Brenda has had to live with complicated Health issues since 1990 when she was diagnosed with what she named “Smudge”.
Smudge lived in the back of Brenda’s brain as a dark mark on scans. This led to her often being too dizzy to stand, let alone drive. This led to Brenda changing her lifestyle in order to cope, but Brenda being Brenda, and with the care and attention of her husband, Bob, she managed to work on improving her own health sufficiently to be well enough to continue her community work. It was typical of Brenda how she turned what could be a devastating medical condition into a warm and friendly sounding being with its own name.
Smudge was an integral part of Brenda’s personality for many years.
It would be a common experience to find Brenda chairing a board meeting of the Warehouse Theatre either sitting on the floor in the corner of the room or lying completely flat on her back on the floor. I must admire her chairing skills and ability to keep the likes of myself, Eddy Arram, Martin Tiedemann and Ted Craig in order while being completely out of sight.
It was in 2010 that Brenda was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. Brenda tackled her new diagnosis in the way that Brenda tackled any issue. Calmly and courageously. It is testament to Brenda that she managed to beat cancer for more than four years.
Giving all of us four more years to enjoy Brenda’s company.
Four more years with her precious husband Bob.
Four more years for Brenda to see her grandchildren grow up.
Four more years for Brenda to campaign and fundraise for the Cancer Care Centre.
There was nothing Brenda enjoyed more than the whole family being together. There was always much laughter, and usually a glass or two of red wine. These occasions always promoted Brenda to use her family catchphrase which was, “I am so lucky”.
It is these memories that will sustain Bob, their children Erika and Clifford, son-in-law Alan, daughter-in-law Vicky and grandchildren George, Barney and Ashleigh.
Bob and Brenda have lived in New Addington for 45 years. In that time they have taken part in many aspects of community life. Brenda served as a school governor, as manager of Goldcrest Youth Centre and co-founded New Addington Little League football.
After her diagnosis it would have been entirely understandable if Brenda had decided to spend more time with her much-loved family or travelled the world, but that isn’t the Brenda we all know and love. And so it was that New Addington’s own champion Brenda Kirby realised that New Addington had a gap in service provision and wanted to share the help that she had received from the cancer help centre in Purley to her own community.
Brenda reached out to many people to make the Cancer Care Centre happen, including key New Addington figures of Ken Sherwood, Tony Rowland and Rowland Brothers, George Ayres, Jacquie, Anne, Chris and many other stakeholders.
Using her own name for the centre was a great way to generate interest and exploit goodwill. Something that on this occasion, Brenda was willing to do to ensure that the centre got off the ground. Thanks to New Addington Baptist Church, that centre became a reality. Brenda was so delighted at the support and assistance that they willingly gave to the whole community.
Brenda was always a larger-than-life character. You could find Brenda in a crowd by her bright red hair and her amazing laugh. Civic life can often be dull as dishwater. Like all councillors, Brenda would undertake her large caseload with vigour and passion for every single case. But it was the excitement about changing people and places for the better that excited Brenda.
So when Brenda became Mayor of our borough in 2004, it was both a huge honour for her and very exciting. The joy that Brenda took from meeting countless voluntary groups, charities and attending events was immense. Every day Bob accompanied Brenda on her official engagements and every day he took a photo of her to try to remember every precious day of that year.
Brenda was so very proud in 2010 when she was awarded her MBE for services to New Addington. The citation sits proudly in her living room along with photographs from the day of her investiture. For Brenda, it was an award for New Addington as much as for her self.
Key to Brenda being awarded this honour was Angela from New Addington. Angela was determined that Brenda would receive an award for her work and so she took it upon herself to write to the Queen, more than once, asking the Queen to recognise Brenda’s work for New Addington.
And so it came to pass, and Brenda collected her award from the Queen.
For Brenda, her greatest achievement in her civic life was representing New Addington.
Brenda was always closely associated with culture in Croydon. From supporting the New Addington People’s Day to shaping the success of the Croydon Summer Festival and World Party. Brenda was involved in a myriad of organisations and activities.
Brenda served as deputy cabinet member for culture in the first Labour council between 2002 and 2003. This she was thrilled to do as it drew together her love for the arts and Croydon borough. She loved this role because it extended her own knowledge into new areas of the portfolio including sport and parks.
The Warehouse Theatre was a passion for Brenda and something that she evangelised for and understood. Brenda could never understand why the council didn’t take the potential that the Warehouse Theatre gave our borough and run with it, to grow it into a significant and exciting powerhouse as a producing theatre, encouraging and growing young people and giving hope and aspiration to our communities.
Such is Brenda and Bob’s love of theatre and culture, their hall and stairs are themed with framed theatre posters and vintage copies of Plays and Players. At every opportunity Brenda wished to be surrounded by and reminded of her love of culture.
Let Brenda Kirby’s work in New Addington and Croydon be an inspiration to participation in voluntary and civic life. The world would surely be a brighter and more hopeful place if we all could adopt even a small amount of Brenda’s unfaltering optimism and work ethic towards ensuring that all people deserve equal respect and opportunities.
Brenda: we will all miss you greatly, but we in turn are grateful that you are now at peace. Amen.
- If you would like to make a contribution to the Brenda Kirby Cancer Care Centre in New Addington, click here for more information