Obituary: Jane Burch
Dr Jane Burch, former part-time Lecturer in the then Department of Biochemistry, died on 31 July 2010.
Jane Burch read for the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge where she also completed a PhD in Biochemistry. She joined the Department of Biochemistry as an Honorary Demonstrator in 1950, was appointed to a temporary assistant lectureship in the following year and became a Lecturer (part-time) in 1953. She was to prove one of the mainstays of the Departments teaching programmes, for both BSc and medical students, for the next forty years, also taking extensive responsibility for the organisation of practical classes. Dr Burch was held in the highest regard for her enthusiasm, thoroughness and professionalism.
A very enthusiastic walker in her spare time, Jane was a member of the SCR Walking Club and a notable presence at Club events for many years.
On her retirement in 1991, Jane embarked on a second career as a volunteer with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Leeds. This she pursued with enormous energy and commitment until just a few months ago.
Dr Burchs husband, Professor Philip Burch, died in 1987. She is survived by sons Stephen and Matthew and daughter, Belinda, and four grandchildren.
A celebration to honour and celebrate the life of Dr Burch took place on 13 August; the full text of the tribute delivered on that occasion may be found below. Anyone requiring a paper copy is invited to get in touch with Helen Pickersgill (0113 343 4036; email@example.com).
A ceremony to honour and celebrate of the life of Jane Elizabeth Burch 12th October 1926 to 31st July 2010
13th August 2010 At Lawnswood Crematorium
Introduction We are here today to honour and to celebrate the life of Jane Elizabeth Burch.
In keeping with her views and wishes, this will be a non religious ceremony, and I have been asked as a member of the British Humanist Association to lead the ceremony today.
The ceremony will include a short explanation of Humanism and what that means in relation to Jane and the life that she led. We shall hear music chosen by those closest to Jane such as that which was playing as you came in. I shall read a tribute to Janes life which was written after listening to her family talk about her, and we shall hear tributes from her friends and colleagues.
We will end the ceremony with a short time for reflection at which you will have the opportunity to remember Jane in your own way, followed by the committal at which we will say goodbye to her.
Thoughts on Life and Death When someone we love dies, we feel sad because we wont see them again or be able to talk with them and tell them about what we have been doing and this can be a profound shock to those left behind.
Whatever our beliefs, we each develop ideas and thoughts about death, but when someone we are close to dies we all share the same sense of loss and sadness, and we all share the same need for comfort and reassurance at times like this.
As Humanists we believe that life and death are the natural order of the universe. All that has life has a beginning and has an end, so it is what we do with the time between birth and death that really matters. Jane will be remembered for the way that she used the time she had between her birth and death.
Jane made her mark on the world in many different ways, she touched so many lives during her journey and this will be her legacy.
Tribute I never met Jane but when I listened to Stephen, Belinda and Susan talking about her, I heard about a woman who was intelligent, caring and highly regarded by those who knew her. It is a privilege to present a tribute for such a strong and active woman who touched so many lives. This is her story.
Jane was born in Cambridge on 12 October 1926 to Frank and Lettice Ramsey. Frank was a Don of Kings College and a brilliant thinker. His work embraced mathematics, economics, philosophy and logic. In 1930, when Jane was only three years old, her father died at the age of twenty‐six. His work is still important today despite the fact that it is contained in only fifteen papers.
Jane had a younger sister, Sarah who was less than a year old when their father died. So Lettice was widowed with two very young children to support. She took up photography and went into business with Helen Muspratt as Ramsey and Muspratt. Lettice brought her Cambridge University connections to the business and it flourished. Jane and Sarah were therefore largely brought up by Doby, a live‐in nanny and housekeeper.
Jane had a happy childhood. She went to the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge and kept in touch with friends she made there throughout her life.
Elizabeth Rackham, a friend from school days, said of Jane, I have known Jane for over 70 years, and she always reminded me in fun that we were best friends which seemed rather strange for two old women. Fortunately I saw Jane just over a year ago when she came to Wales for my daughters 60th birthday and it was good to have fun and go to a party with her.
I can't remember which year we met either 1935 or 1936, we seemed to be with our bikes on the pavement on the corner opposite the Catholic Church. We found we had so much in common that I could not wait to get home to tell my mother I'd met a wonderful girl who liked everything that I liked and I was very excited.
Jane lived one side of Parkers Piece and I the other with the sound of cricket balls on cricket bats. This was the start, which on looking back, to a time that seems idyllic. We could swim in the river, go miles on our bikes, make fires and cook meals on them.
Jane of course was much cleverer than me and we had to hurry through our prep to have play time for the long serial games we played with Sarah and my cousin Nancy. Jane meanwhile was speeding ahead of me in maths, which I used to copy from her to make time for playing!
Then our ways parted and we did not see much of each other, I remember Jane coming to see me in my first little house. She had just taken her PhD and went to bed exhausted. Jane slept so long the next day that I thought she must be ill but eventually she woke up when I was wondering whether I should call the Doctor.
Then it was marriage for both of us, then babies and Jane and I had one of our famous rows over slices of apple before bed or toothbrush and toothpaste. We were particularly fortunate that our husbands got on so very well it felt as if they had known each other for years so staying with each other and holidays were a joy.
There are so many things to remember but in my head I have a picture of a very pretty little girl who was, when I first knew her, smaller than me and for whom I have always felt protective."
Her long standing friend Robin Myers would like to say a few words about Jane,
Jane: the friend of a lifetime. Jane could seem rather a formidable person with her great height, her no‐nonsense manner, her impatience with cant or feebleness or inefficiency. But some of it was shyness, even in old age, and underneath was another Jane, warm, affectionate, appreciative. The letters she wrote me over the last 45 years we were friends for more than 70 and which I treasure, showed that Jane.
We met at school in Cambridge when we were 9, and I like to think, to hope, that if Elizabeth Rackham was, as Jane told her on her last visit, her best friend I might be her second best, even though by the time we made friends we had grown out of grading our friends as best second best and so on ‐ just as we no longer were asked to come and play but had graduated to tea and talk.
She came of a long line of Cambridge giants, both physically and intellectually and they all had the same speaking voice, as have all Janes children. She was not only clever at school but very practical and she shone as a Girl Guide her patrol, the Cornflowers I think they were, always did well, whereas the Scarlet Pimpernels under my leadership, were useless.
She had badges right down her arm (or was it both arms?) and as her arms were very long, you can imagine how many badges she had. Philip, her husband, never ceased ribbing her about it, but she never minded, and just smiled. We loved being Guides, particularly camping, sleeping in tents. Cooking weird and wonderful wartime food over a camp fire was a rare treat in those restricted, wartime days when holidays were few and far between.
But ballroom dancing lessons at the old Lion Hotel (long since pulled down to make way for the Lion Yard development) were another thing and excruciatingly embarrassing for both of us as we stumbled and fumbled through quicksteps, foxtrots and waltzes with four other gawky friends. This was in preparation for dances at university with nice young men, but all for nothing the nice young men seemed non‐existent, and anyway the nicest never danced.
What finally put the seal on our friendship was fire watching at school in our last term, just before the war ended alone in the silent building, on a hot summer night, we took our sleeping bags into the garden and lay in them talking the night through. Then I found that for all her air of self‐assurance Jane was just as vulnerable and diffident as I or any other young person growing up and pretending to a confidence they did not possess.
A few weeks later we left school Jane with a scholarship to Newnham to read Natural Sciences, and then do a PhD, I with a place to read English at Oxford. By then our friendship was so firm that the term time separation was filled with long letters (young persons were great scribblers in those non‐cyber space, non‐mobile phone days), and I was privileged to be told that she had met a marvellous man, who was taller than she and had plucked up courage to ask him to tea.
Jane hated her height and tall girls were not fashionable. Her mother, the doughty Lettice, who did not realise this, boasted that she was the mother of the tallest and heaviest girls in the school (Sarah was a hefty girl, Jane a bean pole).
She married tall Philip two years later, disappeared to Leeds, our friendship on hold, brought up a family and lived happily ever after, or at least for 38 years. Then, in 1987 Philip died of cancer and her life fell apart. But Jane being Jane, even then she did not give in: Its a bad time, she wrote with characteristic understatement, but no doubt Ill find a way to manage ... I rather think I might do some visiting over the next few months. If so, I shall ask you to take me in, dear Robin.
Manage she did, went back full time to the Bio‐chemistry department, joined the University Walking Club, travelled and was, of course, available when her family claimed her. When she reached retirement age, she filled the space by working for the CAB and travelling more and more ambitiously, sometimes with a group, sometimes with Belinda.
In the long years of her widowhood we picked up the threads of our earlier friendship (though we had always stayed in touch). We began to visit each other regularly. When I generally had some household problem or other, a lock that didnt work, a drain that was blocked which I would have to do something about. It seems to me, Jane said severely, that if anything goes wrong, your first thought is who can you get to put it right. Shamefacedly, I admitted it was so. Oh, no, said Jane, I like to find out why its not working and put it right myself and set to work to do that for me. I soon decided her scolding was a small price to pay for such help, and she for her part eventually gave me up as a bad job and would arrive saying, I hope you have some jobs for me. I always had.
I treasure the trip we made in 2006 when, with two other friends of mine unknown to Jane, we all went to Sussex by car for a delightful and sociable weekend. But I also look back on it with sadness ‐ her hip was already troubling her again and she couldnt walk very much it was the start of her slow decline from self‐reliance to pain and dependence.
When my mother died, a few years after Philip, Jane had written, I am sure things will improve for you as time goes along, one just becomes accustomed to ones new circumstances and ceases to expect all the things one found it so hard to be without ... or so I have found, mercifully. She found an inner strength when adversity came to her, her fortitude setting us all an example.
But most of all, we miss her and will always miss her dear Jane.
Very shortly after Jane married in 1949, her sister Sarah died of Polio in Paris. Belinda remembers Jane saying that it was she who cleared Sarahs college room and how hard that was for her. Jane was also conscious of what a difficult time it was for Lettice especially as Jane moved away from Cambridge to Leeds just after Sarahs death.
Janet Moore (friend from Newnham College Cambridge) "I think about the things we have done together, from the first glory of our life in Newnham when we did so much together ‐ work, going to meetings, talking ‐ visits to your house, our holiday with Thulia at Malinbeg, and the months when I lived at Mortimer Road. Later when we married and had children we were still in touch. You never let me get away with slipshod thinking or inaccurate statements ‐ what a lot I owe to you, in education and sheer happiness. Thank you ‐ with my love as always. Janet"
Jane and Philip moved into their little house on Langdale Terrace and she finished her PhD. Jane then worked for a few years as a lecturer before Stephen, was born in 1953. Belinda followed in 1955 and Matthew in 1958. A few weeks before Belinda was born the family moved to Henconner Lane, where Jane spent the rest of her life. This was a wonderful old house with a splendid garden perfect for a family of five. Matthew and Belinda were born there and its going to be quite a wrench when its sold, as its been a family base for 55 years.
In 1961 the family moved temporarily to Oak Ridge, Tennessee for a year where Philip had been invited to spend a year at the National Laboratory. Jane made some of observations about segregation: while schools (where people were fully dressed) were segregated as they were state institutions, the swimming pool (where there was a lot of bare flesh) was not as it was a federal institution. Lettice joined the family on this trip and provided invaluable babysitting services, which allowed Jane and Philip to travel extensively. There were also family holidays to Florida and Maine.
When Matthew started school, Jane took up a part‐time lecturers post where she mostly taught practical sessions and tutorials in biochemistry and she was always very self‐effacing about her work. Jane and Barbara Gray used to spend their summers working out practical experiments that they could use in their lectures.
Philip was something of a workaholic and spent a lot of time working in the evenings and at weekends. Meanwhile, Jane used her time at home with the children to put a lot of energy into DIY projects around the house. She was enormously practical and well organised and could turn her hand to virtually anything. Jane used her practical, problem‐solving skills and many of the bookshelves and cupboards in the house were made by Jane. She was also very keen on the large garden at Henconner Lane, and spent hours tending it. For example, every autumn she dug up a huge number of dahlias and carried them all the way up to the attic for over wintering.
Jane and Philip, took their young children on many seaside family holidays to the west coast of Ireland (where Lettice was born and brought up), and Wales and Scotland. Lettice always joined them too! As they got older, less time was spent on the beach and the family did more hill walking.
In the late 1960s, they branched out and went abroad for holidays in search of better weather. Probably the best family holiday ever was to a lake in Austria called Grundlesee where they could swim, and climb the nearby mountains.
Jane and Philip did everything together socially and Jane seems not to have needed many friends of her own in Leeds during their married life.
Philip died in 1987 following an operation for bowel cancer and Jane had to build up a new life without him. She was still working at the university which she was very thankful for and she joined the University walking club which became hugely important to her for weekly walks and also holidays.
David Shaw has a few words to say about Janes involvement with the walking group,
Jane was a valued member of the University Staff Walking Club for over 30 years. In addition to her enjoyment of walking, she soon became involved in the organisation of the Clubs activities: giving her time generously; happy to suggest improvements and, being Jane, never afraid to tell me if she thought I was doing something wrong!.
She was always an enthusiastic participant. In the 90s, we began to organise summer walking holidays of a week or so. Jane was there from the beginning. A year or so later, she was also on the first of our foreign trips. She was always a staunch supporter of our hostelling weekends, despite having a build ill‐suited to the short beds found in hostels twenty years ago!
On a hot walk in Spain in the 1990s, the local leader suddenly suggested we might cool down with a swim in a nearby river. Having no costumes, many of the party immediately stripped down to underwear and jumped in. Including Jane, I thought that was really superb.
One of the Clubs core activities will forever be associated with Jane. She noticed that our walks of 10+ miles were a struggle for some members and suggested the introduction of a series of shorter walks, of around 5 miles. Obvious when you think about it now: but it was Jane who noticed the problem and came up with the solution, and who also coordinated the shorter walks, with typical efficiency. They have since become a permanent feature of our activities.
Walking is a sociable activity and you will appreciate that Jane was always splendid, stimulating company. She never left her critical faculties at home and our walks sometimes resembled mobile debating societies. Her verbal tussles with a particular Professor of Physiology on various aspects of the biological sciences were, for the rest of us, a source of undiluted pleasure.
She was an emblem of strength and reliability. On a tough walk, if someone was suffering, one could always rely on Jane to offer them encouragement and a helpful joke or two. On one occasion, while leading a walk, at a drink stop, she managed to fall heavily backwards off a wall. Anyone else might have taken time to recover. Jane simply got straight up and plodded on.
In later years, her physical resilience was incredible. After receiving two new hips, a new knee and ‐ effectively ‐ a new eye, she still managed to lead walks. Quite amazing.
And she was always incredibly generous. Fiona has particularly warm memories of house‐sitting Jane, following one of her hip operations. She subsequently compared the experience to being entertained, free, at a five‐star hotel.
As we have enjoyed for so long the inspiring company of such a big, strong personality, its still difficult to accept that she has gone. But, if there really is an afterlife, I think we can be sure that Jane, enthusiastic pedestrian, staunch friend, fierce practical intelligence and eternally young joiner‐in, wherever she is now walking, will certainly never walk alone.
Jane retired a couple of years after Philips death and began her second career at the Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau where she worked as a volunteer for more than 20 years until late January of this year. Jonathan Mack from the CAB has come to tell us about the wonderful contribution that Jane made to their organisation,
Janes time at the CAB started in April 1991 when she wrote to us saying that she was looking for useful part‐time occupation when she retired as a lecturer in biochemistry.
In the event, the part time turned out to be a rather modest way of describing what was to become a huge commitment of care and dedication to the Citizens Advice Bureau service.
When we asked Jane whether she had any community or voluntary experience she wrote None Im afraid. I always seemed to be too busy with work and family. Unless you count fund raising for Amnesty, canvassing at election times, the local residents association, Leeds Civic Trust... etc etc.
We might have started to wonder how she would fit us in!!!
She boldly offered to work every day of the week but only occasional Saturdays saying I want to continue to go walking most Saturdays.
When it came to the interview to be a volunteer, the assessment was that Jane might appear a bit formidable to clients at first but easy to talk to and genuinely interested. We were soon to realise that it was her clients opponents who would find her formidable and far from being anxious, we found that returning clients would often ask for her by name.
Jane said that she thought she would stay with us until retirement age. This turned out to be a long way into the future as Jane never retired and stayed with us for 19 years.
Jane said to us that she felt that she had come from a privileged background and thought she might find the Bureau a different world. If it was a different world and it was certainly one in which she thrived. In a few years she was helping as a general adviser, a telephone adviser, a consultant and representing clients at Appeal Tribunals. Only recently, she wrote the Bureau technical briefing on the complex changes to the rules for Tribunals.
Most of all she spent literally countless hours helping clients ‐ strangers she had never met before and would not expect to see after ‐ to find some fairness and justice in the world. She hardly ever took time off, and frequently even in the last years of her life she was the last to leave the Bureau of an evening, working on a clients problems when she felt there was something more that could be done.
Monitoring the monetary benefit to clients of a volunteers work isnt really the type of thing that this Bureau has ever done, but we would guess that the figure for Janes contribution would be well over 100,000 ‐ and all of this to some of the poorest people in Leeds.
Many of us were in awe of Janes knowledge of the intricacies of the benefit system and her sheer persistence in the battles she undertook with the system on behalf of clients. That knowledge did sometimes lead to some rather tricky situations in training sessions, when Jane raised a question that the trainer either had not anticipated or had hoped that nobody would ask!!!
Someone once wrote of Jane I wish all advisers met her high standards. Thank you. But Jane never did this for the thank yous; she did it because she found a sense of purpose in pursuing justice for those without a voice.
Jane might have felt her background had been privileged, but in the end it was the City and the Bureau that were privileged; privileged to have known her, to have worked with her, and to have seen the benefit of her immense energy, enthusiasm and kindness to the people she really cared for.
While she was off sick, Janes wrote us a number of letters about clients. In her final letter, which she wrote to Karl at the end of March, she referred to being in a great deal of pain. She wanted to let us know that she was arranging for the clients appeal papers to be sent to her at home, so she could work on them there. Jane was not a woman to be easily stopped from doing what she thought was right.
The letter said that she was unsure as to her future plans, and hoped to have convinced the medics of the need for a thorough investigation. She said this made her a good deal more cheerful. But she said nothing had happened and she felt she was in limbo again. She signed off Ah well, I guess something will change in due course. Of course, we now know that it did.
Jane was a truly exceptional volunteer and a truly exceptional woman and well all miss her.
Thank you Jonathan.
One of her friends said to Belinda that Janes enthusiasm for her work at the CAB was far greater than for her university work.
After Philips death, Jane travelled a lot and went walking to places such as Nepal, Malawi, South Africa and Cambodia. She and Belinda went on many sight‐seeing holidays together to European cities and also on river cruises to the Nile and Russia and those are some of Belindas happiest memories of times with her mum.
Jane was also a keen and active contributor to a book group, and also the Leeds Forum. Jane also supported a lot of charities and wrote lots of letters on their behalf of which she kept meticulous records.
In 1988 Joanna was born, the daughter of Stephen and Susan. She was the first of Janes four grandchildren. Michael arrived two years later, to be followed by Matthew and Teresas two boys Roland and Louis.
Jane went on a few holidays with Stephen and Susan and their family when the grandchildren were young. Probably the most successful of these was to near Whitby, with the Yorkshire Moors for short walks for young children.
Jane can probably be best described as having a hands‐off approach to grand parenting, but was always interested in their exploits and achievements.
Jane remained very active until about three years ago despite two hip and one knee replacements. She did however slow down and was no longer able to keep up with the group on the walking club walks, so she founded an off‐shoot which was called the Amblers. To begin with it was only she who was allowed to lead the walks, but she did relent in time and started to delegate.
It took considerable patience to accompany Jane on walks in her later years, as her speed of walking dropped to about one mile an hour. Nevertheless, managing even short walks in her beloved Yorkshire Dales remained hugely important to her. Stephen and Susan took her on probably the last proper walk which was from Grassington to the pub at Linton for lunch and then back via a different route.
Unfortunately, her quality of life deteriorated in late January of this year when she developed severe back pain. Her family are very grateful for all her carers, from Moorcare for the help they gave her, which allowed her to remain in her beloved home until in May when she had a stroke and had to go into hospital. Here her condition worsened over the next two and a half months.
Jane was a hugely determined and energetic person; she set herself very high standards and expected others to live up to them, which wasnt always easy. Over the time that Jane was ill Stephen, Belinda and Matthew spoke to quite a number of people who knew her and whats become clear is that she was held in enormously high regard; and at the same time people had great affection for her.
Reflection We will pause for a moment now so that each of you has an opportunity to remember Jane in your own private way. Those with religious faith may wish to use this time for silent prayer.
Committal This now brings us to the part of the ceremony where we must say our final farewells to Jane.
Jane Elizabeth Burch, loving wife and mother and a good friend to many people, lived her 83 years with a dedication to her work, a zest for life and a love of walking. Jane was always there for her friends and neighbours, conversed with all whom she met and faced lifes challenges with a smile and a positive attitude. It is in appreciation of these things and what was important to Jane that we now commit her body to its final journey.
This hard working, caring woman is lost forever but her memory is committed safe in your hearts. Jane is now beyond the pain that human life can bring and is at peace.
We thank Jane for the love and laughter that she brought to her family and friends. We say goodbye now to Jane, in sorrow, but without fear, we commit the body of Jane Elizabeth Burch back to the elements of the universe which sustains and regenerates all of life.
Closing Words It is now time to pick up the threads of everyday life. Think of Jane and how much sorrow she would wish you to bear. The answer would surely be; neither too much nor for too long. She would surely wish you to come to terms with your loss and then remember the best of the past with joy. She would wish for you to continue to support each other and to care for those around you.
If you wish to make a donation in Janes memory, to the charity to which she gave so many years ‐ Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau, there will be a collection outside the crematorium as you leave.
We would invite you to join the family back at the house on Henconner Lane where you can continue to share your memories of Jane.
Published: 8 September 2010