Tribute to Maude Oliver M.A.
Maude Oliver with Malcolm Harper, Director of UNA UK, February 2001
Address given at the funeral service at St. Nicholas Church, Harpenden on 19th January 2004:-
It is a privilege to say something about dear Maude Oliver - to describe how much she gave of herself in the service of others, near and far - to members of her family, to the community around her and to the world at large.
Maude had a strong Anglican upbringing. She was born on 13th July 1913 in Hamburg where her father, Rev. Harry James Oliver, was Chaplain to the Mission to Seamen. She was the youngest of three children - her brother John was 8 years older and her sister Lillian, who died a few weeks ago, was 7 years older.
Her father was interned in Germany during the 1st World War but her mother was allowed to return to England with their children. It may well have been that the enforced splitting up of the family for several years and the traumatic experience of moving between countries at war sowed the seeds of Maude's great interest in international affairs, her abhorrence of war and her great concern about refugees.
After 1st World War the family was re-united and settled in Bengeo, Hertfordshire, where her father was Rector of All Saints Church for about 25 years.
Maude was educated in the first instance by her mother and then at St. Mary's Hall, Brighton, which was a school for the daughters of clergymen. From there she went up to Newnham College, Cambridge, from which she graduated in History. Between the wars she joined the League of Nations - it is thought that her interest in that particular instrument for world peace was kindled when she won a prize of a visit to the League's Headquarters. Then, typically of Maude, immediately after the 2nd World War she spent a holiday working with refugees in Austria.
Her career took her into the Personnel side of Industry. After work for Kodak she took a job in Southport and then in Liverpool as Personnel Manager of T.J. Hughes of the Owen Group. During this period she became a magistrate.
She moved to Harpenden in the early '70s, to look after her brother's wife, Marjorie, who was very ill. It was at this time that she became a regular worshipper here at St. Nicholas. When her sister-in-law died Maude devoted herself to caring for her sister, Lillian (who had also moved to Harpenden), and to supporting her brother. Having no children of her own, she took especial delight in her brother's family who she always referred to as The Young Ones.
Although she gave the highest priority to the well-being of members of her family, she made time for many other activities which enabled her to be of service to others.
She joined the Harpenden Centre of the British Red Cross and underwent the necessary training. Two members of that organisation have told me that they had bathed with Maude - by which they meant that together they had provided baths at the Day Centre, for example for people requiring the use of a hoist to get them in and out of the water.
In political terms, Maude saw the Labour Party as the best way of making the country and the world a better place. She became a member of the Party's Harpenden committee but she did not seek Office or stand for election. She delivered leaflets for the Party until recently, when ill-health forced her to give up. Her sister, Lillian, was of a different political persuasion and it was by mutual agreement that a Labour and a Liberal poster were displayed side by side at the Olivers' Ashwell Park home at election times.
Next, she joined the Harpenden Branch of the United Nations Association. She became Secretary of the Branch in 1978, at a time when I was Chairman, and she was superb in that role. Perhaps her greatest strength was that she thought things through but it was also her personal style which was irresistible. When she telephoned the first sound she would utter was a long Errrr… She would then in a hesitant, self-effacing manner gently say what the purpose of her call was. At some time there would be a Please - and you wondered what request was coming or of what omission she would remind you. It was, as several of her friends have remarked, difficult to say No to her.
Of the many UN Association developments in which she took part, two stand out in particular and show her range of interests. First, at a time when the world was entrenched in the cold war but moves were being made towards peace in the middle East, Maude obtained speakers from the Chinese, American Russian and Egyptian Embassies to give us here in Harpenden first-hand accounts of the policies of their countries. Secondly, Maude role-played to perfection an Ambassador in a United Nations exercise which was put on in Harpenden's Secondary Schools. Maude became an excellent Branch Chairman from 1985 to 1992. She was diligent in representing the Harpenden Branch at regional and national United Nations Association events. She also attended meetings of the World Development Movement and campaigned for the World Disarmament Movement and many other causes.
Another activity of hers for which Harpenden has much cause to be grateful was her acting as Secretary of a Study Group or Enquiry into services for the elderly in and around Harpenden. This was chaired the former Radio Doctor, Lord Hill, and myself, and culminated in a Report, Living Longer in Harpenden, published in 1983. I well remember her hard work and thoughtfulness both in looking after the Group and in the production of the Report.
Maude also became a tower of strength in Harpenden's Helping Hand. In this the order of her Offices were reversed - she became Chairman in 1984 and Secretary from 1988 to 1994. It is Minuted that she said at one of the Committee meetings that "No organisation could stand still - it must move forward" and this epitomises her work for Helping Hand. She was always ready with new ideas of which one of the best was the much-appreciated Home from Hospital Scheme. Maude was also very involved with the Council for Voluntary Service and the Shaftesbury Society, which is for disabled people.
What made her so effective was that she was very thoughtful, tactful and above all gently persistent. She wanted to serve people and leave the world a better place. She was very serious in this purpose and followed up each task she set herself until she obtain a result.
Maude worked on keeping fit - at 70 she was playing badminton - but ill-health, particularly of her sister Lillian, place a great burden on her in her last few years. Her own health broke down last June from the time she broke her hip and was hospitalised. Even then, she made light of it - when a friend, visiting her, said "I believe you have broken your hip", Maude laughed and said "Oh, I don't think its THAT bad!". She was greatly cheered in her last weeks by visits from her friends and her family - and especially her great-great-niece Harriet.
Sadly, dear Maude is no longer in this world - she has gone to her eternal rest. All who knew her - and numerous people the world over who did not even know of her but have benefited from her efforts - can rejoice that she succeeded in her abiding purpose of playing her part in leaving the world a better place.
We thank God for Maude.
HVB 19 JAN 04