Mary Else Munn RIP
‘Mollie’ to us all
7 October 1921 – 30 July 2020
David Freeman writes,
‘Mollie was born on 7 October 1921 and baptised on 30 October. The birth was registered at Wanstead, which is surprising given her lifelong connection with parishes in the Finsbury area, and indeed she was soon worshipping at St Mary Charterhouse (on the site of St Mary’s Tower flats, next door to her own flat for the last 30 years).
She was confirmed on 10 March 1935 at St Barnabas, King Square (rededicated after the war as St Clements). With the closure of St Mary’s in that year, she became a parishioner of St Luke’s Old Street, and remained active there until its own closure, due to subsidence, not bomb damage, in 1959. Since then she has been a faithful and active member of St Giles, being not only the sole survivor of those who transferred from St Luke’s, but also becoming the oldest member of St Giles.
As long-time Assistant Cubmaster of 6th Finsbury pack, she was awarded her Cub Wood Badge in May 1962. She ran the Sunday School for many years and continued her deep interest in the children in later years, always insisting on sitting right at the back of St Giles to keep in touch with them.
An article in the Barbican Resident Magazine, written by our then Rector, Rev David Rhodes, in 1999, records the impact in St Giles when Mollie was unexpectedly absent:
Mollie Munn, Sacristan of St Giles since a time no one can remember, went into hospital as an emergency last Saturday. Chaos was guaranteed on Sunday because we all took her for granted for years. Mollie is always there.”
When we were celebrating her 95th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of the formal merger of St Giles and St Luke’s parishes, Bishop Richard praised her in his sermon for her ‘stickability’.
Her Funeral was held here on Thursday 13 August at 09.30
On Thursday, the funeral service was conducted by Katharine and Alex with Anne as organist and Penny, the soprano from our choir.
Before the service Anne played Elegy by Thalben-Ball. Katharine welcomed us, before David read from Ecclesiastes, ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die……..’
Penny sang the hymn ‘My God accept my heart today’ that was sung at Mollie’s confirmation. Mona read from Revelation that ends, ‘… and God will wipe every tear from their eyes’
Anne in tribute said,
Mollie was a devoted member of this congregation for 61 years, and before that of our daughter church, St Luke’s, Old Street. With Mollie’s death we have lost, not just a beloved and longstanding member of the St Giles congregation, but also the sole survivor of St Luke’s, as the congregation pf St Luke’s moved here in 1959 following the closure of that church. After Frank Major died in 2015 Mollie claimed her rightful place as the oldest member of St Giles, and she was proud of it.
My earliest memory of Mollie, 38 years ago, was of Mollie in a nylon overall, cleaning the church with her friend Will. The two of them did this weekly, despite there being a paid cleaner. Mollie told me, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, what she thought of the paid cleaner’s efforts, and I quickly learned that it would be a good idea for me to earn Mollie’s good opinion. I was heartily relieved a few weeks later when the Rector told me that Mollie approved of me.
Although Mollie never bothered with conversational niceties, I rapidly learned that she was kindness itself, especially towards the musicians. Mollie herself had sung in the church choir at St Luke’s.
One example of her kindness: shortly after my appointment I began a Sunday afternoon organ recital series, weekly from Easter to the end of September. This series ran for years. Mollie generously volunteered to provide tea for the audience and did so after every single recital.
Occasionally other commitments meant I couldn’t give the recital myself, and I booked someone else to play in my absence. Mollie proved an acute and invaluable critic, telling me after each visiting recitalist whether they were any good. Checking with other audience members, I never found her judgement to be misplaced.
Mollie suffered many ailments and illnesses, but she always ended any conversation about these with ‘why worry?’. In fact, rather than focus on her own concerns, she preferred to enquire about other people. Years ago, I taught a promising young organist called Terry. Terry and Mollie must have met here one day, and Mollie always asked me how Terry was doing. Sadly, Terry had to abandon his playing after emergency surgery on his head gave him tinnitus. But for months afterwards Mollie’s first question whenever she saw me was ‘How’s Terry?’.
Mollie loved children, and they loved her – that’s why she always sat at the back during services, to keep in touch with them. And not just children. Suzanne, the professional alto in the choir for many years, said
I remember kind she was to Bridget when I used to bring her to church. Bridget had Down’s Syndrome. Mollie called Bridget her little girl, always asked after her, and sent her money for birthday and Christmas presents. She would have Bridget sit with her during the service. Bridget used to head straight for Mollie when we arrived at church. In fact, it was Mollie who made it possible for me to bring Bridget and be free to sing.
Kirsty, another past member of the choir, said:
The joyous thing about Mollie was that she never changed. She was one of life's real troupers and will be greatly missed.
Mollie’s brain remained acute until the end, as we can hear in the wonderful memories she recorded four years ago, now available on the St Giles website.
It was thanks to the devoted care of David and Beryl, and support from Katharine, Dorothy and others, that she continued to attend church and continue living in her own home, and I think we all feel indebted to David and Beryl for ensuring Mollie’s challenging final years brought her such contentment. David shall have the last word about Mollie. He sent me an epitaph he once found in a church, which seems wonderfully apposite to Mollie:
“She lived to a good old age and, although she declined gradually through the weakness and infirmity of body, yet she retained a cheerful temper and vivacity of spirit to the last.”
Penny sang a favourite hymn of Mollie, ‘Abide with me’
Katharine in her sermon said, The hymns and the readings were chosen by Mollie for her funeral. There were earlier versions of the service. I don’t remember if the first reading we had from Ecclesiastes was always one of the choices. I did remark to David that Mollie observed her own seasonality and sometimes it was hard to keep up with her.
Like the birthday preparations for her 99th birthday that had been going on since before she was 98. Being 98 was clearly neither here nor there – 99 was the one to aim for – and we will make sure we celebrate it in her absence. The party started out as supper at Barracca’s but six months ago that plan was dropped because it didn’t include the children. It would be lunch in church instead. Mollie loved the children – or as one of the Sunday Club mums put it, her love of the next generation. They loved her – and did what she said – she kept a firm eye on them while their parents drank coffee together after the service.
For everything, its season and for everything there was Mollie planning season. It threw me to begin with, but I got used to it. I’d be back from summer holiday – Mollie would want to brief me in detail about the Christingle Service with £20 for the children and the hamper she was making up for the Advent Fair. Or as we got into the new year Mollie would be looking forward to the donkeys arriving on Palm Sunday. And weeks ahead asking us what we wanted for our birthday – a bottle of wine or flowers. Sometimes there wasn’t really a choice because it had already been decided: “I gave you flowers for Christmas, so I’ll get a bottle of wine now. You’ll like that.” For everything, a season and for everything a Mollie season.
All that forward planning – and yet the Mollie I knew – in these last 20 years, lived so contentedly in the present. Of course her legs troubled her, and her pace maker, and her skin, and her hearing, but I can picture her sitting in her chair with a blanket around her telling me she’d got her word search and her knitting and her family of soft toys. Or delight she took in having her nails done. With Beryl’s help there were shopping trips which necessitated a bus ride, the trips up and down the market, the cups of coffee in the café, and lunch on Fridays with David and Beryl in Barracca’s. She may have had diminished mobility but never diminished will power. Dorothy told the story about the day the lift was broken; Dorothy was concerned how Mollie would get back up the stairs afterwards. She watched her at the foot of the stairs bracing herself and start climbing. It was her sheer determination, her will power that got her back up those stairs. As we know she had a will of iron – and it was generally advisable to fit in with her plans.
I don’t know if it was when Gladys died, but whoever’s death it was, Mollie took it in her stride. Beryl I talked to you about this – was Mollie sad? You thought that when you get to a great age, you become matter of fact about death. It happens and it will happen to each of us. A time to be born and a time to die. And that’s how it is says the writer of Ecclesiastes, the words of the wise one, the preacher, the teacher, the one searching for meaning.
All in God’s good time.
We will miss her. Her insistence on sitting right at the back of the church as her grandmother sat right at the back of St Luke’s. Her running commentary which could penetrate the quieter bits of the service. Her summons afterwards - Mollie wants to speak to you.
It is as if with Mollie’s death a way of life has died too. A time when the church was much more central in people’s lives and people lived where they had been born. Memories of this neighbourhood as it was, of the Whitecross Street shops and the local families. The factories and jobs that have disappeared. Her churches, St Mary’s Fortune St, bombed, St Luke’s Old St – declared unsafe, and finally St Giles’ at that time standing in a building site that was to become the Barbican. Richard Chartres ended the sermon he preached at the anniversary service of the United Parish, with the words, ‘May God give us the vision of Jacob and the stickability of Mollie Munn.’
God had made everything suitable for its time.
Mollie lived her life rooted and grounded in her faith. She sang in the choir, took Sunday School and Cubs, she was Sacristan for years. This is where she was at home and we were her family.
She made her communion in church ten days before she died. Alex was with her a couple of hours before her death. In spite of the confusion she had lived through in those past days, she took his hand in hers and said, ‘God bless you.’ Mollie’s blessing; the blessing of her generosity, the blessing of her remembering birthdays and anniversaries, the blessing of her kindness beneath what could be a gruff exterior. And her blessing of the children.
A religious writes, ‘How shall I meet the moment of death when it comes? ‘I will surely be flooded with confusion of feelings as my time comes for me to say goodbye to a world which has been the home of all my aspirations, faltering efforts, apart: a world of friends now to be left behind, of dreams yet unfulfilled, of hopes not realized and tasks still incomplete.
Because we know we are loved eternally and unconditionally and that others watch as it has been and turn forward to face the full reality of death with peace and dignity. May Mollie, who loved her God, rest in peace.
Alex led the prayers of remembrance and Katharine the Commendation.
Penny sang Handel’s ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ and after the Blessing, Anne played Lefebure-Wely’s joyful, Sortie in E flat major.
A private committal followed at the City of London Crematorium
Katharine’s sermon on the ‘Feeding of the five thousand’, on 2 August included this tribute.
‘Mollie’s favourite hymn – one of the ones she chose for her funeral: ‘Let us break bread together on our knees, When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.’ At the top of the hymn it simply says in small print: Unknown. The author is unknown.
In this community Mollie was not unknown. She had lived within half a mile of her birthplace for almost all of her 98 years. Go up and down Whitecross Street and discover how many people knew her. We will tell each other our stories about Mollie in the days and weeks ahead, and we will laugh.....
As we know she had a will of iron – and it was generally advisable to fit in with her plans.
The kindest and most generous heart ever, although she spoke her mind loudly and clearly. Dorothy told me of her first Sunday at St Giles’ in 1989; she was washing cups in the vestry. She got it wrong; she heard this loud voice say, ‘That one doesn’t go up there.’
David and Beryl cared for her selflessly, accompanying her to doctor’s appointments, on shopping trips, for lunch and days out. And in these last years the hours in A & E waiting for her to be admitted – whatever time of day or night it was.
And Anne and others have also played their part, doing washing, visiting and so on. We were her family.
We broke bread together with her, we shared wine together, we praised God together as followers of Christ with our faces to the rising sun.
Mollie was a great provider of cake – with special attention given to the children. Thank you, Mollie for opening the scriptures to us in your own unique way, and for feeding us.’
Memories of Mollie
If you have a special memory of Mollie and would like to share it, please send the text to Diana Morgan Gray at email@example.com and she will include it here.
From St Giles’
Katharine, “Frank Major died in 2015 at the age of 94. He was a year older than Mollie. I phoned Mollie to tell her that Frank was dead; there was a pause then her reply, ‘Now I’m the oldest one in the congregation.’ Gladys died in 2016, but Mollie never felt the same level of competition with her because Gladys was a year younger.”
Dorothy, “She gave me £10 every Christmas to buy treats for my dog. My granddaughter always wrote a thank you card and drew a picture of a dog’s paw for her.” (And Katharine was slipped £20 ‘for the children’. Financially speaking, per capita, the dog did rather better than the Sunday Club.)
Judith, ‘Mollies death is certainly the end of an era!
She was such a character (and indeed a bit scary to us all!) and her determined collection of soft toys for ‘my children’ in Uganda was admirable!!’
Diana, ‘I agree Mollie was generous and she always gave me money towards the Easter flowers and for refreshments for the Advent Fair.
When Frank Major was alive, she used to share her copies of the Church Times with him. She had been a long-time subscriber, mainly I understand to read the clergy obituaries and when Frank died, Mollie decided that I ‘deserved’ to have them. I never really understood why she chose me!
One Sunday as a sides-person, Mollie asked me why the young crucifer was wearing trainers. When I found it difficult to answer, she said it was not right and he should wear proper black shoes!’
From the neighbours
An older man who was brought up in Whitecross St. “We used to call her ‘Mollie the Mop’ because when we were boys she used to chase us with a mop. She never caught us, she would have killed us if she had.”
From the Sunday Club
Mollie who had been a Sunday School teacher in her earlier days was always very fond of the members of the St Giles’ Sunday Club and provided them with lots of delicious cakes and biscuits. In fact in her latter years she insisted on sitting at the back of the church so she could see if they were being good. The children loved her as she always had time for them.
Listen to Mollie
As part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary on the United Parish of St Giles’ Cripplegate with St Luke’s Old Street in 2016 Mollie talks to Katharine and Natasha Krichefski of LSO St Luke's about worship at St Luke's on
A chair for Mollie
We are refurnishing the church with benches and chairs. It is fitting that it is a ‘St Mary’s Chair’ as Mary was Mollie’s Christian name.
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You may also donate by bank transfer to the church Nat West bank account, St Giles’ Cripplegate Account 46985867 sort code 56-00-23 and including the word ‘Mollie’ as a reference
by cheque writing ‘Mollie’ on the back of the cheque
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
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From 3 December with the lifting of the lockdown restrictions public worship in churches will again be permitted.
Sunday 6 December Advent 2
10.00 Parish Eucharist
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08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday to Thursday in the Chancel)
9 and 23 December
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Future Dates 3 December
The monthly sessions on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00.
Future Dates 3 December
2020 Dates of PCC meetings in church at 19.30
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Watch the Ordination of our Curate Alex Norris and other Ordinands in the Diocese of London at St Giles’ by +Joanne, Bishop of Stepney