On Thursday 6 August, two days after her 81st birthday my beautiful Mum, Rosalie Jean Saunders was found dead at home.
She had had an amazing birthday, she felt so blessed by people’s love and kindness. She had her hair dyed pink in celebration. Two days later, it appears that her heart gave out, but oh! what a heart she had.
The last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. Most days when folks have asked me how I am, I’ve said that I’ve been like a typical day of Scottish weather: I’ve had a bit of everything.
Today, restricted by Covid-19 guidelines, a few family and friends gathered in the church grounds at St John the Evangelist, Selkirk (Mum’s spiritual home since 1974) and then in the Auld Kirk Yard to give thanks for the life of Mum and commit her to God’s keeping.
Mum was buried in a family grave, alongside my father.
My sister, brother and I worked collaboratively on her eulogy (below) using notes that she had left herself (thanks Mum, they were really helpful!). Mum left a lot of papers and writings and photographs which we will go through over the next few weeks, months, years and I’d like to compile them into a book to remember Mum by. But that is for another day.
Today we rejoiced for her life, her love, her faith in the God she adored.
Rosalie Jean Brydon was born on Friday 4 August 1939 at Viewfield Park here in Selkirk to Mary Anderson Watson Lothian and William Scott Brydon of Galashiels.
Rosalie was always proud of sharing her birthday with HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and they shared correspondence through the years.
Rosalie had one brother, Lewis and a number of cousins who were very dear to her: Jim, Jasmine, Lilias, Joani and Stuart.
Her father was in the Royal Navy during the Second World War so was away a lot. She remembers answering the door to a strange man when she was young, not recognising her own father. Thankfully, she had the opportunity to get to know him better after the war.
Rosalie’s childhood was a bit of an adventure.
She attended Knowepark Primary School until she was nine. But in 1949, following a summer trip to Singapore to visit her parents who had settled there after the war, she got caught up in the Malayan Emergency—a guerrilla war between the commonwealth and the communist party. She often described these days as among her favourites: No school for two years! She had a pet bear, Joey, and a monkey, Kiki. She would visit the Ghurkhas in the jungle who would give her sweetmeats and was once chased by a tiger because she’d stopped to stroke its paw while it was sleeping in the undergrowth.
It was in Malaya that Rosalie had an encounter with God, one day while she was sitting in a tree, that had a profound effect on her life.
Returning to Selkirk, two years later, she lodged with her aunt and uncle and cousin Jim and finished high school.
Her father had told her that she should not become a nurse so, of course, that is exactly what she did!
In 1960 she qualified as a nurse at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, before graduating as a midwife in 1962 in Dumfries.
The following year she attended St Colm’s missionary college in Edinburgh before shipping out to work in Jalna Mission Hospital in Maharashtra, India.
Which is where she met Keith John Saunders. They courted and got engaged in the hills of Kashmir.
They were married in Selkirk in 1968 and after two years teaching at the School of Nursing in Bethnal Green, London she returned to Selkirk after Keith got a job at Exacta Circuits, and she worked as a sister midwife at Selkirk Cottage Hospital and later at Gala, Peel and lastly at the Borders General Hospital in Melrose, where she retired in 1994 on medical grounds.
Family was very important to Rosalie.
She lost her first child at five months, whom she named Jonathan.
In 1971 she welcomed Gareth—her gentle giant—into the world, followed by Jenni—her beautiful caring daughter—less than a year later, and finally in 1975, Eddie—who gave her great joy.
She delighted in her six grandsons:
- Benjamin who lived up to his name which means ‘son of the right hand’—a tremendous support.
- Owen who gave her great joy and made her laugh.
- Reuben and Joshua her beloved twin grandsons.
- Isaac, bringer of laughter.
- And Micah, whose name means, “Who is like God?”.
Rosalie created at Kirkbank Cottage a home where everyone felt welcome… even when she was out as she rarely locked the front door.
A number of the children’s friends regarded the place like a second home. In the 1980s she fostered a boy, Kieron and for a couple of months she took in a friend of Keith’s whose wife had kicked him out.
The biggest impact to family life, of course, was Keith’s triple sub-arachnoid brain haemorrhage in 1983.
For 15 years Rosalie nursed her husband at home as his condition slowly deteriorated. She managed to make ends meet while putting three children through college.
Keith died at home in January 1998.
Faith and character
Rosalie’s faith in Jesus was a fundamental part of who she was.
She always put others before herself.
She was described by many as one of the kindest women they had ever known. A role model. A lovely lady. A great character. Generous.
At Christmas she would give around 100 presents and send more than 200 cards.
Rosalie loved peppermint creams for Christmas breakfast. And whole tins of condensed milk, eaten directly from the tin with a spoon.
Privately, Rosalie often described her life as shaped by loss and gratitude.
Loss of a childhood to the war, loss of family life through distance, loss of a child, a husband, her home at Kirkbank Cottage and latterly her sight and health.
But shaped by her faith, she held within her heart a deep well of gratitude for God, for life, love, family and friends, and her beloved animals. When asked a few years ago what job she would have loved to do, she said either a vet… or an author.
She loved books and flower fairies. She pursued her writing dream through writing classes and attending the Borders Book Festival.
She served Selkirk as a Community Councillor (1980–1984) and was lady busser for the Selkirk Colonial Society, which she supported all her life. She supported the Antiquarians and Friends of the Auld Kirk Yard where she will be buried later today.
Rosalie left the Church of Scotland in 1974 and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church; in part because it suited her spirituality better, in part because the children behaved there!
She had many roles at St John’s—reading and prayers, Sunday school, cleaning and coffee rota—latterly serving as a member of the Ministry Leadership Team (2007–2013).
She was involved in the annual Western India Tea parties, Lydia prayer group, Alpha, Billy Graham crusades, Cursillo, the Christian Fellowship of Healing in Edinburgh. She was a leader of the Ecumenical Bible Study (2002–2012) in Selkirk and involved in holiday clubs and was secretary to the Selkirk Council of Churches.
For years, she had a heart for Open Doors, which campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. And she sponsored children in the Holy Land to help give them a better life.
Even at aged 80, she would visit the ‘auld folk’ in the town (some of them younger than her!) to make sure they were okay and had someone to listen to them.
Rosalie cared about everyone she met. She touched so many lives. She made people, who often didn’t think much of themselves, feel acknowledged and loved.
She said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as we speak.
She was generous, kind, always thinking of others but also could be strong-willed (“You put your purse away, I’m paying for this!”) and often did her own thing, her own way. She was, after all, a woman who died with pink hair!
Among Rosalie’s papers for her funeral was a letter, written in 1988 to whoever would eventually officiate at her funeral.
In it she writes, “All my life, God has been a God of revelation and grace to me. He sought me before I sought Him. Occasionally, I have had glimpses of His glory—His closeness, breathed-in the fragrance of His loveliness, the beauty of His holiness—and longed to know Him more nearly and truly love Him more dearly. Therefore, rejoice.”
So, today we rejoice for the life of Rosalie Jean Saunders.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.