There was a formal celebration of Celia Brackenridge’s life on Friday 12 October. Celia’s family and friends from all over the world came together to share the day. (Video link)
It was the culmination of months of planning by Celia’s partner, Diana Woodward. We learned too that the content of the day was also planned by Celia.
Celia’s friend, Sue Ravenlaw, led the celebrations and was able to help all those present focus on Celia’s life and her journey. She was assisted with her role by other friends Celia had asked to speak “at any event that might be organised”.
Anne Tilvas read a letter from Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport.
The story of when Celia was very young was shared by Celia’s sister, Dinah, and her words were read by Celia’s cousin, Jo Carroll.
Celia’s journey at school and her subsequent academic career was shared by Mary ‘Austy’ Kirkland, a lifelong friend. Mary had accessed Celia’s papers to research her part of the celebration and gave us a fascinating insight into Celia’s love of music and sport. I was particularly interested to hear that Celia kept a record of every game of lacrosse she played in her diaries and had reflected on each performance.
A cello performance by Erica Simpson connected us with Celia’s passionate interest in music. Erica played J S Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major. I thought Celia would be delighted with Erica’s performance. It was a wonderful expression of virtuosity in celebration of a loved friend.
Rosie Mayglothing provided an insight into Celia’s advocacy and championing of causes that persisted despite sport’s attempts to ignore the issues. Rosie and Celia were friends for over four decades and Rosie’s account helped put Celia’s work from the mid-1980s onwards into an important cultural context (as did the Minister of Sport’s letter).
Rosie was followed on to the stage by Celia’s stepsons, Alex and Nick. The title of this blog post comes from a poem by Ursula Fanthorpe, Atlas, that was read by Nick. It was a poem read at Celia and Diana’s Civil Partnership in 2006. I think it was an inspired choice then and was perfect for a Friday celebration at Wembley. Celia would have been immensely proud of Alex and Nick’s sharing of their life with her and Diana.
The formal part of the day ended with Diana’s story of being with Celia for thirty years. I do not have a vocabulary to express my feelings about Diana. Her fortitude over the last three years has been a beacon for me. Her actions have taught me how to care and love in a profoundly different way. My wife, Sue, and I tried desperately not to contact Diana when she was being inundated despite wanting to hear whatever news there was. We had the great good fortune to spend some time with Celia and Diana the last time we were in England late in 2017. It was an occasion to ensure we did not have subsequent ‘if, only’ conversations.
Sue Ravenlaw concluded the formal part of the day and we exited the room to Celia’s choice of a Mills Brothers’ song from the 1930s.
Then it was time for the informal part of the day. To meet and laugh with family and friends about a most remarkable woman.
I have not written about Celia’s work in women’s sport, child protection and safe sport. I thought Rosie’s part of the celebration did this very powerfully. There is a digital resource at The Change Makers that provides a comprehensive record of Celia’s work. I was delighted to learn of the receipt of the Celia Brackenridge International Research Award by (AJ) Alexandra Rankin-Wright. AJ’s work is exactly the kind of evidence-based approach that Celia championed. I think she would have admired immensely AJ’s acceptance words for the award.
Our son, Sam, came with us to the celebration. He has met Celia many times in his thirty-three years. Sue and I were able to introduce him to some friends in the informal part of the day who were also part of Celia’s story … and like Atlas “keep our suspect edifice upright in air”.