Thelma Fisher, neé Corby (1937–2017)
From 2001–2006, Thelma Fisher was a much-loved resident of the village, living in the Vicarage with her husband Frank, who was then serving as Priest-in-Charge of the parish. After valiantly battling cancer, she sadly died on 30th March. This obituary is written by Frank, to whom we send our deep condolences.
Thelma was born in Kettering, her father a Primary School Head and her mother a needlework teacher. Having got good A levels at Kettering Girls High, she then read an English Degree at King’s College London. At King’s Thelma not only had a distinguished academic career, but was also Senior Woman Student of the Student’s Union and a member of the Drama Society and the Women’s Hockey Team. It was at King’s that she met Frank: he was acting as Archbishop Cauchon in St Joan and studying as a Theolog, and Thelma was the producer’s assistant – that was at the end of Frank’s first term. When they met outside the Chapel early in the Lent term, they both said to the other “what are you doing here?”
After Graduation, for which she worked hard and just missed a first, Thelma went to the London School of Economics for a Post-Graduate Sociology Diploma and then to the Social Work course at Bristol University to study Medical Social Work. By this time Thelma and Frank were firmly engaged and, while Frank became a Curate at St George’s Sheffield, Thelma was a ‘Lady Almoner’ at the Sheffield Royal Infirmary Skins Department. However she was soon asked to assist in the Extra Mural Diploma in Social Work for mature students and left the Hospital.
Music was very important and we were the proud owners of a piano. Thelma played, always Bach and much else, especially Ravel and other late 19th century composers. She also sang contralto in the Sheffield Bach Choir and with a Madrigal Group. By this time the Fishers had moved up Western Bank to the University Anglican Chaplaincy and Thelma became much involved with the students in the Chaplaincy, befriending, entertaining, and then starting a family when they adopted Nicolas in 1968.
When Nicolas was aged one they moved down to south-east London, where Frank became Chaplain at Goldsmith’s College. Thelma was nursing Nicolas and then Ian, who came to the family in 1971. It was not long before she was invited to be a part-time tutor in the Goldsmith’s Social Work Course and became active in the life of the Church of the Ascension in Blackheath, to which Frank was attached. There Thelma and Frank made one of their firmest lifelong friendships, with John and Britta Nicholson; however all too soon the Nicholsons went back to Denmark and the Fishers moved to be the Head of Raymont Hall, a Men’s Hall of Residence. They delightedly adopted a tiny baby Becky and then – all change again in 1980.
Jack Churchill, previously Chaplain of King’s and Frank’s Vicar in Sheffield, was by then Dean of Carlisle and suggested the Fishers move to Cumbria, Frank as Diocesan Officer for Social Responsibility. With this went the dream parish and vicarage of Dean, and for five years the family snuggled down there. Thelma again started at the bottom of local Social Service on Reception in Workington Social Services. In addition, she was asked to do some tutoring for Lancaster University and the Open University, and trained as a Marriage Guidance Councillor, working in West Cumbria. This was also the time when Thelma renewed her skills as a poet and musician and began to stage great productions with the children in Dean church, using the composing skills of David Bonser.
Dean was only for five years. From there the Fishers, plus a dog and six hens, travelled south to Melksham, where Frank was the Team Rector of a ‘team’ of three full-time clergy, two actively-retired priests and two Readers. Again Thelma worked great things with the children in the church, especially with more ‘theatricals’ on an ever-increasing scale. She also became involved teaching in Bath University Social Studies to the extent that she had her own ‘Office’. It was at this time that Family Mediation was growing as a means of couples being able to reach an amicable agreement about their separation and the provisions for the children. Thelma was instrumental in forming the National Family Conciliation Council in Swindon. This was maybe the biggest and most creative move in her life.
In 1990 the family moved to Stapleford in Cambridge partly because Nick died in a car crash the year before and also Thelma was appointed Chief Executive of the newly-formed National Family Mediation Council, a drawing-together of something like 80 local Family Mediation Services. After a small office and one secretary in Southwark, the service expanded to three other mediators, a couple of secretaries and a part-time ‘business advisor’ in Bloomsbury. This was under a Council chaired by Brenda Hale. And so Thelma travelled around Britain, crossed the Channel to Europe and the Atlantic to the USA and Canada, making many good friends in the process. At this time Thelma was also writing articles and a couple of books on Mediation and jointly editing “Divorce for Dummies”. Her mother came to live with us in our spacious Edwardian Vicarage and we had space for one or two students from Homerton College. Music again played a major part in Thelma’s activities with the Stapleford Singers and the Church, ending in our last year with a massive production of Noye’s Fludde by Britten in Dean Church. This was also the time when Becky started work in the Washington Embassy, so Mum and Dad made some exciting flights across the Atlantic.
In 2000 Thelma retired and so did Frank in 2001, and we settled to a new life as Priest-in-Charge of Grantchester. These were five lovely years, in which Thelma polished and polished two novels, now privately published, and didn’t entirely give up her involvement in Mediation. In our last year Thelma became totally involved in a Village Nativity play that took place during the day around the village, in Pub yards, private gardens and ended in the Church: some sixty people in the cast and almost as many were involved in production and support.
2006 saw a sad departure from Cambridge but a cosy settling into Castle Cary, making good friends, becoming greatly involved for about eight years in the Wells Festival of Literature, one of the local U3A Book groups, and playing the organ as a fill-in at Church. However in 2007 Thelma had cancer diagnosed on her tongue and in her neck. This was successfully operated on in Taunton Hospital and nothing more appeared until the summer of 2016 when it reappeared in her neck and another operation. This seemed successful, but in January of this year the cancer started to grow in her throat. This was inoperable and condemned Thelma to a miserable ten weeks, nursed at home, where she died on Thursday 30th March.