Honorary members are elected and reappointed annually by a General Meeting of the club’s ordinary members.
HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, KG, KT
Colin Mawby, FCA
Esther Rantzen, CBE
Rtd Gen Shaw Clifton, LLB, BA, PhD, AKC
Commissioner Arthur Thompson, BSc, PhD, PGCE
Ronald Mann, FRICS
Sir Sigmund Sternberg, KC*SG, JP
Revd Gordon Warren, RN (Hon), DMin (Oxon)
A tribute to our former Honorary Member Penny Spears (1921-2013)
Penny (Christened Margaret Joan) Spears was born in Highgate in 1921 and educated at Channing School. At the outbreak of war, when she was just 18, she immediately joined the Wrens and served between 1939 and to 1945. Lately she had been a member of the London Branch of the WRNS.
Whilst in the WRNS she soon learned that you always said you knew how to do anything they asked, otherwise you ended up with boring jobs like cleaning the silver in the Officers’ Mess. It took her at least a week to work out how to use the complicated switchboard and I suspect there were some irate people until she mastered that!
For a time during the war she was stationed in Scotland, which is where she met my father, Ron Spears, who was a fighter pilot in the RAF. On one occasion she was asked to drive a Rear-Admiral from one side of Scotland to the other (of course she had told them that she could drive). A very quick driving lesson from my father the night before was all the tuition she got. She managed to get the Rear-Admiral to where he needed to be: stopped the car, got out and opened the door for him and saluted smartly. He lent towards her and remarked, quietly, “Do drive back carefully Wren Chamberlain!”
Whilst in Scotland she had a black Labrador who seemed to live on a diet of Wrens’ knickers stolen from the laundry. Consequently, she continually had to give her precious clothing coupons away in recompense.
Later Penny was posted to the Admiralty in London helping with ‘Top Ssecret’ plans for D Day. Whenever she travelled anywhere carrying secret documents she was accompanied by an armed guard, which meant that if she and my father managed to meet at a railway station as he was passing through London, there ‘brief encounter’ was watched by her guard!
Penny was the youngest Wren to be sent across the Channel on only D Day plus 4. She was stationed at Bayeux Police Station overseeing the landing of equipment and supplies. Penny and Ron were married in 1945 and I was born in 1946 (I have it on good authority that I was conceived on VE Day, although |I hope not in Trafalgar Square!). My brother, Peter, was born the following year. In 1954 she became a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers, by patrimony, and a full Liveryman when they started admitting women in 1993. Her father, brother and nephew are all Past Masters of the Company.
For the whole of her married life, my mother dedicated herself to the service of others. She was never paid for any of her endeavours, but found fulfilment in helping others, oftimes anonymously.
For 55 years she was a Trustee of the Chamberlain Foundation, a family charity initially looking after retired employees of my grandfather’s group of companies. This involved my mother visiting them all twice a year and reporting back to the other Trustees and making sure that our pensioners were not in need. Everyone received a Christmas hamper every year. Afterwards, when most of them had passed away, we started ‘outside’ giving. None of the funds came from the public but were generated ‘in house’.
Penny and Ron were also instigators of the three Abbeyfield houses in Southgate and Palmers Green. For about 15yrs Penny was Volunteer Organising Secretary and was involved in the day-to-day running of the house at 20 Selbourne Road. At the same time she was a stalwart of Southgate Inner Wheel and its President twice.
My dad was a ‘people person’ and an enthusiastic member of the Rotary Club of London, becoming its President in 1976/7. During this time my parents hosted numerous Rotary Foundation Scholars and Dad took great pleasure in showing them around London. In recognition of their charitable work for Rotary, Ron, and later Penny, were both made Honourable Members and awarded Paul Harris Fellowships. Penny was also the recipient of the Neville Shulman Rotary Charity Cup.
Whilst I was growing up my mother also had a stud farm, producing show ponies for young girls to ride at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembly. She bred two National Supreme Champion pony stallions during the mid 1960’s. Penny was also a Magistrate for twelve years, sitting on the Wood Green Bench between 1976 and 1987. About this time she became a Life Member of the Society of St. George and of the City Livery Club.
In 1975 Penny became one of the founder members of a group of people who started a revolutionary idea in housing for the retired. She was the Organising Secretary of “Enterprise House” for twenty years. It took nearly ten years to get the funds and the idea off the ground, but now Enterprise House is home to about 200 active retired people over 55, in Chingford. It is not sheltered housing but the scheme incorporates a restaurant/bar; hobbies rooms; hairdressers; chiropodists etc. and a beautiful landscaped garden in which the residents are encouraged to continue their gardening if they wish. It was the first scheme of its kind and is still a thriving community.
Penny took up golf when she was about 75yrs old and loved it, but when my father developed vascular dementia, she nursed him at home for seven years before his death in 2003. Feeling that she now had time on her hands, she started playing golf again, swam and took up tennis at Vicars Moor LTC . She continued with the golf, swimming and tennis until she was over 90yrs old. She also became a Patron of the cancer charity ROKO, which raises money for state of the art mobile cancer screening buses visiting poor Indian villages where the population doesn’t have access to mammograms.
Penny had been diagnosed with cancer about 18months ago. When she broke the news to the family she said, in her typically pragmatic manner, “Well, I’m over 90 and I’ve got to die of something, now we know what it will be.” She just wanted the best quality of life for as long as possible and true to form she was going up to town on the tube, alone, for Rotary/Wednesday club lunches until very recently.
In the event, her end came mercifully quickly; at home; pain-free and with George and the family at her bedside at the end.
We will all miss her dreadfully; she was a very special lady, but she has been an inspiration to us and how we should try to lead our lives.
Sue Kent (Penny's daughter)