Last week several hundred friends gathered in the spring sunshine, joining Mary Passmore’s family as she was carried across the fields into this tiny early medieval church. Her coffin was beautifully bedecked with oak leaves and clouds of the apple blossom she so loved. The church’s solitary bell, dated 1100, was rung by Robin Reeve, welcoming Mary for the last time, to celebrate her long and active life.
Those of us who sat out in the sunshine or sheltered beneath the branches of the ancient trees on the side of the hill, listening to the prayers and tributes relayed across the farm she so loved, had our special memories of this lady who has left a permanent imprint upon all our hearts.
Mary’s legacy is the family she leaves behind, who continue the work she and Dick began so many years ago, dedicating their lives to the farm, the land, livestock and wider farming community.
Mary came to Coombes Farm in 1948. She had married Dick Passmore, the brother of her school friend, in 1946. Married life started in Shoreham before setting up home at Coombes, and becoming deeply embedded in the farm.
A charming tribute was given by Richard Rawlings. Mary had joined his family as nanny in October 1939, at lesser Foxholes. She had been trained as a Nursery Nurse at St Christopher’s in Tunbridge Well.
Richard described summer days spent with his four siblings under the care of Mary and his mother. The children played with local friends amongst the buttercups and daisies out in the fields, and helped to look after chickens, rabbits and ponies. They gathered hay and caught butterflies - an idyllic childhood, despite the ever present danger from German bombers eager to shut down nearby Shoreham airport.
During the war years, as well as looking after the children, Mary volunteered with the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and at Worthing Hospital.
The recurring theme throughout the afternoon as we reminisced, was Mary’s legendary kindness, her warm hospitality with cups of tea and her famous coffee cake. In her farmhouse kitchen the kettle sang on the hob, and Mary’s door was always open, to offer encouragement, advice, sympathy or a jolly good gossip. It was the place to go for her family and friends, and the many agricultural students who passed through Coombes Farm.
Mary was a leading member and Chief organiser of the Farmers Weekly - Sussex Farm Women’s Club. When the Farmers Weekly decided to close the Club, Mary instigated Sussex members to continue meeting. They soon found that other counties had done the same. So they regrouped and held their own national meeting at the RABI headquarters, and raised thousands of pounds for the charity over the years.
Mary was a great supporter of the South of England Agricultural Society. Each year during the shows she offered the livestock judges, stewards and stockmen a warm welcome in the hospitality enclosure.
The regulars always made a bee line to say hello to Mary, enjoying her legendary warm welcome, and cup of tea. Forget wanting to catch a glimpse of a visiting royal, meet the Society’s President, or God forbid bump into the Society’s chairman. It was Mary the farming community wanted to see. She was a significant part of the glue which held the Society together, and a wonderful ambassador.
Mary’s granddaughter Pamela included in her touching tribute, words which Mary often repeated. “Don’t lead I may not follow, and don’t follow I may not lead. Walk beside me so we can talk and travel forward together.” A fine epitaph for a remarkable lady.