Friday, January 04, 2013

Mum's Eulogy



Agnes Murielle Schleifer
A eulogy, by her son, Don Mitchell
Friends and family, we are gathered here this afternoon to pay tribute to, and to celebrate the life of, Murielle Schleifer of Old Ta in Anguilla, who died quietly in her sleep at the age of 88 years on the morning of 27th December 2012.  No doubt, she chose that day and that time, so as to cause a minimum of inconvenience to anyone, and to ensure that her family and friends could enjoy a final Christmas together with her.  By holding on for more than a month after the stroke that put her in bed, she gave us the time to accept that she would shortly be passing on, and to grieve for the loss of her in our own way, and so that the actual cessation of her breathing was thankfully accepted.  My sister, Alix, was able to fly down from Canada to visit her and to comfort her in her final illness on more than one occasion before her death.  My brother Gordon and his wife Joan were able to get up to Anguilla from Trinidad to see her, and to say goodbye, just a week or two before she was gone.
Murielle Schleifer was born an Owen on 6th October 1924 at Molyneux in Saint Kitts.  She was the daughter of Albert Elliot Owen, formerly of North Hill in Anguilla, and Marie Elise Uddenberg of Basseterre in Saint Kitts.  On 16th June 1945 she married her childhood sweetheart, Arthur Donaldson Mitchell of Basseterre, but who had been born in Saint Vincent of Grenadian parents.  She bore him four children, myself, our brother Gordon Elliot of Trinidad and Tobago, our sister Alix Dianne of Burlington in Canada, and our little brother, Steven Douglas, who has been her constant companion and helper. 
As we all know, after the death of our father “Mitch” in 1973, our mother remarried a Jamaican gentleman, Roy Schleifer of San Fernando in Trinidad.  When Roy retired from Texaco in 1983, he and Murielle returned to live at Old Ta in Anguilla;  and after he passed away in October 1984, he was himself buried at the South Hill Methodist Church.  She chose for herself not to be buried in the traditional way but to be cremated in Sint Maarten, and her ashes sprinkled over the roots of a tree in the grounds of her favourite St Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church in The Valley in Anguilla.  She thought it a sin to waste valuable real estate by occupying it herself when she could not really use it.
It is commonly acknowledged that Murielle Schleifer was a good woman, cheerful and friendly at all times.  There are only a few persons of whom it can be genuinely said, “She never had an ill word to speak of anyone.”  That was, however, her signal characteristic.  She used to chide me at intervals for not having inherited that admirable trait, but, as she was also wont to remind me, “Don’t forget, you have inherited your genes from both sides of the family”.  That last one was more likely than not to slip out when I warned her of the short life-span of the Mitchell men, and that the likelihood was that she would out-live her sons.  She reminded us that the Owens of Anguilla regularly live to a ripe old age. 
She was always an elegant and witty lady, of the style and posture of an earlier era.  Of her it was frequently remarked that she was a true lady, in the real sense of that term, not only one of the kindest and gentlest persons we could ever know, but never seen in public without her hair in place, make-up on, and impeccably dressed.  It was of increasing regret to her in her last years that she had to suffer and endure the indignities of advancing old age.  So much so, that, in recent years, she had taken to warning her children, “The one thing to remember is, don’t grow old.  It’s no fun!”
For a simple, Kittitian/Anguillian woman, Murielle Schleifer managed to bring up three children of whom she could be proud, as well as myself.  She always considered her children her grandest achievement, after her garden.  My brother, Gordon, has had a successful career as a construction engineer, building two homes for clients in Anguilla as well as structures throughout the Windward Islands, and in his chosen home-islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  He now enjoys a happy retirement as a farmer in Tobago where he breeds sheep, goats, pigeons, and rabbits, and specialises in his own form of aquaculture, using the effluent from the fish he breeds to provide the major nutrient for his water-fed plants.  If only we could bring that technology to Anguilla, we might have some chance of engaging in a really profitable, modern form of agriculture instead of trying to scratch a poor living from our barren, sun-parched land. 
My Canadian sister, Alix, who has been visiting her Mum several times a year, and has got to be such a frequent visitor that she is recognised in every shop in The Valley, has made a successful career for herself as a qualified, licensed financial advisor in her home town of Burlington and beyond.  The only department of Government in Anguilla that Alix has been unsuccessful in dealing with is the Licensing Department, which will, to her constant regret, not issue her with a three-year driving licence, thus saving her from the constant trips to the relevant window to obtain a temporary visitor’s licence. 
Our last brother, Steven, inherited all the brains donated by our father and mother that were not used up on Alix.  He qualified as a structural engineer at Ryerson University in Ontario, and has been involved in the construction of many of the major hotels in Anguilla since he came back home from his studies in 1983.  He is presently gainfully employed by CuisinArt Hotel, where we trust he will have many happy years involvement in hotel construction, given the recent acquisition by his employer of the unfinished tourist resort previously known as the Flag Luxury Hotel and Golf Course, on the construction of which he was previously engaged.
Me, you know as only the fourth lawyer, after the late Dame Bernice V Lake QC, the late Dr William V Herbert, and the Rt Hon Sir Dennis Byron, to set up a law practice in Anguilla.  After my first five years in Basseterre, I spent four years starting in 1976 as the Magistrate for Anguilla.  I then went into private practice in The Valley in December 1980, and spent the next eighteen years building up a full-time, resident law-practice, making me probably the first lawyer in the history of Anguilla to devote the major part of his career to the Bar of Anguilla. 
Murielle suffered a stroke on 20th November last year.  This was the result of a fall, suffered while pulling one of her beloved potted plants out from the shelter of her veranda into the rain which was then falling.  She was struck down a week after her fall, while on the telephone, laughing at some joke from our friend Keith “Chinnix” Brooks, and surrounded by her caregivers, Christine Waite and Josephine Lake, and her daughter, Alix.  She never regained full consciousness after that blow.  At most, in the early days of her final illness, she was able to give a feeble nod or shake of the head in response to your question.  The ability to do even that gradually faded away as her life force failed her. 
We must thank all the kind doctors, and nursing staff, first at the Women’s Ward at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and later at the Rosewood Centre for the Elderly at Sandy Hill in Anguilla, where she spent her last weeks.  They did everything within their power to treat her symptoms, and to ease her pain.  On behalf of our family, may I extend our deep gratitude for all that you did to take care of her.
Those of us who knew her will miss her, and will treasure our memories of her, especially her constant laughter and many kindnesses.  Her love has left an indelible imprint on our memories, and we take comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared her love. 
May she rest in peace.
4th January 2013