1942 - 2008
18th November 1942 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
DIED: 21st July 2008 in Wrexham, Wales
Fern was buried in a "Woodland
Burial" at the Y Llwyn Cemetery, St Asaph, Wales on 4th August
2008. The eulogy was given by Anne
Greenland, a humanist celebrant.
In August 2010, the family dedicated a science laboratory in her name
at theMagqibagqiba Secondary School in Kwazulu, South Africa..
Click for a description
& pictures of the dedication ceremony.
On 9th June
us that she had a lump in her neck. In the ensuing weeks it was thought
various non-fatal kinds of cancer. Only later came the diagnosis that
non-small-cell cancer of the lungs that had metastasized to her neck
also pressing on her trachea.
It is not uncommon when faced with the realization that life is running
focus on the small things, and Fern was saddened at the thought that
perhaps she would not enjoy the tomatoes she had planted and tended in
garden. – and incensed at the thought that she would not have the
enjoying the last two years of the warranty of her red Hyundai car.
Fern did have some hard moments when she questioned
life style had been in vain, but then concluded together with her
that was the very thing that should successfully help her through the
chemotherapy she was about to undergo. In the end she died the day
chemotherapy was due to start, we presume either from a heart attack or
Fern kept a meticulous
diary detailing everything that she did. Had she read it she would have
realized how ill she really was; the pain and discomfort was shared
her diary. She had arranged that our son Moran would come to Wales
in September to prepare a CD of her life through her pictures, to share
family and friends. Sadly, she died much sooner than she, or any of us,
foresaw. Her death is our loss but anyone who knew Fern knows that she
have hated to be reliant on others and see her body’s slow decay. From
was thankfully saved.
She died suddenly on 21st July. We miss her very
My sister Fern will be remembered
by many people and for many different reasons.
~~ ... ~~
We are all aware of her many-faceted activities and community work, but
I think that Fern would like to be remembered as someone who, quite
simply, did good. Fern helped people less fortunate than her. As a
teacher, she taught people with special needs - and after retiring she
volunteered for overseas service in Namibia to give the benefit of her
experience to those who needed it.
I would like to relate one example that illustrates who Fern really was:
Our aunt in South Africa had employed, at the usual low wage - as was
common and accepted in apartheid South Africa - an African maid for
many years. Most of the maid's wages went on rent for the modest
dwelling in which she and her family lived. When the Aunt was ill Fern
looked after her and was with her when she died. Fern inherited some
money from her, and she used this money to buy the maid's dwelling
and give it to her as a gift.
Fern may not have changed the world - I'm sure she would have liked to
- but she certainly changed - and for the better - the lives of many
I spoke to Fern a few days before her death. She told me that the
prognosis for her was 6 - 12 months and that she was happy she would at
least be able to eat her tomatoes that she had so carefully tended.
Unfortunately this was not to be. So instead of flowers, we placed
her tomato plants on her grave.
~~ ... ~~
I am writing to
say goodbye. It's hard to think those
words and imagine that we will no longer meet, and tears are running
eyes as I write. You were my special
aunt that I remember from a young age, and no longer remember if these
memories, or memories from stories, but the first time I think involved
airport and a panda bear that I loved dearly and shared with my
puppy. Next time was when I was 12 and Dad and I
visited you in London. It was our first real meeting and I found
great- you had an amazing capacity to listen and incredible patience
young teen, and I loved talking to you, and even as a young self
was wowed with how you understood me.
After that many visits followed and I always had a great time
and enjoyed our long talks and the long challenging hikes, always
pushing me to
the limit. I did my first rock climbing
session with you, and remember the climb with my friend Simona when we
ourselves on a steep and cloudy mountain ridge, nothingness on both
sides and a
narrow rock climbing path in the middle.
Simona and I were petrified and exhilarated at the same time… Or
the time I came especially to visit you
when I was pregnant, and you took me on a "little hike" that left me
breathless with an aching back, yet feeling proud of myself with a
accomplishment, and you in wonder, not understanding why I am so tired,
realizing just how hard it is to carry a seven month belly on an uphill
receiving your long letters, and always made a point on flights on
while away on business trips of writing you long letters, and mailing
you weren’t into email.
slightly apart in the last years, we remained close in many ways and
a lively and detailed letter exchange. I still love Fern with all my
am so saddened that she is gone and that we didn't get to say
I am happy for you Fern that it ended quickly
and I hope without too much suffering, because being terminally ill and
people and help was not for you. So this
is my goodbye note and an 'I love you' note…
I hope something of this reaches you and that you are happy to
how loved you were by so many friends and family.
Love you and
miss you, Vered.
~~ ... ~~
My Tribute to Fern
For two people who were so different it is amazing that
Fern and I were friends. She was as far to the left as I am to the
lived frugally, whereas I am a conspicuous consumer. Fern was teetotal,
need I say
anymore. But friends we were, having learned to avoid areas of
began with the Pinnacle Club where we shared a passion for the
mountains, and whilst
it can be safely said that neither of us were at the cutting edge of
rock climbing we had
some memorable days, both on the hill and the rock. "Chic" a
route in the Moelwyns was our favourite. "We must do it again
together", she said the last time we met. Sadly this will not happen.
lived in Essex it was routine that she called in on a Sunday afternoon
weekend in Wales.
She always had a bowl of soup, and squared off any cake that was around
.My cakes are
rich and creamy, a far cry from those fat free, sugar free horrors that
upon us, becoming visibly upset when they were spurned. On her last
my house, just three days before she died I made her some Borscht,
which she always
loved, as it reminded her of her roots, and her Mother who used to make
it for her.
missionary zeal to spread the gospel of her beliefs. My last sermon was
delivered on the
subject of empty cans of dog food, and I was duly chastised for not
Vintage Fern stuff, which sometimes grated on people who thought that
this was the only
people knew the fun loving person I did - her passion for compulsively
garbage on television was a redeeming feature. I am pleased that during
weeks she had the television in her bedroom - something she
intelligent and often wise, having an affinity for what can best be
through the crap", and sussing out what was important.
She was immune to
the dictates of fashion, and what was deemed fashionable; ploughing her
something which is brave and courageous. The expression "When they made
her, they broke
the mould", could have been written for Fern.
We shared a love of
Abba, and their music, she made me promise to see Mama Mia which she
enjoyed in New York,
and when I play my Abba Gold I shall think of Fern forever the dancing
And I shall
start recycling those bloody tins m' dear.
~~ ... ~~
When I came to the Pinnacle
Club as a prospective, Fern was amongst the first to welcome me and
feel at home. She also supported my application for membership and we
climbed together. Fern was always full of energy and enthusiasm ever
encourage others. She was a loyal friend and would always listen if one
talk about personal difficulties.Fern could be difficult,
opinionated and pedantic almost to the point of comedy; I know I often
tongue. But she was a person of great integrity. She lived simply and
"do posh". Fern's life was congruent with her beliefs.
Fern didn't like
dishonesty. That included being honest about what you wanted to do. On
occasions she told me off for deferring to her wishes and not being
what I would have preferred. She said "with me, what you see is what
Some of my memories of her
include climbing Corvus in the Lakes with her. Higher up we came upon a
of men who were doing the route as part of the 40th birthday
celebrations of one of them. We
joined them for a picnic on a commodious ledge. At this point we should
pulled out a bottle of champagne from our rucksacks but Fern was no
socialist so we didn't.
I remember Fern on
Club meet in the Bregaglia in 1992. I could hear her enthusiastic
high above as she climbed a route with Sally.
She was living that climb to the full as she always did.
A few years ago my partner
Leah, Fern and I had a cycling holiday through Holland. One day we came to a cafe
Checkpoint Charlie and wanted refreshment. Leah and I went inside and
most delicious coffee and apple cake with cream. Meanwhile Fern got out
camping stove and brewed up outside! I also remember her love of
that holiday. We were so pleased to meet up with her at the beginning
the town square at Hook of Holland
she and I
got up and danced much to the amazement of nearby coffee drinkers. It
to get me dancing.
Fern might have
been a small
woman but she was a great one.I just want to say Fern I love you and
always miss you.
to Fern Levy by Penny Clay
I met Fern at my first ever Pinnacle club meet in,
I think 1991. I had
hitched down to Cwm Dyli from Lancaster
on a Friday afternoon and arrived at the hut to find no-one there. I
sure of the protocol and had brought a tent with me just in case!!!
Fern, who was the meet leader, found me sitting in the porch as a light
drizzle fell outside the hut eating a sandwich I had brought with me.
me such a welcome and made a huge impression on me right from the
moment I met
Anyway, moving through the years when she went off to Namibia
in touch by writing and when she came back although we met up we
write to each other. My last letter from her was May 27th
was already suffering from the DVT in her leg and had discovered the
her neck. After that we phoned and emailed so I never wrote back. So I
I would write her a final letter and share it with you.
I can’t believe I’m writing this to you for your funeral
but here goes! I
know you didn’t want your name written in flowers (apologies if
brought that particular floral tribute along!) and I know you didn’t
to know you were ill and feeling sorry for you and pitying you but as I
my email you are a very important person
in my life and always have been a kind of role model and inspiration in
ways not just in climbing but also in your approach to life and I’m
OFF that I, have lost that far too soon (entirely selfish, I know!). I
always simply assumed you’d be there somewhere in the world doing your
So, thinking back about some
of the memories I have I thought I’d roll out a few for you to smile
about and nod
and say ‘yes, I remember, that was when…’
In 1993 I was in the Ecrins Alps climbing with
Julie Carter and we met
up with you at La
Berade. You greatly entertained us with your story of
your ascent of
the Cosmiques Arete. For the benefit of our audience Fern, they need to
that this is classic Alpine mixed snow and rock route that ends
the viewing platform of the Midi telepherique station above Chamonix.
Here the hordes of tourists are shipped up out of the Chamonix valley
congregate, gorp and take photographs of the glacier and the peaks
around Mont Blanc including Mont
Blanc Du Tacul which you had
climbed the previous day. I forget who you did the route with, maybe
here, but you said that when you climbed onto the viewing platform,
roped up with
ice axes and crampons you received a tremendous round of applause from
tourists who were seeing ‘real’ climbers appearing in front of them.
you was immensely proud of the reception they gave you whilst part of
and wanted to deliver a lecture to them for patronising ‘The little
isn’t it amazing, she can climb!’ We went on to climb a lovely peak n
via a superb bivvy site which bizarrely had a whole cake, untouched, in
wrapping, left in it for the next occupants. Needless to say, we
off. We also spent time working on our AOT’s or All Over Tans and as
pleased to see I have been maintaining that tradition to date, weather
I last climbed with you last year when we went to
a great little crag in
Borrowdale called Sunshine Slab and I led you up a load of easy routes
your head back into climbing after being in Namibia for so long. At the
the day you talked about how much you loved the feel of climbing, both
and mental but that most of all it was leading that really gave you the
the adrenaline thrill. I remember being on Tryfen, years ago now (were
Diana?) with you approaching the Knights Move (can’t remember which of
routes its on…) and you being so psyched up for it, having mentally
the sequence of moves needed to ascend that section of rock, that you
floated up it calling out as you went, ‘this is lovely!’.
Equally, though, you could also be very
laidback about climbing so on one beautiful hot autumn day (very
for your beloved Wales – usually rains in my experience) we set off
hut to climb on Lliwedd and instead went swimming as we decided that to
swimming in Wales in October was even rarer an event than climbing on
and it not raining.
Since you died so many people, close friends and
have spoken highly of you but I don’t want you to think we’re going to
into some sort of Mother Theresa figure; we won’t! The Fern we knew and
was positive, energetic and encouraging but also opinionated,
the point of stubbornness and at times, like a terrier with a rat when
something had bugged that you couldn’t drop. As Hut warden you could
people to distraction with your list of job cards of things that needed
but I know that the Pinnacle Club and numerous other organisations that
dedicated yourself to benefited enormously, especially the learners and
teachers that you worked with in Namibia
. I wish I had kept
letters from that time as I would have liked to have reminisced about
the solo trips you went on whilst you were there to the National Parks
about the people that you lived and worked with there, the pet dogs you
and the vegetables you tried to grow.
When you know someone as a climber there are often
that you find out about them when you start to spend time with them
the crag. One of the things I, and I’m sure others will always remember
you is your amazing ability to create a star turn on the dance floor,
being your particular forte. At my house warming party I remember being
especially gob smacked and slightly concerned that you should know all
actions to the ‘Macarena’, a particularly bad but annoyingly catchy
song at the
time. Julie suggested we play Dancing Queen at your funeral but I’m
didn’t have time to try and sort that one out – apologies. You were
only person I knew to bake a cake to celebrate the anniversary of the
apartheid – even if it was a fat free sugar free cake.
When I saw you last you said you were grieving for
life that you
wouldn’t have and that is what we here are grieving for now. But you
woman who had a wide rippling effect in the world and I really do
you will be part of mine, and many other people’s lives for a long time
come. If I get this far in reading this out I’ll be doing well so I’ll
now. Goodbye, you are a dear friend. I thought you wouldn’t mind me
very briefly from your last letter when, after describing all your
problems and concerns you said and I quote “The strange thing is that I
fantastic in myself – full of energy and attending to all the little
come along with just living”. I shall take a leaf from your book and
try to do
Lots of love,
~~ ... ~~
Fern in Namibia, guiding a pupil at the Science Fair
I am Christophine at Namibia.I am giving my heart-felt
condolence to the Levy's family about the dearth of sister FERN. I
did'nt receive the news on time but I want to say say
Meme-FERN my teacher and as time goes,she become my friend,
a person to lean to, when i am in troubles.
On behalf of the entire Namibia say 'MAY HER SOUL
ENTERNAL PEACE' because she is a very big loss to all of us.We will
remembr her jokes,love,helping hands and many other good things that
done to us.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET HER. SHE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A SPECIAL
PLACE DEEP IN OUR HEARTS
From: Meduletu Nashimba
Ms Fern your death
a shock to my heart! You raised me as your son, giving me support. I
scientist. after all assistant you gave
me on my Science field that I was doing. After all this I
become success in my life but this was of
Your love, kindness,
gave me as your son will always be in my life. Your financial and
support will remain forever in my heart.May your soul rest in
internally peace I will miss u a lot.
Os ohh ah ah oe at
hurt full to my heart.
To the family of late
may strong spirit keeps you strong. Mom Fern has has been with me as my
since 2002 at Shituwa high school in Namibia
until 2007 last year at Ongwediva colledge of Education in Namibia.
has been taking care of me paying for my studies, buying for me foods
more. She said she loves me as her biological son. Its hard to
May her soul rest in
under God Spirits.
In her own words Fern
lived a principled and healthy lifestyle. Her whole life was devoted to
others less fortunate than herself. No mere do gooder, she was rather
enabler – her aim was to help others challenge themselves and reach
potential. She taught math and science first in ordinary schools and
children who were severely anti-social. On retiring at 60 she packed up
with British Overseas Volunteering Service went to Oshakati, a remote
area in Namibia
Angolan border, where for three years she lived under the most basic of
conditions. She worked in the
schools there, upgrading the math and science programs, preparing both
and learners (students of a later age). Her success can be evaluated in
learners won first prize at the National Science Fair in Windhoek – an
unheard of accomplishment that
a dusty little village could achieve results equal to the private
the big towns.
When she returned to Wales she suffered from
problems but still continued to be active in the Pinnacle Club a
climbing and mountaineering club, the local Tenants Association,
Search and Rescue and in another club that made paths, dry stone walls
steps for paths to preserve the mountain ecology.
Fern led a full and varied life. She did and
wonderful things that others can only dream about. Even though not a
athlete, through determination, discipline and attention to the
of things she ran half marathons, learnt to ride a bicycle in her
then proceeded to do bike safaris. When we celebrated Anthony’s 60th
birthday in Paris where our daughter
Fern biked over from Wales!
She became adept at orienteering as well as an accomplished rock
Fern, together with her love of life and outgoing
had an intensely private side to her; even her many friends described
hermit-like. She was an involved aunt to
our three children, who loved her dearly. Unfortunately because of her
principles she refused to visit Israel
in her last years and we saw much less of her.
Originally she had wanted to have her organs
donated and be
cremated, but just before she died she gave a friend details of how she
be buried. She was buried on a grassy slope in an
no gravestones, just short wooden poles with numbers to identify the
buried there. It was a non religious ceremony led by a humanist
her life with no hints of an afterlife.
Fern was always part of our lives. In the early
would join us at Pesach bearing chocolate Easter eggs for the children.
never came to a barmitzvah ceremony but did attend their weddings. She
took us walking or hiking, depending on our ability. Although not at
she and I spent many treasured days hiking, trekking and cycling
Although difficult, she touched and changed many
included. We shall miss her dearly.
with nephew Aviv at Stonehenge, and enjoying the traditional Moroccan
"chenna" celebration with Tova Ron at Aviv and Limor's wedding..
On a hike in Johannesburg with cousins
Sheenagh and Charles Levy; and going for a ride on cousin Ruth Kansky's
motorbike in the Cape, SA
Fern had an extremely close relationship with
"mum", the matriarch of the Johnson family that she was so fond
of. Pinnacle Club friends Penny
Fern learning to ride in Hofit, Israel. She
became a keen bicycler.
Proudly intoducing her new house in Gwyddelwen
EULOGY DELIVERED AT
THE GRAVESIDE BY ANNE GREENLAND (BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION)
I welcome you, this morning, as we meet here, in this peaceful place,
to honour the life and mark the passing of Fern Levy, who has died,
from cancer, at the age of sixty-five.
This is a Humanist funeral, and there will be no religious content, but
we hope that it will be a fitting tribute to Fern's life and her
personality. This graveside ceremony will, of necessity, be short; but
you are warmly invited to make your way to the Talardy Hotel, after the
service, to continue there the celebration of Fern's life.
It was a life that began in South Africa, in 1942.
Fern was the younger of two children born to Hayman and Queenie Levy,
An extremely intelligent child, Fern did well at school, and went on to
achieve a Masters in Social Sciences at a South African university;
and, later, a Batchelor of Science degree from the U.K 's Open
From her earliest years, Fern was aware of the political nature of life
in South Africa, dominated as it was by the apartheid system.
She developed an intense sensitivity to the injustice she saw around
As a young undergraduate, she became actively involved in subversive
anti-government and anti-apartheid protest.
In her daily life, her own convictions would be evident in her refusal,
for example, to use a 'whites only' bus. She would rather walk.
In the mid 1960's, Fern left South Africa, and settled in the U.K.
Her first home was in Essex, where, after an initial period of factory
work, she moved into a teaching career.
Her ideals undimmed, she joined left wing groups, including the
Workers' Revolutionary Party.
Throughout her life, she was sensitive to the plight of the World's
less fortunate, and did whatever she could, in a practical way, to
improve the quality of individual lives.
Fern had a deep appreciation of the natural world, and was probably
ahead of her time when it came to issues concerning the environment.
She favoured organic produce, opposing the use of pesticides on crops.
She enjoyed walking and hiking, and was a member of a rambling club.
Fern had been living in Wales since the early 1990s.
Here she was secretary of the Pinnacle club - a women's climbing
group.She was also an active participant in community activities - as
Secretary of the Tenants and Residents' Association in her home
village; and a first response contact, as part of her involvement with
North East Wales Search and Rescue.
Any donations given today in Fern's memory will go to Search and
Rescue, and the Pinnacle club.
Fern continued to teach when she moved to Wales, but she was now
working with 'special needs' pupils. Again, she was concerned for the
vulnerable in society, and worked with offenders as well as the
Generous with her time, much of what she did was voluntary, and much of
it was for the disadvantaged or mal-adjusted in society.
Her family have described her as principled, disciplined and deeply
committed, actively putting her ideals into practice.
She thrived when faced with tasks involving organisation and planning,
setting high standards for herself - and others.
She was very practical, having an aptitude for assembly and
She was happy to put her skills to good use - a willing helping hand
ready to tackle all manner of tasks.
On the one hand willing, sociable and good humoured, whilst, at the
same time, there was an intensely private, solitary side to this most
complex of individuals - someone who was just as likely to seek
People who improve and enrich the lives of others are the people who
create value and meaning in life. And Fern was such a person.
Following her retirement, at the age of sixty, she applied to the
V.S.O. organisation, and was posted to Namibia. Here she spent three
years, living in remote areas, helping to upgrade the teaching of
science and maths. She returned to Wales in 2006.
In was in Namibia that Fern had begun to experience health problems.
These verses are adapted from a poem by Edgar Guest:
Because she lived, a man in need
Was grateful for a kindly deed,
And ever after, tried to be
As thoughtful and as fine as she,
Because she lived, ne'er great or proud,
or known to all the motley crowd,
A few there were whose tents were pitched,
near hers, who found their lives enriched.
Fern's brother, Anthony, led the
personal tributes to Fern.
His tribute was followed by a number
of others, including colleagues from the
The final tribute was given by a
colleague from North Wales Search and Rescue.
Trying to look beyond the grief today, you must all be glad that Fern
was, and is, part of your lives.
Her influence endures, for the many whose lives she touched, in the
unending consequences that flow from her character and her actions.
We have been remembering, with love and affection, Fern, a woman of
courage, selflessness, compassion and commitment.
We dedicate this simple plot amid these natural surroundings to every
good and precious memory associated with her.
Fern will be part of this place for all time - through the warmth of
summer and the cold of winter - through the freshness of Spring and the
mists of Autumn.
In time, she will become part of this place, and, in this way, will
continue to play her part in the cycle of nature.
Fern now has that perfect peace that will come to us all.
The comfort of having a friend may be taken away
Fern's memory is committed safely to
your hearts -
and now, in keeping with the natural
in love and sorrow, but without fear,
we commit the body of Fern Tanya Levy
back to the earth,
which sustains and regenerates all
But not that of having had one
As there is sharpness in some fruits and bitterness in some wines that
please us, so there is a mixture in the remembrance of friends, where
the loss of their company is sweetened again by the contemplation of
Thank you all for coming here today, and sharing in to-day's ceremony.
Before taking your leave, you are invited to drop a flower or some
leaves onto the coffin.
In August 2010,
family dedicated a science laboratory in her name
at theMagqibagqiba Secondary School.in Kwazulu, South Africa..
top of page
See also Picture of Week 26