Norman Gillibrand RIP

Norman GillibrandWe all thought Norman was invincible, didn’t we?

Driving his car around Windmill Hill, always around, and even if out of sight recently, certainly not out of mind. Always the gentleman of Waverley Road, with a heart for others and a love of music and sport, it’s hard to believe that, as St Paul puts it, now his time has come. He has run the race and fought the good fight, and now is reserved for him the crown of glory.

And what a race it has been – not a sprint of course, but a long-paced marathon of music and sport, and love and friendship. Perhaps you don’t know that Norman – or Herbert as he was Christened – was born in Blackburn, Lancashire. Notwithstanding his later allegiance to Arsenal, he always had time to root for Blackburn Rovers too.

Of course, they hadn’t had much glory since their four successive FA Cup wins of 1883-6, and then two more in 1890 and 1891. Members of this congregation who support Spurs and Arsenal might reflect on the fact that Norman’s Blackburn were all mighty when this church was built. And around the time of his birth they were too: winning the league in both 1912 and 1914. I think Norman would want me to tell you that. And then of course they won the FA Cup in 1928, which he surely remembered and rejoiced in. Although no sooner had Blackburn won the cup, than the family moved to Palmers Green when Norman was twelve.

That move heralded a change of allegiance to Arsenal, although I’m told, that even when he and Doris were in the habit of going to home games regularly, sometimes even in the Directors’ box, his native loyalties would emerge. Apparently at one game, Arsenal against Blackburn Rovers, Blackburn scored – Norman jumped for joy – everyone – including the Arsenal Directors stared at him, hopefully in benevolent confusion! Norman played football too, as a schoolboy not doubt and also in the army. On holidays cricket was his preferred game, and he would arrange impromptu games on the beach for anyone who was nearby! He coached the boys at Keble School on Friday afternoons, and also after church on Sundays, as well as playing ‘pitch and putt’ with Robert at Grovelands Park.

Norman GillibrandTalking of Church, when Norman came to London, he and his parents and three brothers settled at St John’s Church in Palmers Green. I have a newspaper cutting, dated September 1930, which is an article about Norman singing in the choir of St John’s. It refers to him as having a ‘golden voice’: indeed they specifically mentioned his singing of Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear my Prayer’, describing his ‘golden and sympathetic interpretation of the beautiful solo’. You’ll have noticed of course that the choir have sung that very same piece today, in loving tribute to Norman, who sang in this choir for many years. He also loved the Jubilate in B flat by Stanford, and we shall sing that at our patronal festival in a couple of weeks’ time. Even though Norman was not able to sing in the choir for the last few years, everyone still considers him to have been ‘in’ the choir, if you see what I mean. Such was his devotion to and enthusiasm for choral music. Yet with the passing of Peter Pritchard 12 and a half years ago, and then Doris ten years ago, and now Norman himself, an era of Mary Magdalene Music is surely over. Nevertheless the music is still strong, and I’m sure that everyone in the choir today would say it is an honour to sing the Lord’s praises in tribute to Norman today.

St John’s Palmers Green not only helped furnish Norman with a lovely voice, it also furnished him with a wife. Although the circumstances are a little unusual: One day, in the Church Hall, when he was leaving after a social evening a young woman behind him squashed a finger in the exit door. Being the perfect gentleman as he was all his life, he helped her. The woman, of course, was Doris, who became his wife in 1938. They were married for 67 years.

War was not long coming of course, and Norman served for seven years in the army. He was always proud to wear his medals on Remembrance Sunday, but never spoke much about the war. After the war Norman became a men’s clothing company representative, a job which required him to head off to the South Coast with two suitcases early on a Monday morning, only to return on Friday evening.

Norman GillibrandIn retirement, Norman and Doris moved to Waverley Road, and while they missed St John’s Palmers Green, they soon became part of the furniture here at St Mary Magdalene’s, not leastly in the choir. John Sampford was the Vicar back then, and Norman and Doris also formed close associations with the Horlick family, especially Jameson, with whom he had a common footballing interest – although nearly ninety years apart in age, as goalkeepers there were united with s strand stronger than age. Jackie and I got to know him well, and Jackie also relates how Norman would get the photo albums out and regale her with stories of the family, but also there were spiritual conversations too.

Norman told Jackie how he liked singing hymns ‘silently’ in his head (not only the music, but the words too), using them like prayers. This was clearly a great comfort to him in his latter years. He also prayed every night before he went to sleep, for all the people he knew whom he believed were in heaven and that he would meet up with again when he died. And also, he could, and would remember and name them all aloud, in order of their ‘passing’. So it as that Norman remembered in his prayers, all those whom he loved and missed – each and every night. Such devotion and quiet faith is an example and inspiration to us all. And now, of course, he is reunited with Doris and all those others for whom he prayed and remembered so faithfully.

So now, as I began by saying, it is true that now Norman’s time has come. He has run the race and fought the good fight, and now is reserved for him the crown of glory. So even though we bid him farewell today, we have the comforting assurance of the hope of the heavenly dwelling place which he now shares with Doris and all the saints. As Joyce Grenfell put it, parting may be hell, but life does go on – heavenly, eternal, resurrection life – and so, we sing as well. It’s what Norman always did, even in his head, and does yet still in that heavenly choir, and we join our voices with his in that realm where there is no noise, nor silence, but one equal music, one equal light, one equal possession, one equal eternity.

Rest in peace Norman, old friend, and rise in Glory. Amen.

The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 9/7/15