A Brief Biography: A Wife dearly missed

VALERIE ROSE IVES (1942 – 2015)

                            

A friend asked me the other day - why are you writing a biograhical study of Val? A fair question and perhaps it is not usual for widowers to want to share the memories of a departed wife. The question set me reflecting and in all honesty there has to be a large element of therapy for a grieving husband in this - so bear with me. How long does grieving last? - there can be no precise answer to that for it depends on so many factors and particularly is this seen and felt in the particular people involved and the nature of their relationship. I have always felt proud and privileged with Val as my wife and I gradually grew to love the light and texture that her personality drew from other friends and situations - yes I know I was slow in fully realising this - but then Val was the one who was always quicker on the uptake. Val was the 'communicating one' and I was happy that it was that way. Val loved being in touch with different friends - latterly she would text or have phone calls. She would always pass on news or concerns that needed praying over. Val was unique in her concerns and I have been in deep discussions with her and often witnessed her tears about some people and situations. Now, of course that's all stopped - some friends try to keep in touch - but some have found it difficult to maintain any contact - that's life and you not only have to pass on, but you appreciate more what you have had and enjoyed for as long as you did. I still remind folks to recall memories of Val - she was 'One of God's Ladies of quality' (from her grave stone) - and I happened to have had the privilege of being her husband,. I give praise to the Lord who, we believe, first brought us together. Val was one of those rare people that impacted on people wherever she went - family, friends, colleagues and many others who experienced that word of encouragement, advice or - very occasionally, a 'home-truth'. Would Val have liked me doing this? - probably not. Val was modest, purposefully unassuming and not given to seeking the lime-light, but her life has been - and contiues to be - a gracious testimony of what God can do through the consecrated life of just one of His people. 

Valerie Rose Millington was born on November 6th 1942 to Lily and Howard Millington; she had an older brother Howard known as ‘Roy’ in the family, this was to distinguish him from his father, also Howard: actually Roy had the lasr laugh for his initials were HRM! Their home was 610 Heyville Road, Higher Bebington on the Wirral; a semi-detached house, painted green and it remained the family home until her parents relocated to North Wales. Val was born during the Second World War and though she remembered the sights and scenes in Liverpool and Birkenhead with the damage caused by the air-raids, most of her recollections were gained from her father, who took his turn in being a fire-warden.

She grew up as a purposeful girl who was always anxious to do well in all her studies and activities; she took up the piano and became quite proficient - certainly enough for her to use to lead her classes in later life. She remembered going to Saturday morning cinema, or the ‘pictures’ as it was called, it was the era of the B-movie Westerns and her favourite cowboy was Roy Rogers, but her hero was Mario Lanza in 'The Toast of New Orleans.' She said she remembered being careful about spending her pocket money at the local sweet shop; Roy would spend his quickly on what he wanted, but Val took her time and would buy a little of different types of sweets; she always wanted to get the most out of her opportunities: she was always careful about money

Val loved both her parents, but was particularly close to her mum and wanted to do well as a response to her mother's care and concern. She followed her elder brother around and in most activities was known by her family title of ‘Ann Me!’ Val had a good relationship with her big brother and they would have their own fun in seeing who could say the ‘naughtiest’ words and there was a game of seeing who cried first when they pulled each other’s hair – Val often won this by not going for a large handful of hair as Roy, but going for a small knot of hair – this hurt more! Val always had vivid memories of her childhood and her appreciation of each one of her family.

Her Nan lived in New Ferry and was a marvellous character. Val often spent time there and give her mum a break from looking after her. Nan could tell vivid stories, usually from her experiences – and yes some you would hear more than once but they were worth rehearing. Val enjoyed the attentions of the cat (Busker) but was less than enamoured of the occasional cockroach! Val was also attached to her Nan and often stayed there to give her mother a break in looking after Nan as she got older. Val said that her Nan was no fool and so often there was wisdom in what she said – even if it was repeated from time to time. Val attended the local schools and was disappointed in that she did not pass her eleven plus for the grammar schools; she attended first Bebbington County Secondary for Girls and after her fifth year she transferred to the Wirral Grammar School for her 'A' levels. She loved her time at the Wirral and made attachments in friendship that lasted long after she had left.

She learned to play the piano (remained in touch with her tutor – Mrs Lewis) and there were certain pieces that she liked very much. Val came to enjoy what she did and regarded herself as competent for her later work as a teacher, but was not really interested in going higher in her attainment or extending her repertoire. Val was always a serious student and thought about things deeply, she became a committed Christian and began to attend the Grange Presbyterian Church. Beryl Edkins, her Religious Studies teacher was a great influence on Val and their remained in contact by letter long after Beryl had retired. Val’s Christian faith and commitment grew with the years, but she kept fond memories of her early arguments with both her father and brother.

Val committed to train as a teacher and went to Maria Grey College, Twickenham (1961-64) and here she achieved the college colours for her prowess in netball. She also gained a close group of friends in the Christian Union primarily and this was her ‘family’ group throughout her college course. She had chosen to take Religious Studies, but was often at variance with the tutor, Miss Hall, who was rather ‘liberal’ in her views about the books and the events of the Scriptures. Val often be the one member of the group who would give her views and get herself in the ‘bad books’ of her tutor; “I really don’t know what we are going to do with you – Miss Millington!”

 

While at college she met Keith Ives from Borough Road College, Isleworth, through their both being members of their respective Christian Unions and taking Sunday services at two old folks homes in the area, every other Sunday. It may sound strange, but it is true, that initially they had not liked or been attracted to each other in their first year at college; Val thought Keith ‘silly and immature’ and Keith thought Val ‘too prim and proper as a  school Madame’. However, their first date was November 17th 1962 and it was a date we always remembered. Keith was amazed that Val had reponded to the suggestion of  an outing to Stamford Bridge to watch the football! Keith caught an early train that looped through Richmon, where Val got her train and He saw that she was waiting to catch the agreed train. Keith was relieved that Val was indeed coming to meet him! The football wasn’t much to record a mention (Norwich losr 2-0 to Chelsea), but they had tea together afterwards and discovered their mutual love of the novels of Jane Austen. Val always reminded Keith of Elizabeth Bennet; with her expressive eyes, but there is no-way Val saw anything of Darcy in him!  They went back to Keith’s college, Borough Road, Isleworth, where the Christian Unions had arranged a Missionary Meeting; their friends saw that they had become an item.

Val was worried because she had wanted two signs that the one she would marry had to have – he had to be taller and older that her. Being tall herself she wanted ‘her man’ to be taller than her because she was rather tall herself and at her schools had to take the ‘man’s part’ in dances and such activities. The need to be older than Val was her own particular view and since Keith was the same year group at college he would seem more likely to have been younger given her own birthday was in November. During the summer and autumn of 1962, their views of each other changed considerably and it was found that Keith ‘qualified’ in both of Val’s concerns! In the following weeks the foot paths around Richmond saw many of their courting walks, but Val had to be back in her college by 10-30 pm, unless Val had requested a late pass and then it could be 12-00 midnight! A confirmation of God's blessing on their relationship was that both had verses of encoragement from the Bible - their love grew steadily. Perhaps with hindsight they spent too much time on the phone or seeing each other, but that’s young love for you; certainly we were in contact with each other on a daily basis, especially as I proposed to Val on the riverside footpath opposite the Richmond Icerink and this was before the Christmas holiday of 1962.

Both were concerned that they get their relationship right and they certain were there to help and console each other through essays, assignments and teaching practice! Their romance flourished and they became engaged at New Year 1963, but their need to meet each others parents. They chose a ring - Val knew what she wanted - and Keith used his 21st birthday money to buy it! They finished their college courses, which included final teaching practices and final exams. Keith then confounded his own parents by getting a teaching appointment in Cheshire to be near Val, and she was appointed to a school in Poulton, Wallasey. Plans were discussed about their future life together as they negotiated the stresses of the first year of teaching experience. Keith would join Val at her church and was able to do some lay-preaching in the area. They were married on August 7th 1965 at Val's Church, Grange Presbyterian, and their first home was 610, Old Chester Road in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead.

They took their honeymoon in Harlech, North Wales and later found it interesting to revisit and stay for their 40th wedding anniversary. They noted the changes, but some things surprised them and these must have been there in 1965 – they both put it down having their eyes on other things than the scenery. The honeymoon was memorable for many things, but we both got bad sun-burn on the beach - all remedies failed us but vinegar seemed to work! Another memory was that during our week away we were joined by Val’s parents; Keith always maintained that on his honeymoon, the in-laws came too!

They both got teaching posts on the Wirral, with Val working in Poulton Junior School, Wallasey. We thought that we would have our holidays together – no! Easter found us with one week in common out of two, but there were half-terms when we completely missed each other! Val enjoyed her early married life at 610 Old Chester Road and in particular Saturdays became a time for going over to Liverpool and lunch was usually a Chinese meal; as we tried at different Chinese dishes. Val loved shopping – she always said that shopping was therapeutic for her and this continued right through her life. Needless to say, Keith did not share this passion and preferred to go off and spend his time in the second hand book shops. Val kept up her love of singing and rejoined the Wirral Old Girls Choir and they even entered competitions; there is a vivid memory of a trip to Blackpool and Keith having to sit through a number of renditions of the same piece –‘O be joyful!’ Those were happy days of enjoying the visits of friends and family. We slept well – so well that we both slept through a smash and grab raid on Fairs, the photographic shop next door! Those were special days as the newly married couple entertained and visited family and friends, as well as attended Grange Presbyterian Church, which was Val’s home church.

In 1967 they relocated to London so that Keith could go to the London Bible College. They had quite a search to find suitable accommodation and eventually settled in Islington, and 32 Hemingford Road. Val continued to teach as the wage earner and also attended evening classes at the college and learnt the basics of New Testament Greek – so that she could help test Keith’s vocabulary! – Now that’s devoted love for you! And she helped Keith get his Bachelor of Divinity in 1970; both had time off to see Keith presented to the Queen Mother in the Royal Albert Hall. An interesting time of meeting people and starting our membership in the life of Westminster Chapel and we even had to take our landlady to the rent-tribunal court! Life at Westminster Chapel was special although it was in 1968 the Dr Lloyd Jones was taken ill and eventually retired from his ministry at the Chapel. Val attended the Sunday afternoon women’s class led by Mrs Lloyd Jones. Val appreciated the pattern and style of Mrs Lloyd Jones in the way she conducted the meetings and encouraged the ladies to engage with the truth of the Scriptures.

As Val had been involved with Church life at Westminster Chapel in central London, so she was when they relocated to Ashurst Drive Baptist Church as the children were growing up during the 80s. Val had a lively faith and that was always evident in all her jobs and churches. She always did what she could and enjoyed offering hospitality to people. Although Keith took over the cooking of the main course – Val always made it known that she had set the table nicely and made the pudding! Val developed an increasing passion about the ‘worship’ in the churches and one could detect this when she prayed – her prayers were full-heartedly, relational and authentic. She loved sharing times of prayer and worship with other ladies who wanted to deepen their awareness of God’s love in Christ as she had herself. From this time developed the ‘Clan’ – the four guys were all students at London Bible College and we began to meet and mutually support and look out for each other as the years progressed (David Craig, Geoff Gobbett and John Houghton). The wives established good friendship also (Christine, Jan and Maureen) and this group has continued to meet at different locations, as members of the Clan moved around the country; it is currently in its 48th year and still functioning. Val was very much a full participant in this group and was often known for 'speaking her mind.' Val loved the sharing and commaraderie of the Clan - strange that we talked about which of us would make the first 'empty chair' - none of us thought that it would be Val!

In the Clan there was a loving, caring attitude to one another – even though there were radical differences between the personalities of each of the members. In 1970 a Ministerial position did not open up for them and so they both continued to teach and eventually they relocated to 45 Hertford Road, Ilford, here Keith became a teacher at Beal Grammar School - later Beal High School and Val began getting her experience of working in a number of different junior schools in the Redbridge area. They wanted to start a family and Alison arrived in 1974 later followed by Katie in 1978. Family life was certainly different and yet richly rewarding. Val had been hestitant about 'babies' - thinking that she would work best with them when they were older, but our two daughters were a delight to bring up and gave us endless delights and Val was in her element as mum. They didn’t realise that they would see forty one years together in that house in Hertford Road, Ilford - before they moved on. Life was certainly full with the two daughters and with schools, Girls Brigade and holidays – particularly in Devon and there were numerous adventures as the county was enjoyed and explored. They had a delightfully ordinary family life together they made much of birthdays and Christmas. Val enjoyed making birthday cakes for the girls and this was often the centre piece for the party. Keith, helped initially, took up a Super 8 Home Cinema and this seemed to entertain visiting youngsters until it was time to go home. Val loved the fact that her daughters were very different and she watched, guided and followed all their progress with great maternal pride.

As the girls went to school val felt that it was time for her to resume her teaching career and eventually joined the unattached staff that went out to work in different schools around the borough (Redbridge) for a term at a time: this gave her a great range of experience in many different types of school. Val had always loved her involvement in education; she was never happier than being involved with all the youngsters in her classes. Val was a caring teacher and worked hard at relating to her pupils; her care and concern for the different youngsters was particularly marked in her assemblies and Christmas specials. Val became deputy head at Wykeham Junior School, Romford and enjoyed her experience there – her piano playing came in useful, though Val would not work at her playing, she felt it was just ‘useful’ when needed for concerts and productions. Her time there was interesting and rewarding, but was seen as a way of preparing for Headship - this did not work out according to plan and after a particularly discouraging interview - one where evrything pointed to Val as the right person for the post - the govenors, against the advise of the 'adviser' - decided on a 'sitting candidate!'

In 1996, Val decided to try something completely new, she was recommended to become an Ofsted Inspector for Schools and survived the rigorous training and duly qualified. To begin with this was a new project and member of the Ofsted Inspection teams were treated and paid well - this did not last, but Val always had her eyes on the teachers, the leadership in the schools and the quality of education that the youngsters were given. Her job literally took her to many parts of the country and this she continued until 2012 – when Val finally retired. There was more than a certain reluctance, for Val thrived on her involvement with the Schools and she was always passionate about children having the best start in life by having the best teaching and an environment for learning. Val saw her 'inspection work as her 'ministry' given by God and she could enthuse with delight at some teaching or progress that she had witnessed. 

 As the girls completed their schooling and duly went to colleges themselves and settled into their own careers, Val found time to become a School Governor. Her skills and passion for teaching were sought after by schools – originally at two schools in Redbridge, but one dominated and she there Val became the chair of the Governors and successfully helped to steer them through a successful Ofsted inspection, despite the Head being ill at the time! During this time Val even travelled to Lebanon to help and give advice to schools there.

In 1999 Val and Keith were set apart at Ashurst Drive for leadership work in the churches. Initially they worked at Emerson Park Chapel in Hornchurch (2000-2004) where Keith became the Pastoral Elder and they shared working in the Mums and Tots group - great fun singing the usual song and with all the actions!. Throughout this time Val was busy with school inspections, which could take her to some distant destinations such as Wigan!, but eventually mainly Val restricted herself to the southern half of the country. In her sttitude to her work, Val was meticulously prepared and took time to make sure all the results and finding were written down and tabulated appropriately. Val was really an appraiser of teachers. Val always felt that teachers had more than enough discouragement in their job that an input of caring and appreciation was  needed; she wanted to affirm and encourage and she had many schools and individuals sending in their appreciation for bringing them through the ordeal of an ‘Ofsted’. She had to 'fail' some schools, but she was rigorous in mapping out where the particular scoll was failing and had strategies for improvement. She found taking the lead in inspections too demanding and yet she would prepare so as to be a pillar of support to whoever led the team she was on - she was always a great team player.

In 1992 we first went to Tenerife as a family, but from 2004 we felt called to take the possibility of work there full-time more seriously and resigned from Emerson Park in order to see whether the Lord was calling us there. We worked regularly with the Los Cristianos Christian Fellowship, which from a member’s home moved into the Princess Dacil Hotel. The inputting into work of the fellowship was in periods of 5 to 6 weeks at a time and lasted for a few years. This was made up of some fine Christian people - no we didn't always see eye to eye, but we shared great times of fellowship in the Word. Val began to see that she had an appreciated role as a speaker and it was good to see her - at first tentatively and then appreciated the way Val grew in confidence and saw that she really had a gift here.

We made many friends over the years we were travelling to Tenerife and one couple became great friends; Myriam and Alex Bergin. After Val’s death Myriam sent their testimony and appreciation;

Keith & Val Ives: They walked together into our lives in May 2004 when we were living in Tenerife! Keith a Historian and Theologian; Val a School Inspector and we were amazed at their wisdom and instantly attracted by their great love for God and His Word! Throughout the years we’ve learned so much from them and we feel so grateful for their positive influence. They helped us get through some rough patches in our lives with prayer and sound advice. They loved travelling and sightseeing, just like us! So we went places together in Tenerife, England and Ireland – North and South. One of my fondest memories is when we crossed together the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland one very windy sunny afternoon! Last year, while on a week’s holiday together in County Claire, Val made sure we visited The Cliffs of Moher, something I had been meaning to do for a very long time but had never had the opportunity before to do so! They believed in our abilities more than we believed ourselves and they always encouraged us ‘to go for it’! I remember while we were living in Belfast they came to visit us and I told them I really wanted to do the TEFL Celta course but was so afraid of failing and wasting my time and money. They encouraged me no end to ‘go for it’ and actually helped me to do a lot of the preliminary assignments required by the college before my enrolment could be accepted. I did the course and passed it! I was not easy, but I did and passed! They came to our rescue at the time of our son’s wedding and helped us in every possible way as if they were our own blood relatives! They celebrated my 50th birthday as if I were one of their daughters! Oh well, that’s no surprise as by then I had adopted them as my English parents! However Val has left us at very short notice... Two weeks ago Val went ahead of us to meet the Master. I’d say she was eager to meet him! Val knew very well what waits those who love God and accept the Lord Jesus Christ huge sacrifice on the cross on their behalf! Will we ever get used to having Keith without Val? For nearly 50 years they were a pair! We normally spent time with them... together! Meanwhile, for us, life goes on for a little longer. As I wait for the Master to call me, every time I see a Poppy... I will think of you Val!

Life and time seems to pass so quickly - the girls both went to college - one in Birmingham and the other in Enfield. Then there was Katie and Glen's Wedding in 1999 and subsequent family, which Val absolutely revelled in! There was the time when her young grandson was overjoyed to see his Nan waiting for him after school and ran and gave her a great big hug - Val never forgot that and she treasured it. 

In 2007, Keith developed a cancer problem with his right kidney and this was a very stressful time for them both, but especially Val, who was with Keith all the time and there were times of extreme pain where she could do doing except be there and care. This was an unpleasant experience and brought Val to face the possibility of facing a future without Keith, but Keith had a successful operation in early 2008 and made a complete surgical cure. Val continued doing her Ofsted inspections and Keith began to get serious about writing a book. It was around that time that they settled into membership at Upney Baptist Church in Barking and Keith eventually became an Elder to Billy Young, who was the pastor there. Here Val worked away at various things and situations that presented themselves, from counselling to the Sunday school work.

As both daughters had previously moved to the Braintree area, in 2012 Val and Keith relocated to Braintree– as Keith’s health had showed signs of concern. In 2013 Val finally gave up schools inspecting work and they were invited to become leaders at Braintree Evangelical Church and they were inducted with the help of members of the Clan in January 2014. Val had already joined the Governors of Beckers Green Junior School and worked hard with Helen Ryan (the Head Teacher) and her staff as they got ready for an Ofsted Inspection. I had vivid memories of Val recounting the successes of a school or individuals that she 'had the privilege of inspecting'! Val loved being with children and in all her school and church activities she always expected and enjoyed hard work, with the reward of affecting lives positively.

Both Val and Keith had a poor Christmas in 2014, both thought they had caught flu, in spite of both having the flu-jab, but Keith recovered and Val didn’t. At first Val was treated for a stomach disorder, but Val got weaker. In January 2015 the doctor made an appointment for Val to have an ultra-scan and this revealed that there was something wrong with her liver. Broomfield hospital confirmed that the problem was cancer of the liver, but felt that there was a possible surgical cure and transferred her to Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead.

There were several journeys to Hampstead. The journey was by taxis, but always the homeward journey was long and difficult for Val. Eventually the x-rays revealed that the cancer was more pervasive and that there was no surgical cure possible. Back at Broomfield hospital the consultant said that there was nothing more that they could do. Val still hoped and prayed for a healing and asked Keith to get the ‘elders’ of the church to come round and anoint her with oil and pray for the Lord’s mercy on her.

All the time Val got weaker and yet she loved seeing visitors, whether it washer family from North Wales or friends local or further afield. Decline continued and movement became increasingly difficult; may was the month when she had use of a stair-lift, but eventually the Farley nurses were brought in and Val was moved into a bed down stairs in their lounge. Val was called into the presence of her Lord Jesus on June 18th after an unexpected growth of cancer in her liver. She was a very remarkable lady – one of God’s instruments – and is greatly missed.

At Val's Celebration of her life, her daughter Alison read a poem she had written

For Mum.

One of the last times I prayed with mum, God gave me a picture of Jesus asking her to dance.

This is the picture I call to mind when I think of her.

I wrote this poem for a close  friend, but it seems so perfect to say for mum, as it reminds us of the amazing promise that mum is living now…and that all who love Jesus will too one day…

 

A song of celebration echoes

 through heavens halls

The sound of rejoicing with

trumpets adding their call.

A chosen one has entered

into heavens sacred land

Guided by Jesus. They walk

 side by side and hand in hand.

The loved and beloved aware of none other,

Dance to the awesome symphonic piece

They relax into the other’s arms

          Knowing this intimacy will never cease.

Face to face and eye to eye,

Breath on breath and heart to heart.

The loved and beloved rejoice together

          For this is but the start.

An eternity of loving is before them

          Walking as one in mind and thought.

No fear or shame between them

          Nothing else needed or sort.

 


Biographical studies about Val, my late wife
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