St Andrew’s Church, Skipton, was filled with nearly 400 people gathered together to pay tribute to Gillian Blackwell.
It was a remarkable number but particularly so in view of the fact that Gillian was not someone who had a high profile in Craven. But she was one of the unsung heroes who make the communities in Craven special.
Some of those attending had known Gillian in places she had lived previously – her home at Beverley, university days at Lancaster, her first teaching post in Peterborough, and later at Burford School in the Cotswolds where she met her husband, Derek.
However, the majority of mourners were those who had got to know her and her family during their 18 years in Skipton through family life, the National Childbirth Trust, St Andrew’s Church, Skipton Ladies Choir and Skipton Girls High School. Gillian had been a mother, chairman of the NCT, and an English teacher, briefly at Upper Wharfedale School, but also for many years at Skipton Girls.
All were there to pay tribute to a woman who was loved by all she met.
Throughout her life, both before and after the illness which was to lead to her death, she became known for her ready smile, her willingness to spend time with anyone and never to judge.
She was summed up by one of her students, who said: “Mrs Blackwell knew how to brighten a room. She would arrive to form with a smile on her face that would lighten up anyone’s day. She believed in everyone and was amazing to us all.”
Gillian was diagnosed with myeloma in late summer 2011. After lengthy treatment she enjoyed a year and a half of remission during which time she was able to do much: writing arts and theatre reviews; travelling frequently to the Lake District; helping as a volunteer with the Carers’ Resource; and enjoying the company of family and friends without the demands of teaching.
Gillian died on December 16 during intensive chemotherapy at Bradford Royal Infirmary, aged 55.
Donations received in memory of Gillian will go to Manorlands Hospice, the Carers’ Resource, the Haematology and Oncology Day Unit at Airedale Hospital, and St Andrew’s Church, all of which were an essential part in either her treatment, care or ongoing support.