Rosemary Bucknall: Spirit-lifting, joy-inducing, life-enhancing
ROSEMARY Bucknall was a woman of grace and elegance who brought an unmistakeable panache to all the worlds and people she touched with that rare gift: to be able to make any situation a source of fun.
Blessed with a fundamentally thankful attitude to living and a sense that life was about others, she was simply life-enhancing, joy-inducing, spirit-lifting.
Her essence was best caught by a phrase in the French she loved: “joi de vivre”.
In her company one simply absorbed her joy at the adventure of life, the possibility of each day, the fun of the moment – and felt oneself enhanced.
Rosemary was born in Derry in 1938, appropriately on Bastille Day.
She was raised in Armagh and ended her school days as head girl of the Sacred Heart Convent and with a clutch of A-levels in science and arts which took her as a scholar to Queen’s University to read French and Old English.
Always self-deprecating in her humour, she admitted that she failed to spot the talent of another member of her Anglo-Saxon tutorial, a rather reserved boy who would go on to be Professor of Poetry at Oxford and win a Nobel Prize: Seamus Heaney.
Rosemary had the capacity from her earliest years to bring a spirit of adventure to life.
She moved quickly from urban administration after graduation to the Royal Air Force as an officer; and in her time there, became army, air force and navy fencing champion.
She once also acted as Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen.
She married a fellow officer, Ron Bradley, and settled to the exciting, disruptive, constantly moving but always stimulating world of forces families, with three boys – Julian, Joel and Ben - quickly expanding the family; and eventually coming via postings in Malaysia and Wales to Bryansford where she and Ron set up an outward bound centre.
In summers, the family would pack up the Land Rover to bursting point and set off for two months of travelling throughout Europe. What experiences to give children – carefree, crazy, adventurous days of family, fun and high jinks in equal measure.
Rosemary’s strength – lightly worn – came from a deeply grounded character and also gave her the capacity to endure suffering with grace.
Ron’s tragic death brought a terrible wound to the heart of the family; but even when afflicted with loss, Rosemary insisted on keeping the rhythm of summer adventure for her sons.
In 1980 she met Alan Bucknall and formed a bond that brought both great peace and companionship; together making a home of laughter, welcome and good humour that allowed both to flourish - with Rosemary embedding herself in the community and parish of Killyleagh, acting as reader in St Mary’s Church, school governor, and ending her career in third level educational administration in Rupert Stanley College.
Underpinning all these human qualities and achievements was Rosemary’s faith.
It was a faith carried with a light touch, real and all-pervading but never lugubrious. A faith that allowed her to receive Holy Communion on what was to be her last Friday with a deep devotion, and then, prayers done, to instruct Alan to bring in a bottle of well-chilled champagne for all to drink a toast - with the bottle being opened by her parish priest, a teetotal canon.
Rosemary’s was always an open-hearted, expansive faith, formed by the tradition in which she had been raised but open to all and whose answer to the question of Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” was: everyone is my neighbour.
She often revisited a formative memory. As a little girl, she met a German prisoner of war on a train; she remembered how kind he was to her; even as a child she intuited that he was probably a father, missing his little girl at home; and it moved her.
That meeting tells so much of her heart: compassionate, humane, and expansive - who, from her earliest days, in everyone, saw a companion traveller on the journey of life, a fellow human.
Throughout her life, Rosemary met the world with love. To all who met her, she brought joy. She has made us better for knowing her; and our worlds lighter.
Fr Eugene O'Neill