Saturday, 4 March 2017

Edith Pierce, 1916-2017

Sarah Thomas writes:

My grandmother, Edith Pierce, who has died aged 100, used to deliver meals on wheels to people 10 years younger than herself. 

She lived in the County Durham village of Lanchester, to which she and my grandfather moved in the 1970s. 

After his early retirement and death in 1973, she threw herself into the local community, scudding around the countryside in a Mini.

Her house was a testament to her joy for life and infectious curiosity, overflowing with artwork and craft materials, historical and archaeological magazines, clippings hoarded for others she knew might be interested, books in every room, and proudly displayed creations from children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Most of all, it gently glowed with her faith – the sort of Christianity that welcomed, and was interested in, everyone and everything. 

Edith was the eldest child of Olive (nee Thorp), a governess, and Gordon Cooper.

The family moved frequently because of her father’s civil engineering job, and Edith never lived in one house for more than three years.

Born in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, she was educated at home until the age of seven, then at a small school run by her aunt, and finally at boarding school in Bude, Cornwall.

She trained as a teacher at Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside, Cumbria, and taught initially at St Hilda’s in Bushey, Hertfordshire, moving to Sidmouth in Devon when the school was evacuated there.

At this time she met a young curate, Martin Pierce: it was love at first sight.

They married in 1943, and the business of a vicar’s wife was the ideal calling, from organising parish breakfasts every Sunday to hosting people from all over the world.

Edith said it was the people she met who kept her going, and she continued to open up her house throughout her life, to lodgers, students and other travellers.

As her grandchildren grew, she took them on holidays.

I had a trip to France, where I met other women cut from the same, indefatigable cloth.

When my own children came along, she became the granny who visited Lesotho in her late 70s, went up in a balloon in her late 80s and had a ceilidh for her 90th birthday.

Last year, just after her 100th birthday, she met King Letsie III and Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of Lesotho on their visit to Chester-le-Street, County Durham, where they were guests of the diocese, which has links with Lesotho.

With her strong sense of social justice, during South Africa’s apartheid years Edith sent support to the families of prisoners of conscience via a covert church-based network.

Last year she talked about her life in the Good to meet you column in the Guardian and summed up her philosophy: “You can’t live well without meeting people from different backgrounds.”

She is survived by her four children, Helen, Liz, Tim and Hugh, 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

To which one would only add that she taught Clement Attlee’s children, and that she scandalised 1950s opinion by declining to wear a hat to the services conducted by her husband.


  1. Hard to know whether to offer you condolences or congratulations on having known such an evidently wonderful person.
    I will do both.

    1. Thank you. We gave her a good turnout. Of course. And she gave us a good spread. Of course.