1st March 1931 - 20th June 2011

It was with a great sense of shock and sadness that those of us who knew Renée learned of her untimely death on 20th June. Although Renée had had some health problems over the previous few months, they were not thought of as life threatening, and so her passing was totally unexpected, and has left an enormous void in the lives of her family and many friends. This was much in evidence at her cremation at Chelmsford on 5th July, and at the memorial service that followed it in Shenfield.

Shenfield Parish Church was filled to capacity for the service of celebration of Renée’s life. Ringers and friends came in profusion to support her family and to show their love for such a special person. Many tears and voices choked with emotion were combined with some laughter as happier times were recalled. All in all, although difficult, it was an uplifting occasion, and the bells of Shenfield Parish Church were rung beautifully half muffled as a fitting tribute before everyone adjourned to the family home at Heybridge House for a concluding reception.

Born Renée Lydia Hopkins in Bethnal Green in London’s East End, her family moved to the newly finished Becontree Estate, Dagenham which was specifically built to improve the housing needs of some of London’s poorest residents. Aged 11 she won a scholarship to Dagenham County High School, and there, as a teenager, met husband to be John while rehearsing a school play. John had learned to ring at Dagenham Parish Church in 1944, and in 1947 Renée joined him in the tower. From then onwards, and for the whole of her life, Renée was first and foremost a Sunday service ringer at Dagenham Parish Church.

Renée became a most reliable and proficient rhythmical method ringer and she flourished as the team at Dagenham progressed. She rang in numerous quarter peals, and was part of the local team that rang multi-spliced surprise major to many peals, culminating in a peal of 32 spliced all the work on 10th December 1983, involving some 7,168 changes. Although not a prolific peal ringer, she notched up a total of 159 peals altogether, more than half of these being rung on the bells of Dagenham Parish Church.

As well as being a dear friend, Renée will also be remembered as a holiday and tour organiser “par excellence”. Bell ringing tours always passed off smoothly whether in this country or abroad, and quite adventurous family holidays to distant locations were undertaken.

Ringing, although important to Renée was only a part of her life. She loved theatre, opera and ballet and regularly took the opportunities living in London presented. But her family was undoubtedly the most important element she always focused on. She married John in 1953 and always saw her role as being supportive of him and his career. With both of them coming from quite humble backgrounds it was a long and hard struggle to overcome the barriers society then imposed before John was able to qualify as a doctor. Renée had her own career, at first in the photographic department at London’s Bart’s Hospital, and later as secretary to the Head of Training at the Ford Motor Company’s U.K. Headquarters. This ceased as John’s career took him to the heights of a senior hospital consultant. But John’s career did involve very long working hours, and Renée took great pride in organising him and family life, and she did it so well.

Two children, Robert and Rosalind, completed their family in 1966 and 1968, and life continued at a hectic pace, with Renée playing hostess at numerous dinner parties and social gatherings. She was an excellent cook and many of us have partaken of the generous hospitality at the Armstrong family home. It was always a busy house, filled with fun and laughter, with Renée there with open outstretched arms and a lovely smile to greet guests as they arrived.

Three grandchildren, born over the past decade or so, brought yet another new dimension to family life, and with the whole family living within a ten mile radius, Renée saw them all regularly and was fully involved with their upbringing – a source of great joy to her.

Those of us who were privileged to know Renée have had our lives greatly enhanced by her friendship. Both she and John came from loving family backgrounds, and they in their turn created a loving family unit in which they raised their children. Their own children have continued this pattern, and the Shenfield Armstrong clan is a strong unit that has rallied round to support each other at this very sad time.

We’ll all miss Renée so much, but will take comfort from so many happy memories of such a dear person who enriched so many lives in the 80 years she was amongst us. May she rest in peace.


BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers