Phyllis Punnett : Writer of national anthem passes
October 22, 2004
Phyllis Punnett : Writer of national anthem passes

Eulogy for Phyllis Joyce McClean Punnett

17th March, 1917 – 12th October, 2004

Given by Roger Boos

“Phyllis Joyce McClean Child Punnett” – an impressive name for an impressive lady! Fifty years ago, however, when a little boy named Lester, her nephew, came to live with Ken and Phyllis and go to school in Kingstown, he gave his aunt a strange and inexplicable name that stayed with her forever – “Gou”. We never knew where he got it or why he gave it to his aunt, but this is what her nieces and nephews and many of her children’s friends have called her since then. {{more}}This letter is addressed to:

Dear Gou,

Now that you have gone to be with your beloved husband, Ken, I feel glad for you, but there is so much we are going to miss. When I first met you at the Arnos Vale Airport, just before Christmas 1964, I knew you only as Mrs Phyllis Punnett. I had written you and Ken to say that I wanted to marry your daughter, although I have never met either of you. You had written a friendly, but carefully worded invitation to visit, but I was not too sure what my reception was going to be like. By lunchtime, I already knew that I would be calling you “Gou,” and that you had accepted me into your home as if I had always belonged there. The two shirt-jacks you had put on my bed as a welcoming present touched me deeper than you ever could have known.

I quickly learned that your husband and your children were the centre of your existence. You were a protective force, determined to ensure their absolute safety and well being at all times. You were always there for them, and for all their cousins and friends when the need arose.

We remember your devotion to keeping an orderly home – your routine Thursday morning shopping in the supermarket, and having everything ready for the weekend. One day, when you were very rushed getting home from town, and hurrying to get everything put away in the kitchen before lunch, you discovered your car keys were missing. We looked EVERYWHERE, but they were nowhere to be found. Finally, someone asked, “Gou, have you looked in the freezer?” – and sure enough, there were the car keys, in the freezer, nestled right next to the frozen chicken. You were so frustrated, and so amused at the same time.

Your niece, Elizabeth, sent Andrea an e-mail soon after we heard that you had left us. She said:

“I will remember the oh so happy times at your home…

the jokes and the laughter, the music, and of course the food … the desserts!!!

… Sitting around that table for ages just talking, long after the meal was over –

Oh heavens! Gou was so patient and so sweet to us … through all the teenage dramas … What a precious mother you had. We will remember her with great affection.”

Yes. Loving, affectionate, caring, devoted, protective and generous – all terms that can be appropriately applied to you, but you were so much more than that. You were a teacher, and taught math at the Girls’ High School. You had such a great love for poetry and music, and gave such enjoyment to others when you played the piano. You were a poppy seller for the Red Cross. You helped with flowers for the church altar, and you were very involved with the Children’s Daycare Center in Calliaqua. You had a masterful command of the English language. I remember once at dinner when Ken asked if you had had enough to eat. You replied, “Yes, thank you, I am replete.” I had to look up what it meant, and have never forgotten it!

Of course, you also wrote the words for St. Vincent’s National Anthem. You were so engrossed with getting it just right, so proud you were of your “Hairoun” and your heritage. Ken jokingly suggested, “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay, Today is Independence Day!” Thankfully, you declined to accept his contribution, and we were very proud of you when your words were chosen.

Jesus said that we would know a tree by its fruit. Good fruit comes from a good tree. Ever since I came into your family I have been surrounded by good fruit: Your children, Paddy and Andrea, of course. Your grandchildren, Michelle, James, Sophie and Kate on Paddy’s side; Nicole, Patrick and Phillip on Andrea’s side. Then there are your great grandchildren, Michelle’s Kai and little Anya, who sadly left us even before you did. James’ girls, Emily and Rebecca, and Nicole’s little Gabriel. And I am sure there will be more. The seeds planted by you and Ken have borne a good crop, amply watered many times over by your generosity and love.

I was particularly touched by the relationship you had with your husband. Your attention to his needs, your caring for him, were examples of love that I take strength from to this day. When he came home from work, you immediately would make sure he had a cup of tea. You would sit with him and talk. We would join in. Even when you had begun to lose the sense of years and dates, you were so attentive to Ken. I remember one evening, after the sun was down and we were sitting all together at home in the patio, Ken in his wheelchair and you by his side, you obviously went way back to an earlier time. You said to him, your husband of almost 60 years then, “Ken, it’s getting late. How are you going to get back home?” He looked at you with great understanding and compassion and said, “Don’t worry, Phyl, I’ll take the bus.” You were perfectly satisfied with the answer.

Over the last few years we have missed your conversation, your letters, your wit, your wonderful poetry, and we have had to make do with your quiet presence instead. It was sad seeing you gradually slip away, but even so you gave us time to adjust and to say goodbye. We were not really prepared when you left, but no one ever is. So many memories remain – wisps of conversation, expressions, laughter, things we would like to have with us still, but which are now yours alone, until we meet again.

May God bless you and keep you, and your beloved husband, in the arms of Jesus, in that eternal Kingdom of Peace and Love, into which you surely will fit. Confident in our faith in the saving power of God, we look forward to the time when we’ll be together again and be able to sit and laugh as before.

We love you. We thank you for loving us, and we’ll miss you.