Patsy’s obituary stirred many memories for me. The first stage of her retirement was spent at Ryes in Normandy running a bed and breakfast. She used to go into the village school one afternoon a week to help with English lessons, and she was proud to be invited as British representative to join local dignitaries at the November 11th Remembrance Service. She was indeed a remarkable woman, and her loyalty and generosity to her friends and indeed all her associates will never be forgotten.
One Sunday early in the Hilary Term of 1972, among the notices read out after Mass at the Catholic Chaplaincy in the Old Palace was a request for volunteers to spend a part of the Easter vacation helping with a project to provide holidays for children from Belfast, which was to be run at a school in Headington. This was the first time I had heard of Rye St Antony and of Patsy Sumpter, then, if I recall correctly, with the title of Senior Housemistress.
As it happened, I had spent most of the previous summer in Northern Ireland on a work camp organised by the Christian Movement for Peace, and was very familiar with the situation there. As a result, when I offered my services to Patsy, she recruited me to her organising committee and we set about planning the details of the scheme. It involved bringing over groups of 10 or so primary school children, with a teacher, from 4 Catholic and 4 State (and so, effectively, Protestant) schools in the inner-city areas of Belfast, and using the school facilities at Rye as the base for a week of activities and visits. These included a Sunday spent by the children in pairs as guests of various Rye parents and girls; in some cases this must have been quite a culture shock, and it was when I first came fully to appreciate Patsy’s powers of charm and persuasion.
The scheme overall was so well-received by the Belfast schools that it ran again that summer, and for some time thereafter. The generosity of Miss King, then Headmistress, in allowing full use of the school facilities, as well as the vigour and drive shown throughout by Patsy (who herself organised all the cooking and domestic support), along with the enthusiasm of our undergraduate volunteers, underpinned the success of the entire project.
There was also a spin-off benefit both for Rye and for some of the volunteers, since at the time Patsy was recruiting tutors for another of her projects, the EFL Summer School. So several of us with teaching skills transferred roles overnight and spent several enjoyable weeks instructing the foreign students. Once again Patsy ran the whole domestic side of the programme, and at the end of that she had to move back immediately to her “day job” as the Rye school term started again. Yet although she always seemed busy, she was as welcoming to us temporary members of the Rye community as to her usual charges, and kept in contact with many of us for decades afterwards.
In my own case, I saw her occasionally in the years that followed (not least, her proverbial gift of persuasion brought me in as an Assessor for the DoE Award Scheme). Our main later contact, however, came about through the coincidence that I was serving at SHAPE in Belgium at the time when she ran her B&B business at Ryes. So my family spent several happy Easter holidays in Normandy, and I was able to put some further business her way by taking occasional military groups to explore the D-Day beaches. On these occasions, the participants always judged the meals laid on by Patsy as superior even to those available in the local restaurants.
So farewell and God bless, friend. I know that those of us who worked with you on the Belfast holidays and the Summer Schools were necessarily less central than those you looked after in your various roles over the years at the school, but we remember you with admiration, respect and fondness, and we shall miss you.
In the late sixties/early seventies, when I was twenty-ish, I worked as a courier supervising the foreign students attending Rye St Antony Summer Schools. I was there around the time when Miss Sumpter became the school Headmistress.
I spent several summers at Rye and I have beautiful memories of those years. I saw the swimming pool and the annexe to The Croft being built on the premises thanks to Patsy's efforts. I remember the trips to Blenheim, London, Coventry, Stratford, Wimbledon, the Cotwolds and other places, the parties, the games, the Oxfam days, the masses said in the open air, all the activities that she organized so carefully to make them memorable.
I remember Patsy with great affection. She was very efficient, full of enthusiasm, a caring, loving, cheerful person. She managed to keep bunches of incredibly unruly foreign kids under control (and their couriers as well) and always with a smile and some humorous remarks.
One summer, while I was at Rye, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a terrible loss. Patsy did all she could to help and support me. She also had a mass said for my mother. I could never forget how kind she was.
Shortly after, I got married and had a child and, so, I stopped working as a courier but whenever I came to Oxford, Patsy always invited me to stay at Rye, me, my family, my friends. She always made me feel welcome. It was like having a home away from home. The last time I met Patsy was in the late eighties just before she retired. It had been an unusually hot dry summer. She was worried about the beautiful trees of the grounds and she was devising ways of watering them since there was a serious water shortage. Caring also for the trees, typical of her.
Time flies when you have a very busy life - teaching, training teachers, writing, getting an MA, and looking after my family. I wanted to get in touch but I never did, though I often thought of doing it. Now that I have retired, my husband has died and my son has moved away with his family, I have found the time to surf the net, trying to find how to contact Patsy. I didn't know where she was and wanted to know how she was. Most unfortunately, it was too late. I was dejected by learning that she had just passed away. My mind was flooded by memories of which these are just a few.
As long as I live, Patsy will live in my memory and, in my memory, she will never grow old since I will always remember her as she was when I last saw her: ageless and full of energy.
Professor Manuela Reguzzoni
However hectic the Belfast weeks were, when one of them coincided with my viva, Patsy pulled me off trips so that I could prepare; then on the day she laid on a personal cooked breakfast and a rose for my button-hole before driving me down to the Examination Schools to do battle - as I suspect in very many cases, she did everything she could to help others make the most of their opportunities while taking none of the credit herself.
Patsy had that rare combination of energy, drive, common-sense, vision and all of it shot through with fun. As undergraduate helpers she taught us more than we realised at the time, mainly by giving us the room to learn for ourselves from experience. while she covered our errors (and gently suggested that having a sing-a-long with the children in the back of the coach with everyone standing in the gangway probably wasn't school-trip best practice). I particularly remember her huge amusement when, faced with the problems of organising 100 children from 10 schools through a week-long programme of non-stop activity, clip-boards suddenly became the preferred undergraduate accessory of the season. She didn't actually say 'At last they have got it' , but you could see that she was as pleased as she was entertained by our realisation that if you want things to happen, you have to organise them.
Last night I dreamed of arriving at the Memorial Mass, and being greeted by Patsy exactly as I remember her, with the same wonderful twinkle in the eye, while she made me feel so particularly and so personally welcome. That, I think, was what made her so special. Although we have not seen her for years, we will miss her very much.
May I add my voice to the chorus of appreciation and affection which will be gathering around the memory of the late Miss Patsy Sumpter.
Our association was principally though the Sacrament of Confirmation. An annual request for me to attend the school to celebrate the Sacrament was a joyful invitation to which I looked forward very much. The occasion was a sign of how seriously she took the religious dimension of the school and her concern that the Faith should be handed on to the next generation. I need hardly say that the Liturgy was joyful and prayerful and had been prepared in an exemplary manner.
There will be many grateful memories of her life and her work - mine are of the way in which she built up the Church in this part of God's Kingdom.
May she rest in peace.
Emeritus Bishop of Northampton