Rae Festing has died aged 91 and we send our condolences to her family. To those who knew Rae, and that includes a huge number of us who have known her over many years, Rae was a good and generous friend.
Her services to the Rye community were well recognised by the award of the British Empire Medal in 2015, as reported in Rye News. On the very day she received notification from the Cabinet Office, she was interviewed for Rye News by Dee Alsey in her Ryers Unwrapped series of articles. Dee tells her story:
“Rae’s parents moved to Rye in 1937. Her father ran a boat business – Sea Cruises – in Rock Channel, building lifeboats and motor torpedo boats. She went first to Rye Collegiate, a private school (now Rye Lodge), then, in 1943, Rye Grammar School. During the second world war, she told me, many houses in Rye were taken over by Canadian troops; locals had to present visas to leave and return. The school was evacuated to Bedford and later returned to Rye College.
“When her turn came to leave school, her careers adviser suggested not Oxford or Cambridge – the advice to her friends – but said: “You’ve got a brain Rae. Technical school will do you fine.” And it did. She embarked on a three-year course at what is now the Central School of Fashion in Barrett Street, London, living in different boarding houses and having a lot of fun. “I learnt design, fabrics, fitting. My dear, when you came out, you had done it all.” Rae is still an expert dressmaker and seamstress and only last month shortened the trousers of a neighbour in the high street. An unusual community service but a valuable one.
“With her brothers travelling around the world, Rae became restless and decided to go to Canada. She emigrated to Ottawa and worked her way up from dental receptionist to dental nurse and hygienist. It was there in 1959 that she met her future husband, Conrad, an English civil engineer. His expertise and desire to travel meant she saw different parts of the world.”
But Rye exercised its familiar pulling power, drawing back those who have come to love the town. So Rae moved into 111 High Street with its third of an acre garden, which became the scene of so many charitable fund raising events each year. She opened the house for her bed and breakfast business and was delighted to welcome her appreciative guests. Her Christmas Day lunch gatherings were occasions to remember.
Rae was an active and loyal member of various voluntary organisations in the town. To mention a few: for eighteen years Rea organised and ran the WRVS lunches for elderly folk at the community centre on Conduit Hill. For a similar period she also served on the Rye Conservation Society committee, not only using her catering skills but also giving practical advice on the planning sub-committee. She knew that historic buildings needed to adapt to be lived in into the modern age and she similarly supported the aspirations of retail business owners.
She had a strong and indomitable spirit, firm and even trenchant in her views of what the country needed at any moment. Her sympathies were given generously where deserved; her aversions were expressed forthrightly but with a humour that robbed them of offence.
Her concluding words to Dee Alsey give an insight into her self-effacing wisdom: “I’ve had a wonderful life, trekked all over the world and had good health. I’m very privileged to have had this house and garden but I’m only a curator of them. The time will come for others to enjoy it.”
Thank you, Rae.
Image Credits: Rye News library , Kenneth Bird .