Today we are in strange times when as friends, and even family, we have been unable to come together to celebrate, remember and give thanks to God for the life of a loved one, but in a very simple way we seek now to give thanks for the life of Evelyn Baker and the sovereignty of God in her life and home call.
Evelyn was born on Friday 13th March 1932, a daughter to Thomas and Eileen Campbell and a sister to Alec, Tom, Jim, John and Anne. She is survived by John in Australia and Anne in Carrickfergus and we extend our deepest sympathy to them both, as they will miss a very dear sister.
The family home was first in Moneyreagh Street, then in Jocelyn Gardens and it would have been a lively home. A lot was expected of Evelyn. As the oldest sister, she was expected to help about the house and with the late arrival of Anne, she in many ways became a second mum to her sister. On Anne's admission, she got away with a lot, but Evelyn could also be very strict with her, especially when it came to her schoolwork - there was no dodging that, when Evelyn was about. The only downside for Evelyn, to having such a younger sister, was that sometimes Anne was taken for her daughter, which didn't please Evelyn. She was a good daughter, supporting her mother and caring for her father in later years, something which was challenging for her at times.
The family church in her early days was Mc Quistin Memorial, where she attended Sunday school and from where she was married.
She met a young Harry Baker, we think at a dance, as Harry loved to dance. They would cut a good picture dancing round the old Orpheus dance hall, or the Willowfield Unionist hall, which were popular venues for East Belfast young people. Love blossomed and they were married on the 10th September 1956. After their honeymoon they returned to their new home in Avoniel Road, which has remained the family home until today. In fact Evelyn was probably one of the oldest residents in the street and was known by all as simply ‘Mrs Baker’.
The Lord blessed Evelyn and Harry with the birth of Eileen and then Thomas. They have brought so much joy into her life, along with her late son in law, Billy; daughter in law, Karis and then the growing family circle of grandchildren, Alan, Louise and Stephanie. She was delighted with the birth of great grandchildren Zac and baby Sophie. Sadly she didn't get to meet Sophie, but she was delighted to be able to see pictures of her and she proudly showed these to all the nursing staff she met in Antrim Area hospital. She welcomed Robert, Stephanie's fiancé, into the family circle and nothing pleased her more than when Stephanie and Robert would call in with her for a cuppa. She looked forward to her Sunday morning hugs from her grandson, Alan and her laughter-filled visits from Louise and Nicky, when they came over from Coventry. She loved it when, some years ago, Louise affectionately nicknamed her ‘Granbert’. Evelyn was never happier than when she was in the middle of her family (both immediate and extended).
She dearly loved her family and was proud of them all - dare anyone speak a bad word about any of them. It was alright for her to criticise, but no one else was allowed to! She was a true family matriarch!
To you all, we, as a church family, extend our love and deepest sympathy on the loss of Evelyn.
Evelyn lived a full life and she and Harry enjoyed life together. Sadly, he was taken from her too young and she missed him greatly. However, as a family you have some great memories of holidays and time spent together. She loved to get a wee holiday away from Belfast, but she never liked the idea of flying. Her standard answer was, “I like to keep my feet on dry land”, even though it meant a sea journey - that was Evelyn. The family had time together in Morecombe, Ayr, Hastings, Isle of Man and of course, her beloved Blackpool.
Harry loved to joke and often Evelyn fell for his dry wit, delivered with perfection. On one occasion they were out for a drive and the car in front appeared to be driverless. Evelyn pointed this out to Harry. He knew it was a left-hand drive car, but he didn't make her any the wiser. Instead, with a straight face, he pointed out it was one of those new automatic cars, which she believed.
It is wonderful to look back with love and affection for those great days. May they be much treasured in your hearts.
Evelyn was always industrious. As well as working hard to help bring up her family, she was also a bright and able student. She attended Euston Street school and then had the opportunity to take classes in Miss Ellis’s, where she studied bookkeeping and secretarial skills. On leaving the college she was employed first in Whitehouse Bleaching and Dying works. She loved her work, even though in those early days it was a journey and a half to work. It was there that many of her patterns for life were set.
Evelyn was meticulous about money and how it should be recorded, checking every bill and every receipt from shops. She was quick to point out if she was overcharged, but equally, if they had undercharged, she would be back to the shop to sort it out. She was an able manager, making sure she didn't owe anything to anyone, and dare she leave her pension uncollected, lest the money would disappear, or they would think she didn't need it. She was always paid up in advance for telephone, electricity and gas - that was Evelyn. I suppose part of her training was to keep receipts and what were important papers and this she did to the very end, as well as keeping a collection of things she thought would be useful, or might possibly be needed in the future.
After Whitehouse, she worked for a time in Mc Ilroys confectioner, then Johnston's on the Albertbridge. She then moved to Linen Hall Street and for a time was a home help before settling in the Post Office, to which she was well suited. She made many friends and was known by many, not least for her striding out down the Beersbridge Road heading to the Post Office, which was situated in ‘my shop’, as she called the local grocery store.
When she volunteered to work in the Church’s charity shop, she took no nonsense. On one occasion a gentleman wanted to buy a pair of shoes. He tried them on and then said he hadn't all the money to pay for them. He asked if he could go and come back with the money, all the time wanting to keep the shoes on. That wasn't in Evelyn's mind. Despite a language barrier, she stood her ground and refused to allow him to leave until he took off the shoes or paid the money. The money was paid by a friend who was with him. I'm not sure many of us could have got such a result. When she gave up the shop she still visited at least once a week just to catch up with things and deliver sweets to her friends who were working there.
Although Evelyn’s family had originally attended Mc Quistin, the Baker family connected with Mountpottinger, thanks to Mrs Gordon, a neighbour of Evelyn & Harry’s. Mrs Gordon took Eileen to Sunday school, along with her daughters and through time Thomas came too. Subsequently their involvement with GB and BB cemented the link.
Evelyn involved herself in many areas of church life from PW and Seniors, to the midweek prayer meeting and of course the Sunday services. She was received into communicant membership on profession of faith and never liked to be missing from church. She greatly loved her home visits from her elder, Ronnie Baxter, and his wife, Elizabeth. Indeed, she thought so highly of Ronnie that he would be offered some of her stash of shortbread and coke, that were normally offered only to her son, Thomas. In church, she sat every Sunday in the same pew behind the Currie family, and Mark remarked how she wasn't averse to calling them to order when they were a bit too noisy, but she was always supportive e.g. when Mark and David shared in an evening of praise, she told the boys ‘well done’, even though it wasn't her type of music. She will be much missed by her friends who she sat besides, Bertha, Jean and Kathryn.
Evelyn was a creature of habit and order and she never liked to be put out of her routines - whether it was picking up her pension on a Tuesday, shopping with Eileen on a Thursday, going to George’s hairdresser after the Thursday shop, staying in the house on a Friday, down to Connswater on a Saturday, church on a Sunday - she liked each day of the week to have its own set pattern. Her trademark handbag never left her arm and contained all manner of items, from a needle to an anchor and of course sweets to help stop her cough in church, or to distribute to her many friends - Karen Currie fondly remembers the noise of her sweet papers as the sermon began.
Evelyn was just Evelyn, one of life’s unique characters and as her pastor I always enjoyed my visits with her. She made me very welcome, but in all the years of knowing her, she always called me ‘Mr Lambe’, never Johnston. She said she liked to give me respect. Similarly, my wife was always called ‘Mrs Lambe’ and Liz Currie was always given her full title of ‘Elizabeth’.
Evelyn was a generous supporter of Mission and each week, without fail, her church envelopes were filled and contributions were put into her Bible Society box, her Leprosy Mission box, her PW box, a Homework Club jam jar and a Junior Church jam jar. I know that her visits to the Bible Society office were looked forward to by the staff. She was always greeted with a cup of tea. They made her welcome, pulled up a chair for her and allowed time to let her talk. It’s lovely that donations in memory of Evelyn are for the Bible Society, as it was very close to her heart.
Evelyn was always kind and generous to neighbours, friends, family and others she came in contact with. She gave gifts freely e.g. to the postman, the window cleaner, the shop assistants, the hairdresser, the children who lived in her street, the neighbours, many in church, her family. Her generous spirit will be fondly remembered by many.
Following Harry's death, her lifetime friendship developed with Maureen, the daughter of her neighbour, Mrs McDade. Maureen and her husband Victor invited Evelyn to join them on holiday to Blackpool and it was then that she finally plucked up the courage to fly. I think Victor was on to a winner! Both Maureen and Evelyn loved shops, so he could head off on his own agenda, while they could shop until they dropped. After Victor's death the two ladies continued to travel to Blackpool for their yearly holiday. Evelyn was the banker and each week they put money away to pay for the trip and of course some extra money for shopping. They also met every Saturday for a visit to Connswater, Newtownards, or town and talked on the phone to each other most evenings. They enjoyed going on bus trips to places a bit further afield, like Bray, or Cookstown market – although on one such occasion she was not impressed with the goods on offer, as the only purchase she came home with was a bottle of bleach! Maureen and Evelyn also loved their annual Ballymena Christmas weekend, when they would stay at the Adair Arms Hotel and, needless to say, go shopping. Maureen's death hit Evelyn hard - everything was changing and she had lost her dearest friend.
I asked the family for words to describe Evelyn. Stubborn and set in her ways. A character, kind and generous. Thoughtful – she never forgot a birthday. Unique, formidable, straight talking, an honest woman with no back doors in her nature, you knew where you stood with her. She was a good neighbour and all have spoken highly of her support of each of them in difficult times. She was simply granny/granbert with her special ways and out of date crisps. She always loved a bargain. She was loving and accepting.
One final description of Evelyn that the family loved, was from Linda Skilling, who said she has many memories of ‘a no-nonsense woman, who was so proud of all her family’.
There are so many sides of Evelyn Baker who was known and loved, not only by her immediate and extended family, but also by people in places like George’s hairdressers and the local Post Office (where she was treated royally and whose staff made sure she got her magazines on time and even gave her lifts down home at times). She will be sadly missed by many, and especially by all the family for her love, generosity and plain speaking. During these difficult months she has shown much courage and faith and had such a confidence in prayer and in her Saviour.
Today we give thanks to God for the life of Evelyn Baker - daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and sister in the Lord.