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Tribute to Sheena

Sheena’s ‘thing’ about words

A personal appreciation by Peter Denton

“Chairman. I am the chairman,” Sheena Harold told me, with a steely eye. “I am not an object to be sat on.”

Indeed she wasn’t – literally or metaphorically. Despite her soft voice and great personal charm, she could be firm, even stubborn, when it suited her. And this was one such occasion.

I was editor of Tidings at the time, and had suggested in passing that the word ‘chairman’ was out of date and gender-specific. So how about ‘chair’? She would have none of it, and wouldn’t even consider ‘chairwoman’. The subject never arose again.

Sheena had a thing about words, and she knew how to use them. It was no surprise, then, to discover that she was an avid listener to Round Britain Quiz on Radio 4; she enjoyed a bit of cryptic, lateral thinking, and RBQ was, for her, the daddy of them all.

It’s also true to say that she used words persuasively. She was renowned for getting her way, and many was the time when someone who’d been cajoled would say “How did I get talked into that? Why did I agree…?” Whether she was addressing councillors on a matter at the heart of Teddington, or a parish consultation, a classroom, a group of pensioners or an annual meeting, she was persuasive – which is just one reason why she was such an effective Chair… er, Chairman.

Mind you, she could be dismissive and snappy too, as anyone who fell out with would attest. But such occasions were relatively few and far between.

Sheena was notable for the way she dressed, always preferring loose-fitting trouser suits and wafting floral scarves. And with her heavy-rimmed glasses, she was an instantly recognisable figure in Teddington.

She lived in a detached house with a large garden, which she inherited from her parents. And anyone who ever visited her there will never forget the experience: she was, quite simply, a hoarder of the first order. The house was full to overflowing with ornaments, bric-a-brac, early coronation mugs (she was a devoted monarchist), teddy bears, faded photographs, Christmas cards from way back when, old invitation cards from the great and good, plus piles of letters, newspapers and magazines.

Her old conservatory, bursting with potted plants, led out to the garden which was full of mature trees, shrubs and flowers, all of which she knew by species and name. She had several bird tables which she kept well-stocked, and she was rewarded with constant flights of avian visitors. She delighted in the fact that a family of foxes had taken up residence among the trees, as well.

In her later years after the death of her husband Ernie, the love of her life, the Teddington Society became Sheena’s raison d’etre. She devoted more time to it than was probably good for her, but she loved it beyond measure. Her principal ambition for 2023 was to be at the helm for the Society’s 50th anniversary, after which she said she would probably retire – but that, as we now know, was not to be.

She has left us now, but we have a trove of memories. She was by any measure unique, a never to be repeated one-off, and an altogether remarkable woman. For anyone who knew, liked or even loved her, she’s irreplaceable. So this small tribute is by way of offering thanks to Sheena – for her unceasing activity, her devotion to the Society and to the wider Teddington community, and for her warmth, generosity, humour… oh, and the occasional glass of Prosecco, too! May she rest in well-earned peace, because over the years she’s done us all proud. And in doing us proud, we know she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Peter Denton is a former editor of Tidings and a past Vice Chairman of the Teddington Society

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