Margaret Rank 1897-1988

Address given at the Funeral Service of Mrs Rowland Rank [Margaret nee McArthur] in [St Mary’s] Sennicotts Church, Sussex on Friday March 4th 1988 by the Vicar the Reverend Donald Johnson, M.A.

‘The love of life’ said Dr Johnson in The Rambler in the early 1750s ‘is necessary to the vigorous prosecution of any undertaking’. And no undertaking that we can attempt is to be compared with the daily living of life itself, in all its complexity of joy and fear, of pain, sorrow, elation, and humour; with the network of our human relationships as the arena in which those emotions and experiences of life are acted out.

Margaret Rank aged 8 with her mother Rose Mary McArthur in Montreal Canada 1905
Margaret Rank aged 8 with her mother Rose Mary McArthur [nee Wilkinson born 18 Jan 1867] in Montreal Canada 1905

Margaret Rank herself felt that she had lived several lives, as she looked back from great longevity; and such was her love of life that she ‘vigorously prosecuted’ each stage which fell to her lot, and sought to make it memorable for herself and her family.

She was born Margaret McArthur on April 4th 1897 in Montreal in Canada, her father being a prominent Scottish businessman, and her mother a beautiful and artistic person. But her father died when she was only five years old, and her maiden aunt, as in loco parentis in this respect, took over her religious upbringing as a staunch Presbytarian. She was not allowed to play the piano on Sundays, but thought it unfair, by the same token, that the local Minister could discuss stocks and shares over tea with her step grandmother on that day!

Margaret’s mother travelled widely, taking her daughter, why still quite young, with her. Sometimes the train broke down, and damp beds and sofas became interim resting places, without deterring the travellers. She loved tobogganing, accompanied by her boisterous dog; being bilingual in French and English she learned to ride under the tuition of a French former cavalry officer. That free-ranging Canadian childhood was one life, soon to close. For Margaret’s mother remarried when her daughter was eleven, and then her life entered a new phase, with residence in Gosport here in England, and school at Netley. In the 1914-18 War her step-father was stationed in Shropshire, and while living there she drew on her riding skill to exercise Poethlyn, later winner of the Grand National [1919].

Now came the next stage in her life, for she met Captain Rowland Rank, 12 years her senior, of the Royal Field Artillery. They became engaged, and when he was called to the Front they married quickly and secretly, as Rowland’s father disapproved of wartime marriages. She had to wear a wedding ring on a concealed necklace during a visit to his home, Kingswood Warren in Surrey, only to have it pulled out by a naughty young sister-in-law who had guessed the course of events. The game was up! But after some initial upset, Joseph Rank (of whom his family stood greatly in awe) grew to love Margaret very much, for she was both beautiful and spirited, and certainly not over-awed. He asked her to make her home at Kingswood while Rowland was at the War, and their first son, Joseph [Joseph McArthur Rank], was born there. Then came Margaret (known as Peggy) [Margaret Voase] and Patricia [Patricia Unity], though nine years were to pass before the birth of John [John Rowland, 13 January 1930] to complete the family.

Margaret Rank with Rowland Rank, Joseph, Peggy and Patricia at Binderton House July 1921

Rowland had been given a Battersea Mill by his father, and Margaret and he spent some years of residence in Park Lane, until the family were drawn to Aldwick, which Rowland had known as a boy, and where he had recuperated after being gassed in the War. Aldwick Place was bought, and a new house built in the old garden; a special feature of it was a fine staircase which Margaret rescued, from Bolingbroke House which had been on the site of the mill. In thankfulness for recovery of health, Rowland established the Margaret Convalescent Home in the farmhouse which was run with Dr Barnardo’s and where boys from the poorer areas could come and regain their health. Many had never seen the sea and Margaret always took a real interest in their welfare. A stud was formed on the farm, and many trees planted; but it was with greyhounds that Roland had greatest success, with some champion runners. Margaret had become a society hostess, but did not enjoy good health in the 1920s and 30s. In 1932 she had a strange ‘out of body’ experience while gravely ill, looking down on herself from above, and her family doctor holding her hand and saying “poor little thing, poor little thing”, thinking that she had died. (A recent television programme gave some similar instances.) husband suffered two heart attacks in the 1930s, and until his death in July 1939 she was absent from him only one night, to attend a family event.

During the War she used Aldwick Place as an occasional convalescent home for Canadian officers; ran a reception point for woolen clothing for the Forces; run the Margaret Fund in West Sussex; but most especially gave Morale Parties for officers stationed in the area – the regular day of Thursdays had to be changed, as bombs always seemed to fall on Thursdays, and Tangmere officers were in danger of being wiped out en bloc. Aldwick was a ‘Restricted Area’ and she was pressed to leave, but she refused; her son-in-law was killed in the War, and her grandchild died. She was advised that she could not afford to stay in her beloved home, and she bought a cottage in the village and a small house in Chelsea, until she and John left the latter to settle again in Aldwick.

Here began a new interest – photography. She concentrated on portraits, doing her own processing, and exhibiting at the Royal Photographic Society, and in international exhibitions, with great success. She painted in pastels; was a fine needlewoman; and developed her keen interest in art. But the cottage was small, and so there came a new section of her life. In 1960, when she was 63, she and John decided to move to Sennicotts here, and she plunged into the decorating and furnishing of the home, which became a major interest to her. The house was visited by architectural societies, and Margaret, ‘given to hospitality’, enjoyed her life; though the great sadness of her daughter Peggy’s illness came, and the latter died in her mother’s arms after seven years of declining health. Margaret was a born nurse, and had the gift of organising and arranging the care and comfort of the patient. She herself had several accidents, and suffered much from a trapped nerve in her twisted spine. Despite this she threw herself wholeheartedly into a big family party of over 100 people to celebrate her 80th birthday. Her devotion to her husband was immense, and although she had had many offers of marriage after his death she never remarried.

Music, which was always important to her, became even more so as she grew older; she enjoyed the theatre greatly. Last year she shared in the conversion of an old barn at Aldwick into a Community Centre in memory of her husband [Rowland Rank Centre]; there was support for the expansion of the Chichester Centre of Arts; the Chichester Festivities Music Festival; and attendance at Pallant House.

Margaret Rank celebrating her 80th birthday

Born a Presbyterian, she had attended Mattins at Pagham with her family in years past, but could not share in Holy Communion with them, so in 1954 she was Confirmed by Bishop Bell at the age of 57, and found this of great help in her spiritual life. (I was told of this recently, and in a coincidence was myself ordained Priest by Bishop Bell some two months later in 1954.) I came to know her when I became Vicar here in 1978, and she attended church as worshipper and communicant, as her health permitted. She had a keen sense of homour; her smile was ready and frequent. She told me once, knowing that one of the Company’s vans saying ‘Mother’s Pride’ on the side was regularly in Chichester, she was very much tempted to be photographed beside it so that she could send a copy to the family saying ‘Here is Mother’!

Her pleasure in hospitality and friendship; her interest in people and causes; her generous support of this church; her delight in her family and friends; her resilience through the sadnesses of illness and loss – all these things were evident. In those early years of my knowing her, before the frailness of extreme old age claimed her, I thought that there was about her a kind of inner ‘shine’ or radiance, emanating from the quality of her personality, which communicated to those around. Even in these recent years she would cheerfully smile, and perhaps wave from the car on a local run when we met, her old personality rising to the occasion. At home, even if her memory was impaired, her desire to be hospitable was not. This, all of us who knew her, saw in her.

There was something else evident as well, to which I must pay a special tribute, and in which you would all wish to share; and that was the support and devotion of her family, and the Staff. And in particular I must speak of John’s outstanding care, who shared the home with her, so faithfully and sensitively ministering to her needs, and sharing unselfishly in the plans they made together.

To her family I would speak two sayings. The first, by the American divine, Henry Ward Beecher, in ‘Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit’ in 1887, 10 years before Margaret was born; he said, ‘What the mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin’. There is the testimony to good motherhood, and its continuing influence. The second is the saying by the French writer Valéry: ‘Are you not the future of all the memories stored within you? The future of a past?’ So strong is the imprint of her personality on her home that a sense of vacuum, of emptiness, must inhabit the minds of her family and friends. That is true, and it is inevitable. Yet, together with that, from that which is now past, the memory for the future is there; not only are we finite, but we show here as children of God traits of eternal verities. Love never dies; truth never dies; goodness never dies; holiness never dies. In loving these things we honour the memories of those we love, and in a spiritual sense we share with them still, and they with us.

Richard Chenevix Trench, Archbishop of Dublin in the last century, wrote:
‘And we, on divers shores now cast
Shall meet, our perilous voyage past,
All in our Father’s house at last.’

This service is a commemoration; it is a thanksgiving; and it is a pledge from those who live, for the manner of their living, before God. ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord Jesu Christ, to grant mercy and grace to the living, rest to the dead, to Thy Holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen’.

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