MOLLY RAMPLING WAS A LIVING LEGEND. A tiny dynamo, a powerhouse who spoke to countless people of God, Molly preached the gospel of the love of God for all creation just as St Francis of Assisi suggested – “always: but wherever possible without words”.
There was once a fine and upstanding church organist who grew tired of the fidgeting foibles of his long-serving organ blower. In old age the organ blower had appointed a young assistant with whom he would play cards between hymns, making a general nuisance of himself with all-too audible stage whispers and much unnecessary shuffling and coughing “round the back”. Purple-faced, one Sunday morning, the organist scribbled a hurried note to the organ blower: “Wilt tha shut up! These people have come to listen to me, not to thee!”. “Pssst”, he hissed at a brand new choirboy, “deliver this to you-know-who”. Trembling, the lad waited for a quiet spot in the Vicar’s sermon, then fleet of foot shot up the pulpit steps. “Psst! this is for you”, he said, before bolting back to his seat. A butterfly fluttered in the sunlight whilst the Vicar slowly opened the billet-doux. “Amen!” he shouted furiously. “And Amen to the lot of you!”
Well, no-one ever mistook Who Molly Rampling came here to listen to for so many years. And the God she was in close touch with shone through her little frame.
Brought up in Liverpool, where her father Canon Henry Frazer was curate of St Peter’s Everton, Molly never forgot the deprivation she saw in that area in the 1930s. She was of the kind of help to her father’s parish ministry there that we read of with enthusiasm today in the works of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Ministry in such a parish was very much a family-supported affair, and Molly a champion supporter. When her father was appointed Vicar of St Andrew, Maghull in 1931 the family thought they’d moved to paradise on earth. “We need never go on holiday again”, Molly’s mother announced, and Molly ever afterwards revelled in the memory of the beautiful vicarage and its glorious garden. Molly met Bert Rampling whilst both were medical students at Liverpool University and she was married from this well loved home.
During the war years Molly lived with her parents at the vicarage, continuing her industrious labours in the parish alongside some part-time local GP work. Jennifer and Alison were born there. Bert gave four year’s service with the Royal Army Medical Corps and after his return the little family moved for a while to a small house in Maghull until, in 1947, they left Liverpool for Hale. John, Michael, Karen and Philip were born there between 1948 and 1952.
Molly went on to become a hugely well-known and well-loved personality in the area, known for being a passionate soul, she was widely respected and loved. Passionate about the English language, she hated incorrect usage – something instilled in her from childhood by her teacher Mrs Wade, whose daughter Peggy (pictured above, right) was to become her lifelong friend. Molly and Peggy learned a bible verse every evening, throughout their school life, something for which Molly remained grateful until the day she died. Molly’s Bible knowledge was huge. Family crossword problems were solved with a quick phone call to Molly, one such call made, on one occasion, from Japan!
Molly loved poetry, though religious books rather pushed it out in the latter years and what spare time she had. But there was time for the Ellis Peters stories of the monk Cadfael, and regular re-reading of The Screwtape Letters of C S Lewis, and Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie and Angela Thirkell. Knowing that her eyesight was so very poor it was, for years, a marvel to me that the avid reader Molly could actually still read at all. I asked her about this once. “I only need to hold the book” she replied “and I hear the words from days gone by”.
Never an avid housewife, her children recall, Molly consumed reading material as others consume chocolate. Though, amongst the beloved eccentricities the family now lovingly laugh about, Molly really enjoyed cooking lamb’s kidneys. Three things will forever remind Jennifer’s husband Chris of his mother-in-law: toast, a sometimes rather shakily sung and oft repeated (whilst letting the smoke from the burned toast escape from the kitchen door), The Lord’s my shepherd, and lamb’s kidneys!
Molly’s church life was so much a part of her that her family just took it for granted. After her family it was her life-time love and chief involvement. Vicar Eric Jones called his church in Hale “St Peter’s and All Ramplings”. The children cannot remember being very amused! A move to St George’s, here in Altrincham, followed the arrival of the dynamic Michael Henshall as vicar, (and later Bishop of Warrington) in 1964. I am hugely grateful to the present parish priest and his colleagues for their hospitality to me today. And it is a great joy, especially, to share in this service with my dear friend and former Vicar here, Canon Brian McConnell. St George’s in its turn became home to All Ramplings. Chris and Jennifer were married here in 1964, the first of many such occasions.
And then there were Molly’s charitable endeavours – all of them, in her mind, entirely natural extensions of her Christian discipleship. “Those who follow Jesus must answer his call”, was one of her rallying cries.
Molly served TocH as a Pilot and speaker, and was a TocH builder right up until she was 90. Ninety years ago army padre The Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton saw a use for a property as a soldier’s club. It became one of those rare places where soldiers could meet and relax regardless of rank. A notice near the front door bore the message “All rank abandon, ye who enter here”. And though there was no such notice, this was the ethos of the welcome at Molly’s own front door throughout her life.
In 1944, at 31, Molly became enrolling member of the Mother’s Union here, and was Leader of the Indoor Member’s Circle. Molly went on to play a leading founding role in “The Cottage” in Hale. Starting out as a cup of tea for the lonely in her own home “The Cottage” became a purpose built centre, still going strong. And Molly was Chairman of the Altrincham branch of Oxfam in 1963. In that year of the Freedom from Hunger campaign the first shop was opened in the town. And this alongside consultancy work with Bert for the Samaritans, and a medical slot for “Dr Molly” called Late Night Line with BBC Radio Manchester. How proud and delighted Molly was to watch her dear Gordon Burns on early evening tv. “Come and sit down dear. Gordon’s here”.
And the Sue Ryder Homes, and the The Helen House Hospice for Children, and The Retreat House at Chester, and Cursillo (a short course in the basics of Christianity), and Brown Owl – and until very recently indeed “Granny Owl” – for Brownies and Guides here in Altrincham. The never to be forgotten pilgrimage to Taizé and the love for its prayer-chant ever afterwards, perpetual commitment to the daily offices here, and to all the clergy; no-one could fail to get the message. Molly Rampling lived the fullest, most active, and extraordinarily philanthropic life. Faithful and devoted friend to countless people – one who loved with a passion – and sometimes an angry passion at that – I used to wonder if she was related to Victor Meldrew as she’d cry “I simply don’t belieeeeeve it!”. How I’ll miss, how we’ll all miss, the faith discussions, the fondness, the colourful eccentricities, the searching, delighted, delightful daughter and wife, and mother and granny, and prayer of prayers for any and all. “Pray for Michael Langrish, dear” she’d say in a phone call. The Bishop of Exeter would send her a prayer list, and morning and evening she’d pray through it all. How we’ll miss “Lady”, whose living was the stuff of a poem.
Ruth Bidgood was one of her favourite poets, and how, now, I love this gift:
No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake lay in the other valley, or regret the songs in the forest I chose not to traverse. No need to ask where other roads might have led, since they led elsewhere; for nowhere but this here and now is my true destination. The river is gentle in the soft evening, and all the steps of my life have brought me home.
All who knew and loved Molly couldn’t do the maths. No-one could imagine how it was possible for a 95 year old to be so full of energy, verve and enthusiasm from beginning to end. She knew though. Enthusiasm, she remembered, comes from the Greek en Theos – “from God”. The source of Life was, she said, the secret and the joy of her whole life. Open to any and all, the destitute who was one of her most frequent and welcome vistors called her simply “Lady”, and she spoke of him only the other day. A semi-adopted daughter. A string of urchin clergy! I met Molly first in 1975. This house of prayer was the venue for a day for diocesan ordinands under the direction of Fr Henshall. The speaker, Dr Robert Martineau, then Bishop of Blackburn, was badly held up in traffic. “Never mind dears”, said Molly, let’s have another cup of coffee. I can tell you a thing or two about Vicaring!”. And she did. And to the late arriving bishop, later, too!
And so we come: O draw us to thy feet, most patient Saviour, who canst love us still: in thine own service make us glad and free, and grant us never more to part with thee.
If we were to be quiet now, even for just a moment, we could probably picture a rainbow over Altrincham St George, and we’d probably hear in the rafters Dr Molly’s excited and delighted “I have seen the Lord!”.
Dearest Molly, you’ve been well loved. And you’ll be well loved, still.