Lifa Oakley

A TRIBUTE TO LIFA FROM HER HIGH SHERIFFS

The Gloucestershire Shrievalty has lost not only a loyal, experienced and knowledgeable colleague in Lifa but also a dear friend, whose charm and humour captivated us all.  A constant comment from her High Sheriffs was that they regretted not knowing her and Michael prior to their year in post.  It is difficult to put in a few words the impact that she had on us.  This affectionate tribute does not seek to look back over the whole of her life but rather concentrates on her High Sheriff years and covers the many happy memories we have of her.

At the heart of everything of course was a professional relationship.  As High Sheriff’s Secretary Lifa helped 15 Gloucestershire High Sheriffs during her time.  Roger Head speaks for us all when he says that we all owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for the way she guided us and brought calmness to the most fraught of situations. Anne Chambers found that she was a fount of Shrieval knowledge, never pushing herself forward but always there if you needed help.  She was discreet and efficient and, as Ceri Evans remembers, could always be relied upon to give full, fair and wise advice.  Mark Heywood commented that, if ever he was about to stray from any of the protocols, Lifa would very gently get him back on track. Every chat was peppered with laughter, cackles (a constant theme from us all) and sometimes illustrated with hysterical anecdotes – mostly about some people who could be quite demanding about where they thought they should sit at various Shrieval events.  The seating plan for the Declaration was always a particular challenge but Lifa could be relied upon to give sound advice and reassurance and calm ruffled feathers when required.

But there was far more to the Lifa we all loved.  She really was a special person and she and Michael became a true friend to us all.  She possessed a wicked sense of humour and was not averse to some gentle teasing.  On one of our visits to May Hill she tried to persuade us that the kindling our dogs had chewed was in fact a piece of antique furniture.  How we and others enjoyed our times at May Hill, drinking tea in her kitchen or beautiful garden and laughing at her stories.  Duncan and Jennie Clegg became close friends and organised the most wonderful lunch for Lifa over the Summer, during which Helen Lovatt presented her with a High Sheriff’s Award to recognise her dedication to the Gloucestershire Shrievalty.  This was a particularly poignant event as her cancer was taking its toll but she bore this challenge with grace and courage.  She never complained about her illness and took a no nonsense approach to it.

Lifa epitomised the maxim of “service before self.”  Touched by tragedy and the death of her son from muscular dystrophy she threw herself into fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy UK.  Many of us will remember being invited by Lifa to the annual Spirit of Christmas Concert which she organised so beautifully each year in Gloucester Cathedral.  Charles Martell relates that she used to provide lunch every week for the “old folk” in May Hill even when she was suffering bad health.  She was also a Governor of the Barnwood Trust amongst other voluntary roles.

Lifa died on Christmas Eve at her beloved May Hill with her family by her side.  Our thoughts are with Michael and her family.  As Mark Heywood puts it so eloquently, “Too soon to go. Beautiful Lifa, we shall miss her terribly.”