Frances David: 1933-2013
Last month, the Busoga Trust lost one of its most vigorous and impassioned supporters and one of its most vocal Trustees. Her death on September 12th was followed by many emails from Uganda expressing shock, grief and gratitude. These reactions were a reflection of the character of Frances David: a woman who believed in acting, in doing, not merely in saying. In a way, she was a force of nature, for ever seizing good causes and throwing herself behind them.
She first went to Uganda in 1994, two years after she retired as deputy head of Ross-on-Wye’s comprehensive school, the John Kyrle High School. She’d been very struck by a visit to the school by people from Uganda and decided, in her manner, well, no, she would not retire and live comfortably tending chrysanthemums. She’d go out and teach in Uganda herself. So she did, fixing it up herself and spending a year at Pilkington College, Mugaluka – a school no little way from a big town, with no electricity and no phones. That took courage. In Uganda, she came across the work of the Busoga Trust and Andrew Pearson, and realised that clean drinking water is the start of any real social improvement. The Trust had found one of its most energetic fund-raisers and – yes – hell-raisers.
In the following years, Frances David coaxed and jollied and chivvied people in the UK for money for BT wells. In her time, in this way, she raised money for more than 80 wells. Her character lead her to be direct and straightforward. I remember one of her calls: “Now look here, Jerry, you said you want to do something. Now I know it was at a party and you’d been drinking, but I won’t beat about the bush: get out your cheque book.” She was rarely afraid to speak her mind and reportedly enlivened Trustee meetings by doing the opposite of tip-toing around a controversy. If she did tip-toe, it was while wearing hob-nail boots.
She lived much of her life on the Welsh borders, after a schooling in Dorset and Oxford University. She met and married Bede David and together they set up house at The Callow, near Monmouth. They had six children, some of whom are active Trust supporters in her wake today. Lucy Bakr, for example, raises considerable sums for the Trust at her home in Provence, by inventive and engaging events, and Joanna amazingly organises a few teams of volunteers working behind the bars at music festivals to donate their wages to the Trust. Frances converted to Catholicism and became a sincere and devout believer for the rest of her life. In time, she and Bede and the Callow separated and she lived much of the following years in Skenfrith, a lively village in Wales, not far from Abergavenny.
Almost every year after 1994, she went out to Uganda, except for one year after a hip operation. Her visits became concerned with more than the Trust’s work, though that was her primary Ugandan concern. She met an energetic Catholic priest in Jinja, Dutchman Father Gerard Picavet. He did and does inspiring work in Jinja and around, building a community centre and church in Jinja with his own money. He found bright Ugandan school pupils and with Frances, raised funds so that they could go onto university. Frances herself became the supporter of a clutch of young Ugandans, getting funding and help and advice for them. A visit to Uganda with Frances was one punctuated by arrivals of these Ugandans to whom Frances was unfailingly generous. In Uganda, she spread her arms to help hospitals, orphans, getting solar lights to places without electricity… the list is long. She inspired people in the Border country with her projects: one old age pensioner used to save up throughout the year to make a donation to a hospital in Luwero.
Frances fought on many social fronts. She was a believer, more than staunch, in state education, in CND, in the Liberal Democrats for whom she stood for Parliament three times, in fair trade – she helped to make Monmouth one of Britain’s first fair trade towns – and in refugees. Even in her last months, she remained an activist and she became highly concerned about Syria. For her funeral she asked that there be a collection for Syrian refugees. And so there was.
One aspect of Frances I have not mentioned: she was also great fun and often very funny. One felt more alive in her company. A force of nature, yes, but a warm force.
Frances Ann David.
Teacher, reformer and Busoga Trustee.
Born 4 February 1933. Died 12 September 2013.
Author: Jeremy Bugler