Gillian Catherine Robinson (02.11.1941 – 06.08.2023)

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Memories of a Surprising Lady – by Lucy Davies

Gillian Catherine Robinson (02.11.1941 – 06.08.2023)

Gillian was a very surprising lady. I had known her all of my life; she was my Mum’s best friend. Gillian was always a calming, quiet person to be around. However, she was continually accomplishing new feats and acquiring new skills and she was a highly intelligent individual who never showed off or tried to push her opinions on others. We loved to visit Gillian as children because she always took us to Marks and Spencers in Croydon and told us that we could buy whatever we liked. Overcome with excitement at being allowed the free reign of such a large store, we would run around the entire children’s clothing section, only to emerge, almost every time, with a pair of pyjamas as our final choice!Gillian continued to surprise me right up until this year when she asked me to write her eulogy. She wanted to ask Mum, Stephanie, but was worried that she knew too much! Mum, Gillian and the third ‘musketeer’, Gina, were life-long friends having met at Burlington School for Girls in London. Recently I found some old photos, on the internet, of rooms from the school. I showed them to Gillian and she had a really clear recollection of all, bar one; when I enlightened her by saying that it was ‘The Staffroom’ Gillian’s immediate response was, “ We were good girls Lucy, we never went to The Staffroom!”

Gillian shared many memories with me over the past year and I have compiled them into the Top Ten Surprising Facts, some of which perhaps you don’t know!

  1. Gillian Catherine Shaw was born on 2nd November 1941 in Harrow, London, in the middle of an air raid! A rather traumatic first impression of the world, although probably not quite as traumatic an experience as that of her mother!
  2. Gillian’s final year at Primary School was 1953, so the school held a Coronation Pageant. Despite describing herself as an under confident, shy child, Gillian was chosen to play the role of Queen Elizabeth 1 and had to recite the full Tilbury Speech!
  3. Gillian shared the very sad memory of her older brother dying suddenly when she was in her first year at Secondary School. She said that this profoundly effected her relationship with her parents. However, she did well at school and became Head Girl studying Geography, French and Latin at A level. Latin was her favourite and, when pushed, she admitted that this was due to her interest in all the gory Roman facts!
  4. From 1960 Gillian was a keen member of the Frank and Peggy Spencer Dance School where she took part in competitive team dancing. Her favourite dance was the Fox Trot and she became a huge Strictly fan. She confessed that an unfulfilled ambition was to dance a fox trot with Anton Du Beke!
  5. Gillian had a strong Indian connection. Her Grandfather was an Indian barrister and her Father was born and brought up in India. The family moved to London in the early 1920s; at this point, her Grandfather, Akbar Shah, Anglicized his name to Alfred Shaw.
  6. Gillian’s first marriage in 1965 was to Andrew whom she met at the dancing school. Surprising herself she discovered that she enjoyed watching Andrew playing cricket. Eventually she learnt all of the rules so well that she was asked to become to official scorer for the team.
  7. Gillian’s first dog was Zorba, a cross Labrador/Golden Retriever bred by Stephanie, my Mum! Little did Mum know what she starting in 1968. Zorba sadly died when she was three leading Gillian to buy her first Golden Retriever, Zara.
  8. Gillian and Andrew were unable to have a family and, in 1976, the marriage ended. She threw herself into the world of Golden Retrievers. Some interesting dog stats include:
    • a. Zita (Robbie and Gillian’s last Golden Retriever) was the ninth generation in a direct line from Zara
    • b. Gillian’s dogs were all special to her and she was keen to have them mentioned: Zorba, Zara, Lottie, Rosie, Gellie, Quilla, Piper, Lander, Zoe, Ellie, Charlie and Zita – this does not include the multitude of puppies
    • c. Gillian married Robbie in 1988 after they had met on the committee of the Southern Golden Retriever Society. It was such a lovely day; I carried Gillian’s flowers and Mum and Duncan did readings. Both did so much for the welfare of dogs; Gillian volunteered on the committee from 1979 until 2016…37 years. Amazingly, during this time, nearly 3000 dogs were given a new home
    • d. Gillian judged at major shows around twenty times and once a ‘best of breed’ judged by herself went on to be ‘show champion’
    • e. In 1987 I lived with Gillian for several months at her home in Shirley. I remember the nightly ‘rescue committee’ phone calls which always seem to be with a certain ‘Robbie’!! I also remember the morning after the infamous ‘hurricane’ when the area had been hit badly with local roads impassable and trees uprooted everywhere. Gillian excitedly started to get the dogs ready for their walk, I protested but was told to ‘get a move on’ as there was ‘bound to be some exciting new smells’. She was right!
  9. Later in life music became a new interest for Gillian. When 70 she started having piano lessons with Kate and had passed Grade 5 just as Covid and cancer came along. She also enjoyed singing and joined a choir in Hawkhurst and another in Cranbrook. She told me that she only bothered to learn how to use Zoom in order to carry on singing!
  10. Gillian’s favourite film was South Pacific –she went to see it seven times at the cinema! When I asked her why she replied that she had a ‘thing’ about Rossano Brazzi and my Mum had one for John Kerr!

From this list of surprising facts about Gillian I’m sure you’ll agree that she was an amazing lady. Whilst compiling these notes together this year, Gillian repeatedly told me that she’s not accomplished anything “terribly exciting “.

How wrong she was! Every one of us here remembers Gillian in a slightly unique way, and is grateful for what she brought to our lives.

When I asked Gillian, if she had a favourite poem, she gave a typical response, “I’m not very knowledgeable about poetry”. She then went on to recite the first 20 lines of a poem written by John Redwood Anderson called, ‘The Goat’.

She said that she had first heard it when her school friend, Gina (the third musketeer) had recited it at a voice, speaking competition at school. The poem speaks of a desire to be able to be free and wild.

Gillian said that somehow it“touches my soul“. I would like to finish by reading these 20 lines in paying tribute to a remarkable, extraordinary and very surprising lady that we all knew and loved.


The Goat

It dwelt upon the very edge of things.

Civilization’s limit – where the wings

Of that wild creature, which is spirit,

Brush the bowed heads of such as do inherit

The five barred prison of the flesh

And thought’s tight mesh.

Only a twisted rope of straw

Kept it tethered to man’s law,

And it had tasted everything

That grew within that narrow ring.

And still,


The soul within it cried

For something it had known –

It knew not when –

But something far away from men,

And high and wide

And splendid as the hill.

One day its rope of twisted straw

Snapped, and passed away

Forever from the circle of man’s law.

Up to the timeless hills to be as untamed as they.