On Tuesday I attended the funeral of Pam Marlow, a very good friend who recently died from ovarian cancer, aged sixty.
- Pam’s family and mine have always been close, my parents having known Pam and her husband Phil since long before I was born. My earliest memories of the Marlows come from the mid eighties, when our families would camp together in the sandhills every Easter.
- Pam has done a lot for me in recent years. I don’t drive, and Pam has taken me grocery shopping every fortnight or so. These shopping trips were more than just a personal favour; they were also social meetups, and Pam clearly enjoyed the conversations that we had on the way and back.
- Pam lead a busy life, so it was not often that we stopped for a coffee after shopping, but we did so occasionally. One way in which I sometimes tried to repay her was with tickets to Fringe Festival performances and such things. For example, she accompanied me to Mediaeval Magic by the Luna Vocal Ensemble in 2008, and to Dave Bloustien’s Complete History of Western Philosophy in 2010.
- Pam had several artistic interests and talents, and has been mentioned on this blog in that capacity. She has built models of historic buildings and towns for display in museums. She has written haiku and haiku-like poems, and done a lot of recreational painting. I don’t have representative photographs of the latter, that’s Pam in the Painting with Vegemite photo in the post about Dad’s 60th.
- Pam’s intellectual interests were also wide-ranging. Brain science was a particular favourite, but she was interested in everything, which lead to many a stimulating conversation. She has compiled trivia quizzes for community events, and advised me when I compiled my own. I sometimes lent her books to read, of which more in a moment. Until the funeral I hadn’t known that her thesis had been in an obscure agricultural application of biochemistry.
- Pam cared deeply about people and did more than her part for the community. For example, in the last few years she taught English as a second language to immigrants, many of them refugees. As with everything else she did, she approached these community service roles with passion and with an eye for new ideas. If I drew her attention to Language Log articles, or lent her books on linguistics (from Catford’s “A Practical Introduction To Phonetics” to Lakoff’s “Women, Fire and Dangerous Things“), she would reflect on how the information could enrich her approach to teaching.
- Pam combined model making with language teaching to create a model house (and accompanying Powerpoint presentation) to teach students some basic domestic English as well as important cultural knowledge such as why nappies shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet (this is not the sort of thing immigrants from poorer countries can be assumed to know). The model includes plumbing.
- Pam at play was as passionate as Pam at anything else. Her enthusiasms ranged from sailing on a catamaran to playing strategy games. Every year on her birthday we would play a game of Chinese Checkers, which was one of her favourites. She was among the first people I’d turn to whenever I’d invented a game and was looking for playtesters.
- Pam’s struggle with cancer was drawn out over the last year or two. With the best possible spirit and strength, she won many a battle, but lost the war. The cancer was treated and then relapsed not once but twice before she died. Along the way she did her part to raise money for cancer research, for example her most recent birthday was a large cinema gathering in which we all donated to ovarian cancer research and watched the Sherlock Holmes movie together.
I last saw Pam in the hospital less than a week before she died. My final communication was an email that I sent to her daughter very close to the end, which Suzanne informs me made her mother smile. It was about the many ways in which I appreciated Pam’s friendship.
The evening after she died, I sat down at my electronic piano and thought of her as I improvised. It’s far from perfect — the balance is wrong and the metre is off — but what’s more important is that it’s spontaneous. I hope it succeeds in the sense of conveying the emotions that I was trying to express.
She will be missed.