Obituary: Joan Gardener

Miss Joan Gardener, who was well known in Wealdstone as the “little old lady with the shopping trolley”, died on January 28, aged 81. Born in Wickham Road in 1938, Joan had moved to March in Cambridgeshire in 2016 to be closer to her family, when her mobility, coupled with chronic anxiety, meant that she could no longer cope with living alone. Joan was also found to be suffering from Cardio Vascular Disease which led to her finally being moved recently to Askham House Nursing Home where she passed away peacefully.

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Joan with headscarf, as most people remember her. Photo by Maureen James

Educated at Whitefriars School, Joan had a phenomenal memory which meant that she excelled in and won prizes in many subjects. A testament to her memory was exampled in 2016 when Joan could remember the names of 11 of the pupils in her Whitefriars school group photo along with the Headmaster Mr Garritt.

Sadly, plans to go on to Hendon College after school failed as increasing anxiety meant that she was too afraid to attend the entrance exam. Instead she opted for working in a clerical post at Kodak between 1953-54 followed by a career in neighbourhood shops, namely Boots from 1954-57, and 1958-70; Timothy Whites from 1957-58; Debenhams from 1970-78; R.S. McColl from 1978-79 and Quality News in 1979.

In 1979, after the death of, firstly her mother Gladys and then her father Ted, Joan’s anxiety became overwhelming, and despite the presence of her elder brother Tom, who also still lived in the family home, she could no longer cope with combining the world of work with looking after herself and their home.

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Joan at work. Photo from Gardener family archive

For the next 38 years Joan kept to rigid routines of visiting the laundrette, visiting friends - never staying longer than about half an hour - and going to the shops and the post office. Being quite small and frail, she often had to worry that the wind might blow her over, or she might slip on icy pavements. As a consequence, Joan became well known for tightly holding on to a shopping trolley, and also for walking in the middle of the road in snowy weather.

People were also struck by her punctuality. “You could set a clock by her” her next door neighbour Mary fondly recalled.

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Whitefriars Class of about 1952. Joan is in the second row, first from the left. Photo from Gardener family archive

Joan is also remembered for how she would look after her neighbour’s houses while they were away and get shopping for them when they were ill. A former neighbour remembered how his uncle, who lived across the road from Joan, knew that if he didn’t open his curtains, she would pop round to see him. Others recalled how she would put out the wheelie bins for them.

It was her failure to carry out these unofficial duties that would alert the neighbours when Joan herself was unwell or in difficulty. After her brother Tom died in 2006 Joan sometimes became too anxious to even cope with walking down the stairs. Eventually in summer 2016, when Wendy from across the road popped in to see Joan, she found her sitting in her chair, unable to walk due to a mixture of anxiety and malnourishment. As a consequence, Joan’s niece Maureen was called and Joan eventually moved to Cambridgeshire.

But Joan’s body, (sadly without the shopping trolley as it wouldn’t fit in her coffin) is now back in the area, at G. Saville & Son funeral directors, another one of the places she used to regularly visit. On February 27 she will take her final journey in a hearse, which will stop at Wickham Road at about 11.20am, on its way to the funeral service at Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip at noon.

Her family would prefer donations to YMCA, Charter House, Charter Place, Watford WD17 2RT rather than flowers.

Harrow Times:

Young Joan

By Maureen James - February 10, 2019