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Extraordinary person will be sadly missed

PUBLISHED: 10:38 13 June 2012 | UPDATED: 10:51 13 June 2012

One in a million: Marilyn Winsdale, who was a lollipop lady at Avenue First School for 30 years.

One in a million: Marilyn Winsdale, who was a lollipop lady at Avenue First School for 30 years.

EDP©2003

Regular readers (my mum, that bloke who reads just to get annoyed and send me emails saying: "you have surpassed yourself with ridiculous inanity once AGAIN") will know that, on the whole, I fill this page with a litany of whingeing.

However, I am breaking with tradition in honour of someone whose outwardly ordinary life couldn’t hide the fact that they were an absolutely extraordinary person. In other words, I am going to be nice: buckle up.

For 30 years, Marilyn Winsdale was a lollipop lady at Avenue Junior School, ferrying thousands of children – and in some cases those children’s children – across the road. But that was only a small part of the service that Marilyn provided: the tip of the crossing patrol iceberg.

As befitting someone who lives in an executive shoebox in the Golden Triangle with a concrete garden the size of a postage stamp, both my children went (or still go) to Avenue Junior School.

Marilyn was a huge part of their daily lives, a constant presence through their most formative years, an ever-cheerful face on even the darkest of days and a welcome antidote to the hell of the school run.

She died on May 24, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer, a disease she fought with such good grace, stoicism and a lack of self-pity that I never really believed it could overcome her.

Cancer, however, doesn’t tend to respect nobility. I’ve learnt that the hard way over the past few years.

I will always remember Marilyn in her trademark purple outfits, rocking a look that even Lady Gaga might have baulked at, but which somehow she managed to pull off with some degree of panache.

She remembered the name of every child she helped across the street, every birthday, every detail they told her: long after my daughter Ruby left Avenue Junior School she would ask about her and about her hamster (she remembered its name: to this day I couldn’t pick it out in a police line-up).

She’d hand out stickers – not boring, self-righteous school ones, exciting sparkly or furry ones – to the kids, look after the lost sheep whose parents were running late (ahem) and at Christmas was so weighed down with presents that she looked like a purple Santa.

When illness led to her giving up the job, there weren’t many parents with a dry eye when we said our goodbyes.

My mother, being a proper grown-up, had the forethought to take her address so we could send cards at Christmas. She and Marilyn struck up quite a letter-based friendship, and the last dispatch came just days before her death: there was no mention of the gravity of her condition, just that same positivity we’d witnessed every day by the school gates.

Being a lollipop lady can often be a thankless task, especially if you ply your trade in the Golden Triangle, where every second car is a gigantic 4x4 piloted by a Boden-clad Mumzilla hellbent on buying an organic cucumber be-fore Jocasta’s horse-whispering classes. (Disclaimer: one of the Briggs fleet is a 4x4, but it’s not a gigantic one, I don’t wear Boden and I’m allergic to cucumber so I’m officially in the clear).

Despite heavy rain, heavy snow or heavy odds, Marilyn was permanently cheerful and clearly loved every minute of being part of our children’s lives.

I once said to her, during the kind of flash storm that soaks you to the skin in a heartbeat: “I bet you wish you could dump the lollipop and make a run for it.”

She replied: “I love every minute of it. The sun’ll be out in a minute.”

For Marilyn, the sun was always out and for those of us that knew her, she was providing much of the sunshine herself.

Thank you for everything you did, Marilyn: you never forgot a child’s name and we’ll never forget yours.

Marilyn’s funeral is being held at 12.45pm at Earlham Crematorium on June 18. Her family have extended an invitation to people who knew her, and my condolences go to them all.

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