Mabel Caroline de Courcy was born in Dunmore East, County
Waterford in Ireland on 7 April 1920 to parents Thomas de Courcy
and Florence Robins, and was the eldest of six children.
According to family lore, she was teased in school by other children
reciting a popular limeric of the time:
There was a young lady named Mabel
Who danced on the dining-room table
But she blushed very red
When the gentlemen said
Oh! look at the legs on the table.
So Mabel began to dislike her name and insisted that henceforth
she be known as May.
Her mother was the daughter of the commander of the Dunmore
East coast guard station, and her father a local bicycle mechanic,
both from protestant families. Due to the growing unrest around
the time of Ireland's independence in 1922, the family moved to
England where they initially settled in Minions (Liskeard) on the
Cornish moors. Some of May's earliest memories in Minions include
being walked to school with her siblings by their grandfather Charles
Robins, who was by now a retired coast guard commander. And
she remembered living next door to a young Michael Foot who was
to become the well-known politician.
By 1930, when May was 10, her father had secured a job as a mechanic at Gough's Garage in Cheddar, so the family moved into a tied cottage in the Lippiatt at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge where the children were raised. May sometimes visited Cornwall to see her cousin Beryl, with whom she remained friends for the rest of her life and Beryl recalls May coming to stay with her family in Bodmin during the war. May and her sister Hazel went on to Penzance where May met her husband-to-be, Don Johnson, who was billeted there with the Army. However, this Don Johnson was not the famous actor from Miami Vice!! During the war, according to a brief conversation she had with a staff member at the Hawthorns, May found herself involved with patching up Spitfires to make them airworthy and helping with pre-flight checks.
In 1942 she married Don in Hendon, North London. The couple lived in Edgware and then Potters Bar for most of their married life while Don worked at Australia House in London. Although they had no children, May and Don were fortunate to have many nieces and nephews. They were avid ballroom dancers and enjoyed many ship cruises to different parts of the world, taking their 13 year old godson, Phillip, on one such adventure around the Med in 1969, much to his delight. Her nephew, Stephen, recalls as a young boy in the 60s the excitement of being shown slides of their exotic travels upon their return, when their sitting room was transformed into a make-shift cinema using a white sheet as a screen!
After her husband's retirement they moved to Somerset to be near the rest of the family, and enjoyed happy times. Her niece Vivian has one abiding memory of May, her sister Hazel and Auntie Dot getting very tiddly on copious amounts of Bucks Fizz at a family birthday celebration and taking over the dance floor as if they were the Three Degrees – they later had to be helped to bed, where they collapsed together in a heap of uncontrollable hysterics like three naughty school girls - needless to say there were some pretty sore heads the next day!
May was very close to her youngest sister Val and she spent many holidays with Val, Nigel and their two boys. Stephen recalls one holiday in their cottage in Wales; when sent out to fill up the coal scuttle, Don returned with his trousers covered in coal dust. Seeing the look of terror on his face when he realised what he had done, Val quickly ushered him back outside and scrubbed his trousers as clean as possible before allowing him back in and spared him a good dressing down from May! Another endearing memory Stephen and Jane have is of May avidly playing on their children’s gameboy – seemingly never too old to learn new tricks.
Following Don's death in 1994, May left her home in Wedmore and moved into the Hawthorns retirement home on the sea front in Clevedon. She liked having her own apartment within the complex where she could retreat in peace and quiet and walk round the gardens at her leisure. She enjoyed meeting her resident friends over lunch or coffee and being visited regularly by her sister, Val. But May was also fond of her own company and was happy with a good novel whilst knitting copious numbers of scarves and blankets for needy children overseas.
May was 98 years old when she died, the elder of her 5 siblings, Celia, Hazel, Rixie, Sheila and Valerie, and she outlived them all, remaining mentally sharp to the end of her days. She is survived by 12 nephews and nieces. What an innings!
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