Rainy Autumn evening. I’d been to Camberley to visit Nita Needham, Mary’s goddaughter. Driving back to London, I found myself on the outskirts of the large Surrey town of Woking. With my windscreen wipers working away, I recalled Mary had been cremated at Woking Crematorium. On the spur of the moment, I decided to make the detour to see if I could find the Crematorium.
I had no map and had to rely on chance to find it circling Woking’s outer ringroads. After several roundabouts, a sign for the Crematorium did appear, and I turned down a road, criss-crossed with throngs of Woking children dawdling home from school. I pulled in; parked and wandered off in the rain through The Crematorium’s rose gardens and fading light to look for Mary’s last resting place: a kind of improvised ancestor appointment. It was a surprisingly beautiful, peaceful place. (In its day, said to be the place ‘to be seen dead in’) With the help of an extremely helpful Crematorium member of staff, I came across a wall plaque of her close life-long friends, Emmeline and Fred Pethick-Lawrence, and after much hunting, Mary’s.
Mary C.S.Neal CBE
Died 22nd June 1944#
"Deep as The Universe Is My Life and I Know It"
A crop of pine trees swayed overhead nearby and I thought it a strange thing that her favourite tree grew so close to her final resting place. I placed coloured Autumn leaves along the top of the plaque and made my way home.
"Deep As The Universe is My Life And I Know It". The phrase is taken from 'Towards Democracy', a book Mary had much admired, by the poet-philosopher Edward Carpenter. As epitaph to a life that combined deep personal spirituality with constant public service the words are awkward, and apt. Today she might be called a 'deep ecologist,' - someone who recognises how humankind is inseparable from the planet’s web of life and that awareness of the fact, brings humility, compassion and great joy.