How do you sum up a life in a few words? With difficulty!

This article (the 50th column Teddington RNLI have written for RTT) is a tribute to Freda Hale. I have tried to capture how people within the RNLI family felt about her contribution before she sadly passed away recently. This is a celebration of her life. Her funeral was held at Mortlake Cemetery on Friday 8 May – VE 75th Anniversary day of all days. Somehow a very fitting reflection of her courage and commitment. Freda’s life story and career would make a great book to be honest. We may well write and publish one in the years ahead.

Freda joined the Twickenham, Teddington and District Fundraising branch of the RNLI in the late 1980s and soon became Branch Secretary. Her final role was Events Secretary. According to Jill Goddard, former Chair of the Branch and now Committee Member. ‘She was a born organiser with endless energy and always willing. If we tried to give Freda the credit she deserves, we would be here all day. If anyone in Twickenham Teddington or Richmond asked the question “Who is that lady with the yellow coat carrying bags and bucket?” the universal reply would be “That’s Freda the Lifeboat Lady!” Jill worked with Freda on the Fundraising committee since the 1980s.

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Freda receiving her bar to gold badge from the Duke of Kent (pic by Peter Miller)

A few of the memorable events Freda organised (with help) included the annual RNLI Flag Days when she would be collecting outside St. Margarets railway station at 6.30 a.m. then on to Twickenham town centre and back to St. Margarets to catch the returning commuters. ‘Never one to miss an opportunity!’ added Jill.

As a resident of Twickenham, Freda was always involved in the town’s events, including the Church Street markets, and Christmas collections outside Sandys the fishmonger. She also arranged and attended collections at Twickenham railway station on Rugby Days where many a cheeky offer was exchanged. ‘She was always made very welcome at all the pubs but especially The White Swan. Sundays in the summer would find Freda and her friends running the Book Stall on Teddington Lock even in the rain,’ says Jill.

The White Swan, Sandys and Completely Floored all have fond memories of Freda. According to Jacinta Cook, local RNLI fundraiser, ‘The White Swan mentioned how often she had to be carried up their steps by some strong Rugby type customers when she sat outside until the tide came up to her knees. I suspect she enjoyed that! Sandys worried that she would get hypothermia as she sat outside their shop in hail rain and even snow! The staff kept her warm with hot drinks. They still have her chair and are keeping it as a lovely reminder of her. Completely Floored always put a piece of carpet under her chair to keep her off the cold pavement and drove her home after her collecting.’

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Freda collecting for the RNLI (pic by Jacinta Cook)

In 2002 Teddington RNLI Lifeboat Station was opened. The ceremony was a memorable event. This was the beginning of a great working relationship with the Teddington crew. Teddington RNLI, Lifeboat Operations Manager, Tim Ody added: ‘I remember Freda on one occasion collecting at Twickenham farmers market with snow on the ground. I used to give Freda lifts to various events and her tiny flat was full of RNLI memorabilia for her stalls. I even tried to get her on the Surprise Surprise TV show with her former lodger Guy coming back from New Zealand, but she rumbled us and refused to be on it. She was much too modest for TV.’ Andy Bell, Teddington RNLI Helm says: ‘When I think of Freda I recall here sitting outside Sandys fishmongers with her bucket in seriously pouring rain on a Twickenham Rugby Day – dressed in proper RNLI foulies. She did the same for Army v Navy – charming squaddies and matelots out of beer money takes some doing! One in a million, God bless her!’

I too recall meeting Freda on Christmas Eve 2015 at Sandys on a cold frosty day not long after I had joined Teddington RNLI and she was charm personified with all the local customers!

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Teddington Lock book stall (pic by Jacinta Cook)

Matt Allchurch, Helm at Teddington RNLI for the last 12 years says: ‘For my part I will always remember her sitting outside the White Swan with her collection bucket, again on a cold rugby day, with the tide coming up around her yellow RNLI wellies. Freda will live long in the memory of all who knew her. She gave so much of her later life to the RNLI and without her and many like her, we would not be able to do our lifesaving work. We are truly grateful.’

In fact, according to Jacinta Cook, Committee Member of the Twickenham, Teddington and District Fundraising branch of the RNLI says ‘Our branch has raised £1.5 million over 60 years. Freda’s personality, drive and coordination helped to raise £250,000 with the help of her fundraising colleagues of course. This includes contents of the many collection boxes she put all round the local pubs, schools and businesses, the takings from her Sunday book stall on Teddington Lock island as well as other fundraising events. I think this is amazing and testament to how special she was to the RNLI. A true local hero!’

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Freda after the RNLI Awards ceremony 2015 (pic by Peter Miller)

In recognition of her long and dedicated service to the RNLI, Freda was awarded her Gold Badge in 2013, followed two years later by her Gold Bar, presented to her on 21st May 2015, by RNLI President HRH Duke of Kent at the RNLI Annual Awards Ceremony, held at the Barbican Centre, London.

In summary, Jill says: ‘Freda was a unique and hardworking lady in all she undertook.’

This article written by Paul Stallard, Lifeboat Press Officer (LPO) and Crew, Teddington RNLI (with contributions from Twickenham, Teddington and District Branch RNLI Fundraisers Peter Miller, Jill Goddard, Jacinta Cook and Tim Ody, Matt Allchurch and Andy Bell of Teddington RNLI)