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Remembering Jill Hutchings

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Over 150 people gathered at St Giles on 20 August to give thanks for the life of Jill Hutchings, our former churchwarden and dear friend. Here are the eulogies given by our former rector, The Ven. Bill Jacob, and Alan, our current rector:

'We all have vivid memories of Jill. We have heard some of the cherished memories of her children and grandchildren; and the presence here of many today speaks volumes for the memories and the esteem in which she was held by such a wide variety of people.

'I vividly remember my first encounter with her, at a dinner given the Bishop of London to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the then rector of St Giles’s reign as rector. I found myself sitting beside Jill, and she elicited that I had a modest interest in art, and I was soon persuaded to visit the gallery. Jill, as we all know, was a consummate sales person. I was wary of galleries. My experience was of intimidating spaces, where a decorative person sat doing their nails, making me feel like a trespasser in a space not intended for the likes of me.

'When I ventured along Windmill Street and into the gallery, however, it wasn’t like that. It was more like a drop-in centre. Jill had the knack of gauging whether one wanted to be talked to, or not. She could capture one’s interest with stories about artists, and give one space to think over and come back. I suspect that she enabled many people who would not normally have bought a picture to begin collecting, for she was very good at offering irresistible terms. It had never occurred to me that one could have a picture on approval, buy it on instalments, trade it in, or swap it for another. Jill helped to make art accessible, not least through art in business, which she and John pioneered at the initiative of Sir Hugh Casson at the Royal Academy – providing pictures and artworks for offices and business premises. Jill was a great promoter of art.

'And, of course, she was a great promoter and encourager of artists. I suspect that there are numbers of people here today whose careers in art were nourished by Jill. She, in that marvellous partnership with John, whom she adored, having fallen in love with him at first sight on a train in France, made a marvellous contribution to the London art scene through Art in Business and the Curwen Gallery.

'Jill was a person of enormous determination, commitment and energy. Anything she took on she threw herself into – whether nursing in her earliest days, property renovation, art and artists, cancer research, Windmill Street parties, or being churchwarden here at St Giles, for their unashamed Christian faith was at the heart of John’ and Jill’s lives. They were a mainstay in supporting Christian life and witness in this extraordinary part of London. They were here in church every day for Morning Prayer, playing a part in the great wave of prayer that invisibly and anonymously collaborates with God in sustaining the universe.

'Jill was essentially a doer. She was very conscious that, as she often said, the headmistress of Wycombe Abbey decided to pass over Jill as head girl because she did not see the bigger picture. That perhaps was paradoxical given the large pictures, sculpture and installations that in due course Jill craned into buildings! She could envisage how things might be different, and had the drive, determination and courage to get things to happen. But, of course, there was a downside to that, for one could get caught up in the tidal force of Jill’s commitment and determination. She also was not always very good in trusting that one could do one’s bit, and frustratingly closely supervised one, or did it herself.

'Her intention was to live out her Christian faith, in making life better for people, in her early days in nursing and in her later days in art. She was a person of utter integrity , but for we lesser beings, her integrity could sometimes be uncomfortable and sometimes she could be very brisk.

We all have so much for which to be grateful for knowing Jill, as a sister, mother, grandmother, and a very good and loyal friend, and in our memories of Jill we have a bridge over death. If we, with our limited capacities to love and value people, saw in Jill so much to value and have affection for, how much more will God have seen to value and immortalise. There is no ground for the hope of eternal life, except God’s love. If our limited human affection and love can preserve vivid memories of Jill, though we have now lost her in death, how much more can God’s love do?

'Someone like Jill, whose loss we feel because we valued her and loved her, is really the only evidence we need of the goodness of God. Jill is a token of our hope beyond death. If our limited affections and love makes us feel a person to be there, how much more can divine love do. Divine love, we believe makes her to be there. When we remember Jill with fondness, we are looking, as well as we can, through the eyes of God. We are calling to mind someone who is dear to God, as well as to us.

'As we treasure memories and stories about Jill, which we will no doubt be telling one another after the service, how much more will God see to treasure in her, and all that God has called into existence. As Christians we believe that all human beings, everyone is, dear to God, whether we are in states of lost-ness, as Jill was in the last months of her life, or in whatever mess we make of our lives. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and care. God sees and draws out the goodness in us, as we saw the good in Jill. As we treasure memories and stories about Jill, which we will no doubt be telling one another after the service, how much more will God see to treasure in her, and all that God has called into existence. One day we hope that in God’s love, in which Jill believed so strongly, we may be united, not only with God who loves and strengthens us, but with all those we have valued and esteemed – like Jill – whose memories we cherish, and who have helped us to deepen our experience of the good in people, which reflects God’s love for us.' - Ven Bill Jacob

'I have served in three churches in my ministry, at its beginning, middle and end, and in each I can think of one person whose spirit embodied and upheld the spirit of the whole. They were the people who made the life of the place somehow worthwhile and valued.

'The first, at the beginning, was (to be honest) so long ago that I cannot remember the person’s name, though I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She busied herself around the place and kept guard over us. The second, in the middle, was called Katharine. She was our conscience and had a rare capacity to feel the distress of others, which she often brought to our attention. She was a churchwarden once, though a very inefficient one. Katharine did a great deal of praying; you could tell.

'The third, at the end of my ministry, namely now, is (it feels too soon to say ‘was’) Jill. In this respect, churches are not so very different from other forms of human organisation where people work together for a shared purpose - families, charities, community organisations, workplace groups, shared interests and causes, an art, a skill - all those spheres where the character and will of one person holds together that of everyone else; and when it comes to St Giles it was clear to me from the very first day I arrived that Jill was that person for us here.

'She willed us into existence and kept us here by her encouragement and longing; and to my mind this became clearer when her more active days of being a churchwarden had passed, and she was one among others; indeed, became even clearer still when there was very little that she could ‘do,’ and even further on when she relied upon others to wheel her into church; then, above all else, so it seemed to me, it became clearer still that it was by her presence that she made being here worthwhile and necessary; and it’s not everyone who can do that; it is a rare gift.

'She saw the person in the role, just as she saw the artist in the art. She could see the role in the person sometimes, it is true - their potential, the possibilities - as she could see the artist’s potential to make or develop their art; but her chief gift and her chief delight was to value the person and the artist above the work done or the canvas painted. To visit her flat in Endell Street was to be met not so much by walls full of finished works but by the narrative of the lives that had gone into those works and the stories of gestation and labour they had needed in order to come to birth. She was the same here at St Giles. She was the same, I have no doubt, among you as a family. She only ever spoke of you all with warmth and pride.

'In this way, she became a source of grace and charity to us, to use specifically religious words. Beyond the plans and projects, beyond the problems and challenges, beyond the repetition (and there is a lot of repetition in church life), beyond the set-backs, Jill, in her fashion, told us that ‘All shall be well,’ to quote a familiar line. Goodness, how we shall miss her. Now we shall have to do this for ourselves. I only hope that we have all been taking notes.' - Rev. Alan Carr

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