Coronavirus lockdown will not prevent Atherstone doffing its hat to last-of-the-clan ‘great lady’ whose family sits proudly on top of the Ball Game podium of history

  Posted: 30.04.20 at 08:23 by Nick Hudson

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ATHERSTONE matriarch Jean Fulleylove always had a “hello me baby” for friends and acquaintances she met in town.

When ill health forced her indoors, she remained at the forefront of conversation as townsfolk always asked after the “wonderful, kind and funny” mother of four children, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-great grandkids.

Famous for her happy, smiling disposition and always wanting to help ahead of herself – the woman who was always “heard before you saw her” was never far from the thoughts of others, even though they couldn’t see her in person.

Her death in George Eliot Hospital – and with it the last of a generation associated with ‘sporting’ successes at the 800-year-old Shrovetide event – has left a huge hole in the historic fabric of Atherstone.

Warm, touching tributes have poured on to social media in memory of the 76-year-old – many upset that due to Covid-19 lockdown they cannot “pay our respects to Jean as we would have wished”.

Angela Kemp posted: “So heartbreaking and sad we cannot be there to give her the send-off she deserves.”

But later today Atherstone will get the chance to pay its respects in a traditional, time-honoured way to the head of a family dynasty whose name will forever be associated with the town’s centuries-old Ball Game.

The cortege of Mrs Fulleylove – whose late husband Sam took a record-breaking dozen winning ribands in the 1960s and 70s – is to pass familiar haunts on its way to her final resting place.

And the 28-strong immediate family, restricted to 10 members attending a funeral service because of coronavirus lockdown, have suggested those who knew their mother can “see her off” on the last journey through town – while keeping to social distancing regulations.

People can stand quietly in silent reverence – doffing their headwear – as the funeral procession passes by.

Leaving the Long Street premises of funeral directors M G Evans & Sons, the hearse will pass through Station Street, Woolpack Way, back into Long Street and onto Ratcliffe Road.

She will then travel by the fire station, onto Bank Road – passing by her grand-daughter's home who is self-isolating at the moment – and pausing to meet up with the rest of the family at her home on Queens Road.

Daughter Delma Fulleylove said the family will be gathering from 3.15pm at her home and “anyone wishing to pay their respects are welcome along this route or to join us from a safe distance on Queens Road”.

Townsfolk will not forget the likes of a kind-hearted factory worker who devoted her entire life to her family – children Paul, Julie, Peter and Delma – and then in turn the 24 members of the next two generations of Fulleyloves.

Rebecca Partridge – whose grandparents ran the Coventry Brace factory, the site on which Aldi now stands – has good cause to remember Mrs Fulleylove.

She said: “I spent many a week at the factory when I broke my arm as a kid and couldn’t go to school.

“Jean was always the person I wanted to spend the day with as she had so much fun for life and let me help her, even though I was probably a complete pain and slowed her down.

“She was a wonderful, kind and funny lady.”

Don Laird Slaney said Jean made “super sandwiches” and described her and husband, Sam, as a “most wonderful welcoming couple”.

Wendy Ratchford only joined a forum group to pay her respects to a “beautiful lady”, adding: “It’s so strange we won’t be having a laugh or you saying ‘hello me baby’.”

Denise Buckler said the woman she worked with for many years had a “heart of gold” while Mandy Dawe added: “A great lady, the last of the clan who will be sadly missed.”

Youngest daughter Delma, 52, summed up the sentiments surrounding her ‘best friend’: “You hear it said all the time about a person but my mum really was an amazing woman.

“She was always happy, smiling, helping people and putting others before herself – well known for being heard before she was seen.

“She was always in town, until in later years she couldn’t get out when not in the best of health.

“Even then, people always asked ‘How’s your mum?’ – they wanted to be remembered to her.”

Jean always stayed close to home in matters of family. After she married Sam, they lived in Queens Road just round the corner from both sets of parents – who lived a dozen doors from one another in North Street.

Her working life was defined by her four children. Before their arrival she travelled to Birmingham with dozens of other Atherstone people to work at Southalls sanitory factory.

Once the last of her children was at school, she went to work at Coventry Brace in Station Street. After that closed, she went on to hatmakers Wilson & Stafford until that shut its doors in 1999 – and then retired to enjoy her growing family.

Delma recalls her parents’ big joint hobby was bowls – at Atherstone Conservativ Club and Tamworth Indoor Bowls in Amington. They also liked to watch national events as interested spectators.

Jean was always supportive of her husband Sam who, as a 12-times winner, is probably the most famous Atherstone Ball Game participant in its 821-year history – watching from the sidelines.

And the organisers paid her the ultimate compliment on February 12, 2013.

While Mr Fulleylove stood tall on the winner’s podium many times – he never threw the ball into the waiting players to start the annual Shrovetide game.

That honour fell to Mrs Fulleylove, the year after her husband died – a truly special moment as she launched the giant leather ball off the balcony at the now-closed Barclays Bank.

“Dad didn’t do holidays,” Delma said. As a bird fancier he never wanted to leave his pigeons, canaries or koi carp with anyone else.

Blackpool was designated as the family annual summer retreat in what became a ritual for Jean and her four children plus extended to aunties and uncles.

“The second week of the Coventry fortnight in the July holiday was reserved at the same hotel in Bairstow Street every year,” Delma said with a smile.

They loved it.

Of Mrs Fulleylove’s funeral today, Delma added: “It’s very hard to be restricted to 10 people at the crematorium – although I understand only six are allowed at Sutton Coldfield.”

“I just think it’s very sad you can’t do what we want to do at this particular time.”

But when lockdown is eventually eased the family is planning a celebration of their mother’s life to coincide with what would have been her 77th birthday.

Coronavirus permitting, they have planned a church service at St Mary’s Atherstone on July 30 followed by a get together at Atherstone Conservative Club.

“Everyone is welcome, provisionally,” added Delma.

The family would also like to thank the carers, district nurses and all the staff at the George Eliot for all the occasions they looked after Mrs Fulleylove. “We can’t thank them enough,” added Delma.

One of the town’s finest matriarchs, this ‘fun-for-life lady was clearly a special kind of person – with Atherstone and the milk of human kindness coursing through her veins in equal proportions.

She kept on smiling through the ‘game of life’.

And her married name summed her up completely – Jean Full of love.

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