Sunday, 10 March 2013

Farewell to the Hedgehog Lady - A Tribute to Tonia

This is the tribute Tony Thain gave at Tonia's funeral service last Tuesday:

Who was Tonia Carole Thain? I hope that if I can complete this tribute that I can shed some light on her and how she lived her life.

Tonia was born in Barnstable, Devon, during the second world war. From a very young age she was involved with ponies and horses, having joined the Pony Club set. She soon progressed from pony club events to Show Jumping, Dressage and Eventing. I understand that, if she had wished, she was good enough to be a top class horsewoman.  However, she chose a different route, to work in stables and stud farms for some of the most prominent owners in the country. This change of course meant that I eventually met her.

More years ago than I care to remember we crossed paths and I can remember that I thought that she was out of my league as she was so self assured and attractive, especially as the first conversation that we had was a one sided interview from her over the bad manners that I had displayed by sitting in her place on the floor during a party! Many people in later life have received that famous "One Way Interview"; but once over, that was the end of it!

However, to my surprise she agreed to go out with me and a couple of years later we were married. By this time I had started to appreciate what a very special lady had chosen me to spend the rest of her life with her.
Tonia with a leopard cub at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

It soon became apparent that she had an incredible bond with all animals. By now we were at the Cotswold Wildlife park near Burford and Tonia had sole charge of the owners stables, with hunters, thoroughbreds, brood mares and foals. Not only did she have an affinity with the horses but even wildlife seemed to seek her out for help. She looked after two baby Jackdaws and even taught them to fly, it was a sight to behold as a 5’ 2" woman was leading two massive thoroughbreds to the fields along a lane, with a jackdaw landing on her head [she was blonde then!] The horses were not phased, as, if it was OK with Tonia, it was OK with them! Of course there were the hedgehogs which were special to her. Even when we moved into Swindon my greenhouse was lost to me and became the first Hedgehog Hilton.

During her time in Swindon, she changed her direction again and started to work in the Homes for the Elderly, starting as a Care assistant and ending up in charge of two homes. Tonia was never going to be the "stay at home" person, she had to keep herself busy at all times; and had to be looking after someone or something. It was at this time that I was away from home flying all over the world and even down to the South Atlantic, which was a traumatic time for her as I could not tell her where I was going and how long I was going to be away for. But being Tonia she took it all in her stride, never letting me see how worried she really was and giving me all the support that was needed for someone going into a conflict zone.

A few years before I was due to leave the R.A.F. She started to get "itchy feet"; a town was not the place for such a free spirit and born and bred country girl; I had also introduced her to the West Coast of Scotland! Two years prior to my retirement from flying and the Air Force, we purchased The Old Dairy. Tonia was in her element.  With no husband on site to tell her what not to do, she taught herself to do fencing, was seen many times fixing the roof ridge and generally went through the house from top to bottom. My job? I was the delivery man, every time I managed to get to her from Brize Norton I had a car load of materials ordered by Tonia.

Tonia with hedgehog Winnie at Kilchoan School
A few years later the first hedgehog arrived, Peanuts, who managed to walk through an oil tray, and became our first house guest. Peanuts was followed by an increasing number of wild hedgehogs and feeding stations started to appear around the garden. I lost my greenhouse again, part of the steading was converted into a ward for injured animals; the old generator shed was also lost to me as it became a shelter for hedgehogs in bad weather. Finally, I was commissioned to build a special shed for more sick and injured animals. Even our house became part of the wildlife domain as all types of birds flew in and then out. All because Tonia cared for them, and I could never refuse her anything, within reason, even removing the odd large spider which she could not handle but would not see injured.

So this was Tonia, compassionate, loyal, a true friend to all, whether they be human or animal, and highly protective of her family. Many people have managed to get on the wrong side of Tonia and she was fearless in telling them face to face what she thought they had done wrong - no fancy or rude language, just straight talking.

I consider myself to have been privileged to have been part of her life for forty years, and she lives on in our daughter Selena. Tonia and I were a team, trying to do everything together because we had lost a lot of time during my R.A.F. Service. One member of that team has left to look after wildlife somewhere else, and Selena has stepped in to make sure that the team is still complete.

As you may be able to guess by now, we loved each other very much, and had a little ritual before going to sleep each night. Without knowing that these would be the last words that we would say to each other, we would hold hands and each say, "Night, night love. Loves you much."

Of course that has not changed!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely words Tony
    RIP Tonia
    Sadly missed