Rozel Lawlor, my close friend, would have been 80 today. Long before I met her properly I was aware of her, for her cousin Sylvia Sayer spoke of her with affection. I did not get to know Rozel until 2000, and then we had less than ten years’ friendship— tragically she was snatched away from us prematurely in 2010.
She loved Dartmoor deeply and would have been pleased to have shared a birthday with the new extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, which take effect today.
In Rozel’s memory, I reproduce with some additions the words I spoke at the beautiful celebration of her life. This was held in a yurt in her beloved garden at Coarsewell in Devon’s South Hams, on 24 April 2010. (I also wrote Other Lives for The Guardian which you can read here, and I have written about her on my blog here and elsewhere.)
I only knew Rozel properly for ten years, but what an amazing decade it was.
Rozel and I met at a time of great sadness for us both, at the funeral of her cousin and my adored friend, Sylvia Sayer, the great campaigner for Dartmoor. Rozel’s great-grandfather was Robert Burnard, who was Syl’s grandfather, so Dartmoor was in Rozel’s blood.
(Another of Rozel’s great-grandfathers was Sabine Baring-Gould, the folksong collector; Robert Burnard’s son Lawrence married Sabine’s daughter Barbara, bringing the two families, who were already friends, together. Rozel had Burnard and Baring-Gould genes.)
So Rozel and I met at Syl’s funeral when I was feeling distraught at my loss, and Rozel embraced me, both physically and metaphorically—and it changed my life.
In the following ten years we walked every bit of the moor together, grabbing each opportunity, which wasn’t easy as I live 200 miles away. Rozel hadn’t done long walks on the moor since her dear cousin Oliver (Oz) Sayer (Syl’s son) died 16 years ago. We walked to Cut Hill and Fur Tor, Watern and Wild Tor, White Tor and Hare Tor, Ryders Hill and Corndon, always accompanied by the dogs of course.
Sometimes we got carried away and spent far longer than we had intended, and sometimes the dogs delayed us, disappearing in the gorse and bracken after rabbits, or stealing the sandwiches of some unsuspecting picnicker. We might arrive home to find Pat (Rozel’s husband) rather exasperated, but he was very patient with us.
And Rozel got involved in campaigning for the moor too. She really loved it and was such an enthusiast, writing letters to ministers and attending rallies and accompanying me to Ramblers’ events. She would have been delighted to know that today is the 78th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.
She was a brilliant Samaritan and she taught me to listen and not be judgmental, not to tell people what they should do but help them to find their own solutions.
And she taught me to listen to birdsong; she said that as she got older, if she couldn’t see them any more she could always hear them—and it has certainly opened up a new world for me.
This morning I got up at 6am and walked up from Owley onto the moor, one of Rozel’s favourite short walks from home. She was very much with me. I saw a redstart. Rozel had never seen a redstart and I wanted to turn to her and say, ‘Look, there’s a redstart!’ But of course I couldn’t, and it’s very hard.
Rozel has given me so very much, and I treasure my memories of such a wonderful friendship.