Story 29

Bringing laughter and smiles

In 1983, my wife Regine and I were living in Singapore. Regine was asked by the British High Commission to visit an ex-Spitfire pilot who was living at the Cheshire home in Changi.

Regine Williams

Though he moved on, Regine continued to visit, eventually taking over a jumble sale to fundraise for a new home to be built at Serangoon Gardens. This involved pestering friends, shops and hotels for cast offs and then sorting and selling the goods at a weekly sale to the public.

After two years, Regine tearfully acknowledged the money she raised was insignificant next to other fundraising going on, and she considered giving it up. However, I pointed out that her true value at the Home was not the small financial gain but the considerable time she spent with the residents and all the affection and fun she brought them.

Regine was brought up by Spanish grand- and great-grandparents in Toulouse, France. At the age of 10, a lengthy fight with meningitis led to doctors assuming residual brain damage. Regine was placed in a ‘special needs’ school with children with various disabilities, returning to the standard school system a year later. I believe these experiences gave Regine her unusual empathy with the old, infirm and disabled. Where I felt awkwardness, Regine felt only love.

Lord Cheshire came to open the new home in Singapore. Regine, delighted to find him a fluent French speaker, soon had another new friend. We left Singapore soon afterwards but Regine had time for a couple of visits to what seemed very luxurious premises, where she loved helping residents into their new swimming pool. On a short visit a few years later, a friend drove Regine out to the home. She later expressed her astonishment that when Regine entered the main living area, residents rushed (often crawling) across the room to hug her welcome!

In 1995, I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh as manager of Standard Chartered Bank. To my surprise, I found that being Hon Treasurer of the Cheshire home came with the job. Regine was delighted and she was quickly organising food donations. This was a small home of 35 residents only. There were a few craft endeavours but really life here was very simple and restricted compared to Singapore. A charity with an English name had difficulties competing in the enormous charitable well of Bangladesh, as it was assumed that it had overseas funding. But Regine used the British Women’s Association to arrange visits and food donations: a major hotel became particularly generous with bags of rice and live chickens frequently delivered from their kitchens. And we organised an annual ‘Red Feather Ball’, hosted by the British High Commissioner — patron of the home. This event provided the bulk of the home’s annual maintenance and payroll.

On retirement to Devon in 2000 we looked into maintaining a relationship with Leonard Cheshire. We visited our local home in Brixham but found a place of such comfort that we felt we had nothing to offer. However, Regine continued to befriend older people through various craft groups, organising coffee mornings for those otherwise unlikely to leave their homes and bringing laughter and smiles into every room she entered. What a wonderful talent!

These experiences gave Regine her unusual empathy with the old, infirm and disabled. Where I felt awkwardness, Regine felt only love.