Sylvia Foxsmith (nee Cook) Obituary

Sylvia was born in Plymouth on 22 February 1939, the only child of William “Clifford” Cook and Phyllis (nee Pawlby) (1)

Sylvia with parents

As an only child, Sylvia was very bonded to her cousins on the Pawlby side who lived in Cornwall (Wendy, Penny, and Ian)

The Cook family left  Plymouth sometime after the onset of WW2, but not to escape the blitz- as they moved to Coventry which was equally hard hit by the Luftwaffe. Rather, the move was to facilitate the electronics work that Clifford was engaged in, as a consequence whilst doing important work for the war effort, he avoided armed conflict but did volunteer as an air-raid warden.

SCHOOL: The family stayed on in Coventry, with Sylvia attending St Joseph’s primary and later Barrs Hill girls school, until “O” levels. (2)

Her best friend at school was Sylvia Baker (3)-two Sylvias in the same class, one a Baker, the other a Cook! 

One of Sylvia’s favourite memories was a 1951 trip to london for the festival of Britain. 

After Sylvia finished secondary school the Cook family returned to Plymouth. It appears Sylvia left at least one broken hearted suitor behind- subsequently making his way to Devon in a desperate but unsuccessful bid to win her back

In 1955 they were living at 5 Duke St, Plymouth, before eventually settling in a bungalow at 26 Gower Ridge Rd,  Plymstock. 

Clifford was to open an electronics shop “RadioParts”-  from where the first television set in Plymouth was sold (4)

Sylvia worked at RadioParts  and enjoyed a lively social life, in the good company of friends (5)

Sylvia passed her driving test (June 1960) 20, Saltash St, and this gave her freedom to roam.

There was also lots of dancing, and after an earlier engagement that was “broken off”,  it was at the Prince Regent club, Union St in July 1964 that she first met William (Bill) Foxsmith who was enjoying some shore leave from the Merchant Navy. 

Sylvia and Bill were married at St Werburgh’s church, Wembury, on 05 October 1966. 

They bought and lived in a bungalow at 77 Staddiscombe Rd (6), where in due course the first two children arrived- Greg (1967) and M. (1971)

Sylvia with two boys, Staddiscombe

In 1977 they moved to Alfred St in Plymouth, and soon after came the arrival of her third and final child, Naomi.

Sylvia Bill and the 3 children

In later years Sylvia was to become a grandmother too (from 2003)

Children and grand-children would often visit Plymouth, especially at Christmas

Health: Sylvia had a terrible bout of Scarlet Fever as a child, missing 3 weeks from school (may 1947) In adult life Sylvia had twice successfully battled cancer- in 1981, and then again in 2016.

Family business: William established himself as a leading antiquarian map and print-dealer at Foxsmith Galleries, Southside St. where Sylvia was a supportive helper.

The shop “Foxsmith Galleries” was open for 20 years, and eventually closed in 2006.

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Shortly after William’s retirement, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers, and Sylvia cared for him until his needs were such that he required nursing care. Sylvia visited until William passed away, living independently and maintaining a busy social life. 

Sylvia had many interests, including theatre and literature, being a keen member of a reading club which often convened at her address as well as residential trips, often contributing poetry of her own.

The Government lock-down and restrictions during the pandemic took a big toll, as it did for so many elderly people living alone who were deprived of the social interactions necessary for a meaningful quality of life. 

Sylvia moved to supported accommodation in Yelverton, but after a fall was hospitalised in Derriford during the later stages of Covid. She was there for months, with no visitors allowed. After an attempted return to the supported accommodation, Devon Social Services intervened and moved her for a “temporary assessment” to an abysmal “care” home called Hart Care. There after a period of neglect, her physical and mental health rapidly deteriorated, family were unable to visit, but after an SOS call she was taken by ambulance to hospital, severely dehydrated. 

Thankfully after months of being nursed back to health at the wonderful Tavistock Community hospital, Sylvia with the support of family moved to a decent care home, where she saw out her final days before passing away peacefully in her sleep in February 2023. 

Her funeral was well attended and a celebration of her early life. Appropriately, the service was beautifully conducted by John Sims, a family friend (son of Ann) acting as celebrant.

There were drinks after the service at Ford Park Cemetery visitor centre, where Sylvia had previously volunteered.

Sylvia is greatly missed by friends and family alike. In addition to the three children, she is missed by her grandchildren. 

Sylvia Foxsmith, RIP, 1939-2023

1 William Clifford Cook 20/11/1911-29/12/1987,  Phyliss Joan Pawlby 26/10/1913-29/02/2001

2 St Joseph’s now known as Crackley Hall https://www.crackleyhall.co.uk/history-crackley. Barrs Hill pictured below:

3 Sylvia B. married Alan to become Sylvia Sakne, stayed in Coventry, had two children Russell and Sita, who the Foxsmith children knew through childhood. I would love to hear from there but cannot trace- any ideas? GF 

Sylvia F with Greg and Sylvia S with Russell

4. RadioParts- Originally at 63 Old Town St, later Market Way. 

5. These lifelong friends included Frances, whose daughter Tracey was Sylvias god-daughter, Gerry and Malcolm (also godparents), Vanessa, and Ann (both godmothers to Naomi). Also, through William, friends such as John Pickles (god-father to M.)

6. When they first bought, the address was still “Staddon Close”, later renamed to Staddiscombe Rd. The phone number was Plymouth 43563!

7. M. not named in this obituary and no photos, at their request.

In Memoriam: Sylvia is remembered at St Werburghs, and also at Mount Edgecumbe Park (her mother Phyllis Cook is also remembered at Mount Edgecumbe, where her ashes were scattered in 2004) 

Eulogy: Sylvia’s funeral service was held in Plymouth, and well attended by friends and family. The eulogy was written and read by her son M. , an edited version of which appears here:-

My grandparents had a big influence on my mother, their only child,  even for the time.

After ‘O’ levels my mother wanted to carry on studying. But at the same time my grandfather unfortunately injured himself falling off a ladder when setting up a new business. They needed her in Plymouth so she moved to down to help them.

I can still remember her in the shop with shelfs of doorbells and light bulbs batteries, different ‘Radio Parts’.  

It seems that she had a good times in her teens and twenties going out to dances and still retained the friendship of many of those lovely friends until the end.

My mum met my dad at a dance at the ‘Prince Regent’.  My mums friend thought he was a good prospect because he had a Jaguar car, this didn’t impress mum, but he did.

At first there was some resistance to them dating and poor dad wasn’t allowed in the house, but my mum had decided that he was “the one” and he was going to stay, so they got engaged.  My mum told me that when she went to tell my grandparents the good news, her knees were shaking with fear.  At this point my grandfather stood up and said ‘that this silliness has to stop’ my dad was let into the house and their strong influence over her was changed.  Mum and Dad wed at a small but lovely, sweet wedding in Wembury, in 1966.

After the honeymoon their first home was a bungalow in Staddiscombe, they had curtains and carpets but no furniture.  Together they built up a home, and eventually the family moved to the heart of Plymouth.

Alfred St was massive in comparison and a lot or work needed doing to get it fixed up.  It was a busy time with her balancing working in th shop with bringing us up and doing up the house.  For months the hall and front rooms had scaffolding inside so she could reach the cornicing and with painstaking effort scrape years of excess paint off to restore the patterns around the edges of the ceiling.  We didn’t have any hot water for months and my mum managed with a kettle that went up and down 3 flights of the stairs.  It took years to get the house finished but during that busy time she didn’t take her eyes off being a mum, home cooked meals were on the table and although the house wasn’t finished it was clean.  

She was always doing stuff for us.  Greg and I got much better “action man” accessories than most , albeit it home-made – action man clothing and even sleeping bags and pillows! Naomi’s room was equally well set up and mum sorted out ballet and piano lessons for her.As my own friends have confirmed, Alfred St was a “fun” place to be.

One by one we three children left the family home I remember when I left for Canada her falling to her knees holding onto the kitchen bin for support.

I’m proud of my mums forward thinking – she was years ahead of the curve with issues such as the dangers of excess additives in food, re-use and recycling.

Mum ventured into all sorts of hobbies, and enjoyed an active social life, with games evenings and dinner parties, albeit she lacked the ruthless competitive edge required in monopoly, preferring to set everyone up with a Monopoly set than win herself. By contrast, she showed no mercy in scrabble! She read widely, and wrote poems. She tried to help people when she could.  She was very much into family and loved a family reunion.

When her own mother got ill with age, my mum spent a huge effort caring for her.  After her mum died, she only had a short break before my father started to decline and we watched her rearrange life trying to do her best in an impossible situation that became increasingly difficult through alzheimers.

When her husband died, so did a part of her.  An old cancer returned that she dealt with very stoicly, but this with lockdown and other health issues meant she started to decline, until she couldn’t look after herself and moved into residential care. At the last home she was always still pleased to see people and her face would light up when they visited. She passed away peacefully, and is now at peace, re-united with my dad, and looking down with love on her three children, and grand-children -Adam, Nina, Daniel, Darcey and Juno.  

She was very much loved, and is greatly missed.