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Jill Dando Eulogy
Given by the Reverand Roger Collins
Every one of us is here today because in some way or other we have known Jill Dando. Each one has their own perspective, our own personal memories of that life. For one she was a daughter, for another a sister, for another a fiancee. Our love and sympathy goes out especially to Jack, and Nigel, and Alan.
We have all been touched by this remarkable life. I first met Jill in 1979 when I became minister of Milton Baptist Church. Jill was at the sixth form college. In her second year there she was elected as Head Girl. Even then she was popular amongst her peers. At the church she was secretary of the Young People's Fellowship, a post which she fulfilled with cheerful efficiency which was to mark all she did thereafter.
I remember well the first Youth Weekend which she and the leaders had planned together. The 40 or so young people had been divided into groups and given a parable which they were to act out in modern form on the Saturday evening.
Jill's acting ability was a wondrous revelation. Some people act as an outlet for their extreme extrovert nature. That was not Jill. Others act because they are afraid to show their real selves. That was not Jill either. In her acting Jill showed not only her great sense of humour, but more importantly her ability to understand the feelings of others and to portray them sympathetically.
When Jill left the sixth form college she went to work as a junior reporter on the Weston Mercury. One of her tasks was to attend court, to report on the misdemeanours of the local citizens. I was a magistrate here at the time, so I knew the details of many of the cases which Jill reproduced in print. I must put on record that I never read a report from her that was factually untrue, or written for sensational effect. She wrote with a sensitive humanity.
It was not from Jill that I learned about the troubles of her childhood. There were things that for Jill were personal and private. She did not wear her heart upon her sleeve. No doubt in those early days of her life her parents must have asked "Why?". Why should innocent children be born with faulty hearts?
Later Jill was to have her own great "Why?" Jill loved both her parents dearly, but I think it is true to say that she had a very close empathy with her mother. They were so alike in so many ways. They shared the same temperaments, the same humour and the same faith. But that faith was to be deeply tested in the suffering and lingering death of her mother.
Trouble, they say, is like sunshine. It sours milks but sweetens apples. Trouble can diminish faith or deepen it. The "Why?" of her mother's death was never verbalised by Jill, at least not to me, but it was faced by her. She did not bury her head in the sand, or avoid difficult doubts. The "Why?" of her mother's death moved Jill's faith from that of a thoughtful adolescent, to the maturity of one who has faced suffering.
It is not for me, here, to chronicle the career of Jill Dando. If you have not followed it closely for the past 19 years, you must at least have read about it in the mountains of newsprint over the past few weeks. But that fame and fortune did not spoil Jill. She did not "scorn the base degrees by which she did ascend".
And even though she had become a Londoner in spirit, as her driving showed, she still remembered Weston, as illustrated by her support of the Weston Hospice. That was but one of the very many charities which she supported. When Jill appealed on television for the Kosovan refugees, the short programme raised in excess of £10m.
There was a down-to-earthness about Jill, a humility and love for people that marked all she did. She came to open part of our development project in Wales. There was nothing in it for her to come to the unfashionable, deprived, ex-mining village in a little-known valley of South Wales. But she came! And she did not just fulfil the duties of a formal opening. She spent time there. She spoke to people. There is many a sideboard in Miskin and photograph album in Penrhiwceiber that records the day when Jill Dando came to visit us, and posed for photographs with "me and my butty", as they would say in the valleys!
A sympathetic and sensitive person. That was the Jill I knew. Popular with people. Cheerfully efficient. A talented actress with a bubbling sense of humour and an infectious giggle. A person sensitive and sympathetic to the feelings of others; using her position to support other charitable people and causes. Here was a person of faith which was learned young from her mother, developed in a loving and active Christian fellowship, and tempered in the face of suffering and death. A person who appeared seemingly without effort - I emphasise "seemingly" - who seemingly without effort glided through a career which her personality and talents rightly deserved.
And than came October 1997, the intrigue of Jenny Higham, and the meeting of Jill and Alan. Life for Jill (as no doubt for Alan) changed dramatically. Jill's foundation had been a firm family life. Deep loving relationships mattered, and in Alan she found the one with whom she was sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Marriage, home, family, domestic life, and above all love, now became the joyous wonder of her life.
I did not meet her face to face at that time, but just a few moments on the phone was enough to know how deep and wonderful were these events. Courtship, engagement and now the plans for marriage. Life was about to enter an exciting, fulfilling new stage. Until that fateful moment on Monday April 26. Jill, the beautiful girl next door, known to every family in the country, was shot dead. And everyone was asking: 'Why?'
On the one hand the answer to that question lies in the hands of the police. But whatever solution they find, the larger question remains. I know of nobody who could have had fewer enemies than Jill. Why should this happen to her? I have no easy answer to that question, but I remember a young man, he was younger than Jill when he was hanging to die on a Cross. And he cried out: 'Why? My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?' There came no sudden voice from heaven, no sudden insight. Only the noonday sun turned to darkness.
When Jill was shot, a lively, loving, beautiful light was extinguished, and darkness came to us all. On December 5 1976, a young Jill Dando was baptised by immersion at Milton Baptist Church. It was a public proclamation of her faith. Her going down into the water symbolised being buried with Christ, and her rising out of the water was as if she was being raised with Christ, sharing His resurrection. I believe that what was symbolised in 1976 has now, in 1999, become reality.
We have come to give thanks for all the love and laughter and fullness of life which was Jill. While we all mourn deeply her passing from us, we can give thanks that that life is now united with her mother, and face to face with Jesus."
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