Obituary: Peeblesshire organist Helen Furness ‘shared the beauty of music’

BORDERS choristers have lost a shining light following the death of Helen Furness (née Eileen Clarey) on March 30, at the age of 82.

Peeblesshire resident Helen always had a passion for music, and her father’s “fine bass voice” inspired her to create her own male voice choir in the Borders.

Born on April 28, 1938 in the Isle of Man, Helen grew up in the island’s Ramsey where she and her parents were members of the Presbyterian Church.

It was here that Helen began her life-long love of music – playing the organ and singing.

As a teenager, Helen, her parents and two younger sisters – Kathleen and Margaret – moved to Regaby, also in the island, where they ran a smallholding.

Here, Helen became the lead organist for the Church of England Parish Church of St Andrew.

Helen also led the Methodist Church Sunday School and youth group, bringing her flair for music with her as she encouraged the children to put on plays and sing.

Range of talents

After leaving school and entering the world of work, Helen soon took to the skies as she became an air hostess for Cambrian Airways in the 1960s.

According to family legend, it was when jumping from a plane (on the ground) that Helen fell into the arms of a young customs officer, Roland Dowling.

The couple moved to Hull after marrying in December 1968 and had two children – Helen Elizabeth (Lavinia) and Jamie Clarey.

Peeblesshire News: As an air hostess in the 1960sAs an air hostess in the 1960s

They attempted to start a horse-riding business, but this venture failed and their marriage ended not long afterwards.

Helen’s “knight in shining armour” soon arrived in the form of Jim Furness, a member of the RAF.

Jim and Helen then welcomed twins Miriam and Sarah after they married in 1977.

When Jim left the RAF, Helen took on a number of jobs – including as an aerobics instructor, travel agent and newspaper columnist.

Well-known in community

Helen carried her passion for music with her always, and took up posts as an organist wherever she was.

The Furness family moved to the Borders in 1988.

Helen’s musical prowess and penchant for entertaining made her a well-known member of the Walkerburn community.

Peeblesshire News: Helen was a talented organistHelen was a talented organist

Despite bouts of ill-health, Helen was devoted to music, forming choirs and giving singing lessons.

As part of the ‘Sing for the Health of it’ campaign, Helen created Serendipity and Fortissimo – choirs for women over 60 years old.

And thanks to the encouragement of local men, Helen’s dream of a male voice choir came true with the Tweed Valley Male Voices (TVMV).

‘Truly great legacy’

Remembering Helen, members of the TVMV said: “Helen was a gifted musician and always took the initiative and played a pivotal part in so many different lives, communities, groups and activities across the entire country in her lifetime.

“Her legacy is a truly great one: sharing the joy and beauty of music and bringing much love, happiness and faith to so many.

“Helen: please be assured your spirit lives on in the many lives that were so privileged to have been associated with you.

“Thank you so much, you will be greatly missed.”

Peeblesshire News: With members of the Tweed Valley Male Voices, the choir she foundedWith members of the Tweed Valley Male Voices, the choir she founded

Son Jamie Furness said: “I knew mum was well-known for playing the organ but I hadn’t realised all the charity work she did.

“Some choir members had never sung a note in their life before meeting mum, she really put fun in singing.

“She had people 100 years old singing away – she had the ability to make it fun for older people to enjoy singing.”

Helen is survived by her four children, Lavinia, Jamie, Miriam and Sarah, and her five grandchildren – Yasmin, Harriet, Arthur, Phoebe, and Emilia.

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