VERA ENID NONO was born on October 27, 1923 to Clara and Harold Westbrook, the second of their three children. She grew up in Sutton, Surrey, where she attended Wallington Girls’ High School, which still exists today.

Reaching the age of 16 just as the war started, financial constraints on the family led to her leaving school. She worked in the City of London for a company dealing with food importing, and while there she met Frank, her future husband.

The couple married in July 1945, and lived in North London, where their first daughter, Gabrielle [Gay] was born in 1949. Frank’s work soon took them to the North-East, first to York, where Celia was born in 1952, then in 1953 to Darlington where Petra was born in 1957. They lived in the area for the rest of their lives.

Vera had lifelong pen-friendships dating from the age of about 12. One was with a German girl living in Berlin. They lost contact during the war, but afterwards, although the pen pal lived in communist East Berlin, they managed to start writing again.

The second friend, Hildur, was Norwegian – more than 20 years since being randomly paired at school, they first met in 1956, when Vera arranged a family holiday in Norway, quite an adventure in those times. They subsequently met on holidays several times.

Vera attended Hildur’s daughter’s wedding, and Hildur and her children were able to be at Vera’s 90th birthday – a special surprise for her. In the 1960s, family holidays in France brought another, French, correspondent.

Vera was interested in learning foreign languages, attending evening classes in both German and French, so was able to write to her friends in these languages, for the rest of her life.

Frank’s work frequently took him away from home for several days at a time, and Vera fulfilled the traditional role of home-maker. She and Frank were always very sociable and enjoyed entertaining.

While living in Darlington, Vera was a member of All Saints Church, Blackwell, and joined their Young Wives Group. As with most organisations with which she became involved, Vera was not content to be a passive spectator, but took an active role in its running.

In 1967, while Gay was researching teacher training courses and applying to colleges, Vera began to think that she too could follow this path. She felt her own education had been cut short, so she decided to enrol as a mature student.

At the same time as her daughter began her training in a different town, Vera started a three-year course at Darlington Teacher Training College, which she found very fulfilling. Specialising in English Literature, some of her colleagues became life-long friends and for many years after leaving college they regularly visited Stratford-on-Avon to watch Shakespeare productions.

Vera started work at Reid Street Infants’ School in 1970, and later worked at Corporation Road Infants’ until her retirement in 1985. Since then, she has maintained regular contact with former teaching colleagues.

The children were gradually leaving the family home, for further education, careers or marriage, and in 1977, the year her youngest daughter married, Vera and Frank moved from Darlington to the nearby village of Manfield. They later acquired a caravan in which they enjoyed relaxing tours of Britain, often visiting relatives in other parts of the country.

Vera quickly became involved in the life of the village, joining the WI of which she was treasurer for many years, and attended annual WI meetings in Manchester and at the Albert Hall.

The extended family was growing and by 1985 there were five grandchildren, with two more on the way. After retiring, Vera was kept busy with frequent visits from the family, knitting jumpers for grandchildren, and generally becoming important in their lives.

She became a volunteer delivering Meals on Wheels in North Yorkshire. With Frank, who had spent his working life in the trade she joined a Wine Club.

Sadly Frank died in 1992. Vera continued to live in Manfield surrounded by friends and neighbours for another 20 years, until moving back to Darlington to a bungalow close to her daughter’s home in the year of her 90th birthday.

She continued to join in WI activities in Manfield, and to enjoy a lifelong love of piano music by attending concerts at Darlington Piano Society, almost until the end. She also travelled in Europe and North America, either with her sister or with friends.

A new home gave her renewed interest and purpose, always positive, active and independent she was determined to stay in her own home until the end. However this was not to be as she became increasingly physically frail, and a series of falls meant that she was no longer able to look after herself safely.

Vera spent the last weeks of her life in The Lawns care home in Darlington, still enjoying visitors and going out for meals until even that became too painful and difficult.

She died in her sleep on August 16, 2019.

The family hopes that many of Vera’s friends will join them for a Service of Celebration for Vera’s life and Interment of her ashes, which will be held at 11am, on Friday, October 4 at All Saints Church, Manfield, DL22RE, followed by lunchtime refreshments in the village hall.

Charity donations in Vera’s name can be made to The Woodland Trust.