Gill Casey attended the very first meeting of Sanctuary in Chichester at St Richard’s Church in January 2016 with her husband Frank, and several other members of that community. They were both retired teachers with a passion for education and immediately evident compassion towards others less fortunate than themselves. While Gill was well-informed about the situation in Syria and the endless streams of refugees marching across Europe the previous year, she was eager to discover what could be done practically to ease some of the suffering.
Like many of us she was willing to give money but also like others in the meeting felt that she should make a more active and personal contribution to assuaging some of the suffering. One of the characteristics that struck me on first meeting her was her palpable calm and thoughtfulness. There was no surface of righteous indignation – just a kind and caring disposition quietly expressed and an intense desire to learn more about how to help.
Gill had been a much-loved teacher at St Richards Primary School with a life divided between bringing up her own children and caring for and educating the children of hundreds if not thousands of Chichester families over the years. She was ideally suited to lead the work to befriend a Syrian family, but she also weighed in on the work to prepare the home of the first family Sanctuary actively got involved with – helping with the decorating and furnishing and being one of the active friends of what we were not to know at the time was a family with two small children. Others got involved noisily but Gill was always quiet and thoughtful. The thing was that she was a doer rather than a talker (though what she had to say when she did talk was always sensible, helpful and to the point). She epitomised the saying in the Epistle of St James – in his discourse on Faith and Works – “by their deeds shall ye know them”. Her deeds spoke eloquently and loudly of her faith.
Gill became the anchor of that work with this young family, who added a third child to their number not long after they arrived in the UK. Her support of them involved simple motherly and grandmotherly advice and help, but it also took her with them into the quagmire of Universal Credit. Though she found the tedious and sometimes mindless bureaucracy of that system exasperating she persisted with her support for them. She formed similar relationships with an older Syrian family who also lived close to her – engaging in similar battles on their behalf in her quiet determined way. She was a regular at the drop-in – never obviously prominent but always there to help people. She had a very good sense of how to promote autonomy for refugee families and recognised skilfully many of the dilemmas of befriending. She will be remembered by them and by us for all the dogged support of these two families.
Gill became a pillar of Sanctuary – and a kind of sanctuary in her own right: families and individuals felt safe with her.
She was already a grandmother when she joined SiC, but during the four years of her work with us more grandchildren came along. This meant that her hands and her time were always full – of love and kindness.
She did not go out of her way to talk about herself but beside all her other interests she loved music and literature, and her love for others was deeply rooted in her faith as a lifelong Roman Catholic and member of the St Richards community and congregation. Now a number of weeks after her death in a violent road accident it is possible to picture her as the calm and quiet and gentle person she was – the embodiment of Isaiah’s notion that “in quietness and confidence shall be your strength”.
Thank you Gill for being a friend to so many of us and for helping us be friends of others.
– By Roger Pask, Founder of Sanctuary in Chichester
Gill died in a car crash on 27 February 2020. Our condolences go to all of her family at this deeply sad and difficult time.