My great aunt, Valmai Hook (known as Aunty Val to practically everyone), was my childhood heroine. Born the year the Titanic went down, Aunty Val was an intelligent, no nonsense woman; a book lover and superb cross-stitcher with a twinkle of humour in her bright blue eyes.
One of four children, Aunty Val was the daughter who was supposed to remain an old maid and stay at home to take care of her (rather Victorian) parents. Imagine the chaos when in her 30s she up and married Roy, 19 years her senior and a friend of her father. I always loved that about her.
As a younger woman she trained as a nurse and came out top of her class. Her achievements contributed to my understanding of the value of education.
She intervened with her parents on behalf of my grandad, then a poverty-stricken young teacher, and cleared the way for him to marry her little sister. She understood that true love is not measured on an economic scale.
When I was a child Aunty Val was a widow with no children. She was my mother’s confidante and would be mine too. She, like me, was an avid reader, and she encouraged my love of reading wholeheartedly. Throughout my childhood she gave me many books and talked them through with me once I had read them. I still pick up books sometimes and find old messages from her written inside.
Aunty Val was strong, independent, and brave enough throw off the shackles of familial and social expectation and make her own choices — an inspirational woman.