Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - February 2016

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Juliet Reeve

Letter from Rosemary Holley to Braille Chess Association (BCA) Members, 16th December 2015

Dear All,

It was a great shock to me when my aunt Juliet Reeve died in August after her hip operation. The Braille Chess Association was an important and enjoyable social activity for Juliet. She had been involved with BCA for 20 years, so I wanted to write to you her friends.

As you may know Juliet did not want a funeral, memorial or thanksgiving service. She was a very private and selfless person who wanted no fuss. She would like her friends to know that her ashes are buried under the old yew tree in St Paul’s churchyard, Shurdington, near Cheltenham. I am organising a memorial stone with her name in Braille for her blind friends to find.

Juliet first starting coming to Braille Chess with her partner Peter ‘Dai’ Price. The chess weekends and coaching weeks were highlights of the year for them both and I remember her talking animatedly about the various locations they were held in including Harrogate and Teignmouth. Juliet was devastated when Peter died 8 years ago, after sharing 16 fun years with him. She decided to continue attending the BCA on her own because she found it very comforting to be surrounded by people who knew and loved Peter and it helped with her grieving process. She really enjoyed the activities and socialising. She often told me how welcoming and kind you all were towards her. By attending on her own she came to know several of the members a lot better and then helped organise the evening ‘soirées’. She loved organising events and in particular had a great interest in poetry, prose, books and music. This love of culture had started from a very young age and continued throughout her life. She had a great thirst for knowledge, culture, to learn new things and have new experiences, and share these with people.

Juliet was a private lady with many talents and I am sure most of you would be unaware of her many accomplishments and work activities because she never sang her own praises. She quietly made a difference to many people’s lives.

Juliet’s first career was in education. She received a bursary to stay on at school in Burton upon Trent, and then went to Cheltenham to train as a teacher in ‘The Park’. Her first teaching job was in Oxford in 1960. She then moved to Birmingham and specialised in children with special needs and learning difficulties (remedial as it was known then), later becoming a school inspector. She emphasised the need for good school libraries, and the importance of books and reading in schools and at home. She obtained her Diploma in Special Needs Education in 1965 and then her Master of Education from the University of Birmingham in 1980. Juliet loved living in the multi-cultural city of Birmingham and participating in the changing cityscape and local politics. She actively worked to improve attitudes and facilities for disadvantaged children by raising awareness of racial issues and learning disabilities. She was active in ensuring that the West Midlands Police Booklet ‘Play it Safe’ featured pictures of multi-racial children as well as white. She implemented a screening programme for all primary children in Birmingham to identify children with special needs. She was on the selection committee that appointed the first female headmistress in Birmingham to an all boys school based on ability, which caused a lot of controversy in the media. Juliet was a feminist and reached a senior position in Birmingham City Council Education Department which at that time was largely a man’s world. This was challenging for her, but she loved a challenge and to be able to prove herself. She was an active worshipper at Birmingham Cathedral and was involved with the Birmingham City Centre Churches Council.

Juliet was pleased to be offered redundancy in 1988 after 30 years education service and saw it as her opportunity to have a second more personally fulfilling career and to use her talents for the greater good. Her second career as charity worker for the blind and partially sighted lasted 27 years and she was still actively working when she died. She was juggling a number of projects at once, still with great energy, passion, enthusiasm and optimism, as well as having time to meet with many friends. She perceived her greatest work achievements to be:

Director of the ‘Cathedrals through Touch and Hearing Project’ organised by the University of Birmingham which implemented Braille and audio guides and tactile models for blind visitors into many cathedrals in the UK including Gloucester. She also significantly raised awareness about blind visitors and guiding needs to cathedral volunteers and staff. 1988-1993

Organising the ‘Images in Sound’ Concert in Birmingham Cathedral. An evening of poetry, prose and organ music by blind performers to raise money for the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind. 1994

Leisure Consultant for Birmingham Royal Institute for the Blind - organising visits to concerts, theatres, and outings for blind people living in Birmingham. 1993-1997

On the Editorial team for the ‘Gloucester Cathedral News’ for 17 years, writing, researching and commissioning articles, and a member of the Association for Church Editors. 1998-2015

Producing the ‘New Church Messenger’ Christian quarterly magazine on audiotape and Braille for the St John’s Guild for 15 years. Each edition included a range of items to interest, inspire, inform and amuse, including ‘From the papers’, ‘Through the Christian Year’, ‘Hymns and Psalms’, ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’, Book and CD reviews, Companionship of Prayer and the Church Calendar. 2000-2015

She once said in a letter “I have experienced the joy of meeting, listening to and learning from many remarkable people throughout the country who have visual impairment. They have inspired me to work creatively with them in a number of ways. I feel privileged and will endeavour to continue to serve in these ways to the best of my ability in a spirit of Christian commitment.” Juliet had a strong and unwavering faith and believed we should use our talents to the best of our abilities.

In addition Juliet worked with the Gloucester Citizen Talking Newspaper; gave organisations, councils and MP’s advice on visually impaired access and the needs of blind and partially sighted people; and visited elderly blind people in their homes. She was an avid letter writer and sent many letters and appropriately chosen cards to friends, and also wrote letters about issues that adversely affected blind people such as riding bicycles on pavements, shared spaces, obstructions on pavements, the small size of fonts on cooking instructions, and rail travel for those with disabilities. She never gave up on lobbying about these issues and voicing her concerns. She had no intention of ever ‘retiring’ despite just having had her 77th birthday.

In her leisure time she loved to attend BCA events, the Worcester College reunions (of which she was an Honorary member), the Gloucester Literary Luncheon Club, the Friends of the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, the Ledbury Poetry Festival and always the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, which was the highlight of her year. She loved to talk to others about poetry and books, and encouraged reading and listening. She was half way through a personal project to compile and record Peter’s many poetry and prose readings onto CD’s for Braille Chess members when she died.

Juliet had a strong commitment to help others and was an extremely kind and caring person and very good friend to many. She was a very good listener and gave people encouragement in times of need, combined with practical suggestions, often researching information to help them. She loved to research new topics and would send people newspaper clippings and printouts from the internet on topics she knew were of interest to them. She was a beacon of culture wanting to share her delight in literary items, poetry, theatre and cathedrals with others. She always thought of others before herself and tried to help and give to other people in any way she could. Her greatest quality was her care for people.

We will all miss Juliet dearly in so many ways. Juliet told me that she thought grieving was a private process. She wanted people to be creative in thinking of ways to remember their loved ones and do it in their own ways, however they thought appropriate. I think she would have liked a chess tournament in her memory as has been suggested.

Editor’s note: Despite living in Australia, Rosemary hopes it might be possible for her to attend this year’s Chairman’s Cup in memory of Juliet. Please contact me if you would like a copy of a poetry CD read by Peter.

Answer to the Only Connect Missing Vowels question in Personalia: OPPONENTS IN CHESS