A few days ago I wrote a blog piece about stealing with glee – and how I’d stolen a little descriptive phrase for the colour and character of the sea in and around Eastbourne from my friend Annette Gampel, nee Warburton – with her permission – granted via a comment on Facebook. Just 2 days after I wrote that, Annette was dead. I and all our friends are still in shock.

I just want to record a few words about how important she was to us all and how huge a hole she will leave in our lives.

We all went to Eastbourne Girls High School – graduating in 1972. Most of us lost touch over the years, but about 10 years ago we started to get back together – Annette was the glue that bound us. She didn’t even live over here – she was in the USA – first of all near Boston – then over the last year (or so) in Florida, where she and her husband Thom moved.

A few years ago she and I went to Greece for a week’s impromptu holiday – staying in the holiday home of the parents of a colleague of mine, I will treasure the memory of that holiday – our walks on the beach, our squabbles, our confessions, our carousing, our enjoyment of the food, our consumption of the wine (in her case with lots of ice cubes – to the horror and amazement of the Greeks), – but most of all for her easy-going nature and fabulous sense of humour (I’m not the easiest of travelling companions!).

My abiding memories of Annette will always be her pristine appearance – always in spotless well-pressed shirts – she used to pull down the cuffs and turn up the collar – her signature gesture; her early adoption of the Vespa motor scooter – I had one myself – but not until 30 odd years after she had blazed the trail – and above all her fabulous sense of humour and rather dirty laugh – a dirty laugh but with a kind of innocence – because she always had a good word to say for everyone.

Annette was a teacher – and met her husband Thom when teaching in South America – and then moved into the world of business – working and leading a team for Compaq – till the HP takeover. She was a truly good person, a happy person, a wise person, always ready to listen, always smiling, and laughing her dry laugh. She was unfailing in her loyalty and support for her elderly mother – flying over several times a year to spend time with her. Her trips back to see her Mum in Eastbourne also allowed her to fulfill her passion for Harvey’s Sussex Bitter. Giving up the Harveys was a big sacrifice for her in moving to the USA – but when it was not available she made do with white wine with lots of ice piled in. On one of her trips to the UK, she and Jenn and I met up (Jenn being over from Sydney) and drank Eastbourne dry. We shared a taxi and dropped Annette off – literally – after our mammoth pub crawl – she rolled out of the taxi and fell onto the pavement. Next morning she was her normal smiling self with no trace of a hangover.

Every time I go back to Eastbourne now I will look for her in the grey-green chalky sea she so loved and described so aptly. Fare thee well Annette – as Joan said “I have a deep sense of us having lost someone very special” – that’s exactly how all her friends feel.

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