A unique spirit that embraced the world
TRIBUTES are falling like rain from the heavens, and every one of them is true.
Our daughter Eleanor, known socially as Ellie, was incubated in China and Tibet, born on June 7, 1995, and died on August 8, 2013, at the Boomtown Festival in Hampshire, where she was working as an Oxfam steward.
She was a vibrant, compassionate, intelligent, gregarious, curious, inventive, scattered, focused, and insightful human being. When her younger sister was born, many well-meaning people warned us to 'look out for the middle one – she might get left out'. There was never much chance of that. Her intense gaze and fierce determination saw her through growing up in Glastonbury and school in Wells to develop into a young woman of great aptitude and potential.
From an early age, she liked to organise her own life. Aged six, she corrected her teacher's spelling. At seven, when the seating arrangements in her classroom did not please her, she printed out a letter, with our names at the bottom, asking her teacher to have her moved. We put the pieces together with the teacher – Ellie was indeed moved, and we still have the letter. The combination of her fierce intelligence and emotional needs earned her a heavily subsidised place at Wells Cathedral Junior School when she was eight. She was in the right place, even though it did not make immediate sense.
FREE home energy survey - BEAT THE ENERGY PRICE CRUNCH!View details
Call us on 01271 323309 and book your FREE home energy survey during December. Let us help you reduce your energy bills as well as your carbon footprint.
Valid until 20th Dec 2013
Consultation is completely free
No obligation and impartial advice
Contact: 01271 440974
Valid until: Friday, December 20 2013
Wells Cathedral is famous as a music school, and Eleanor's brain worked brilliantly with maths, philosophy and English – but not at all with music. The best Eleanor managed at the end of year concert was a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the clarinet, but it was delivered with such incredible joy and greeted with such rapturous applause by her adoring family that the contrast with Toby Scadding's subsequent concert-quality piano piece only served to enhance the mood of musical appreciation.
Later, her musical immersion stood her in good stead in an even more implausible situation. Despite having had a hernia operation just three days previously, she insisted on travelling alone to a pre-arranged open day at Cambridge University, the only concession to her recent operation being the taking of taxis.
When I tried to call and let them know of her condition, she vigorously resisted – and somehow ended up on a tour of the music department. Using her Wells Cathedral experience, she masqueraded convincingly as a music candidate.
Wells Cathedral School nurtured Eleanor's individuality and accommodated her unorthodox approach to education: she once wrote out the reason for not having done her English essay in Haiku form. Her teacher sighed and said 'OK'. But probably the most famous was the D of E pizza incident.
Before the walk and camp that comprised part of her bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, Eleanor extracted the postcode of the place where they would be camping from the teacher organising the expedition. She explained that her parents were paranoid about her being beyond their radar, and always liked to have the postcode of her location. The youngsters had been told to use their initiative to feed themselves and Ellie certainly did.
That night, as the various groups huddled in the rain over noodles and gas stoves, they were amazed to see a pizza delivery van with a Bristol number on the side drive up with a piping hot pizza for each of Ellie's group.
She was a chess player, and always thought several moves ahead: before setting out, she had called the pizza restaurant with the postcode. The episode has gone down in history.
She came to the verge of receiving her Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and enjoyed academic study but preferred to develop her own structure rather than adapt to the requirements of the exam syllabus.
She always aimed high and was always ready for a new challenge; at sixteen, she left the army cadets for a week so she could join the air cadet corps – just for a week – and fly a small plane from Bath to Glastonbury and back. Her instructor flew a trick loop-the-loop, tossing his hat in the air, which remained central during the manoeuvre.
She was an incredible reader, sending both parents up to Glastonbury public library on a regular basis (she was too busy with school to go herself, most of the time) to order and collect long lists of books, most of which appear on University reading lists. When the library was threatened with closure, she energetically opposed it, doing her stint collecting signatures outside Morrisons on a Sunday afternoon despite being on crutches at the time. The quantity of books she read over the years was so great that she declared less on her school reading lists and was still unequalled.
Eleanor played mathematical games with her contemporaries, reciting pi, pi squared and pi cubed to many significant figures.
She participated in several debating societies and was fascinated by philosophical and ethical arguments.
Eleanor was planning to be a lawyer, and though she was as yet unclear as to whether it would be for the Ministry of Defence or Greenpeace (she liked to consider the whole spectrum of possibility in any situation), she knew it was going to be a long road. She also knew that she had bitten off a bit more than she could chew, what with the five or six A levels, the karate, the parties, the fancy dress costumes, the debating society, the Marmite and Skittles cakes for her philosophy and ethics class and so on – so she was planning to re-take after a gap year, working at orphanages and schools in India and Nepal.
The mother of a friend of Eleanor's e-mailed us the following words: "The last time I saw her was here with my daughter and another friend. They were out in the afternoon sun wearing bridal gown – Ellie – and bridesmaid's dresses – the other two. These were freshly washed having been acquired from Glastonbury. And off to Tesco they went, but ended up in Lidl's. As I was hanging out even more kit from there I could hear them laughing and larking as they went. The others may have thought of it as easily but Ellie made sure that it happened."
Though happy to wear a wedding dress to Lidl's in the afternoon, Eleanor was resistant to the idea of marriage per se, and enlivened her younger sister's life by describing how she planned to be 'Mad Auntie Ellie' to Belinda's children, with sixteen cats and a million hats. We gather she was already a bit of a heartbreaker – evidence came as a text from an unknown boy sending his condolences, with the information that he still has a bunch of flowers in the boot of his car from the time she stood him up.
Eleanor enjoyed travel from an early age, especially Italy, which she visited several times, fascinated by Pompeii in particular. She was an ideal travelling companion, and we went many, many times to Paris and Italy just to absorb art and drink cappuccinos, though when she went vegan in 2012 her order changed to espressos.
She was a favourite of George Whitman of the eccentric English bookshop Shakespeare and Company in Paris, where we used to stay, and her photo is still there on the mirror in the children's section where she spent hours in the green velvet alcove, reading and reading.
In her short life she visited 33 countries and, even if the family was out of funds, she was ever-resourceful in finding her own means to get wherever she wanted to go to.
In 2011, as part of the Combined Cadet Force, she was chosen as one of 12 applicants to attend the White Horse Camp in the wilds of north west Canada. Here she demonstrated her leadership skills by skimming up and down the flanks of her cycling team, singing: "I'm on the edge – I'm on the edge – I'm on the edge of glor-eeeeeeee" at the top of her merry, tuneless voice, motivating her team to complete the 130 kilometre ride; she managed to crash a canoe, damaging her shoulder in the process – but carried on, refusing to ride in the supply truck.
She spent 30 hours out in the wilds on her own, made friends with the Inuits in the camp, managing to become an honorary Inuit despite her vegetarianism, mastered throat-singing with remarkable ease and gained the award as the number one cadet. Her last trip was a long mountain bike ride around Bulgarian monasteries, which she completed after her A levels – funded, poignantly, by a bursary awarded by the parents of a boy from Wells Cathedral who died on a gap year.
She finished this off with a bungee jump – the highest in Europe, apparently – which can be viewed on-line. She did not jump, but, typically – dived, uttering a war-cry as she plunged head-first into the abyss.
Eleanor enjoyed English festivals from an early age, and – apart from the one which took place when she was three weeks old – attended every Glastonbury festival of her life. This summer for the first time she had a job there, working with our friends in the Healing Fields, registering the healers and wrist-banding them with ceremonial aplomb.
Within 24 hours of returning from Canada in 2011, she was in Belgium, arriving at the Pukkelpop festival just as a disastrous and fatal storm struck. With communications down and very limited funds, she made her way to the Holiday Inn and helped many of the distraught fans to rooms provided by the hotel, before finally accepting a bed in a room donated by the Foo Fighters. Their fridge was well stocked with high-quality continental beer which she appreciated hugely.
On the walk around the Bishop's Palace next to Wells Cathedral is a vibrant mosaic of a dragon, set in the lawn beside the path. Local children created this in 2000, and Eleanor, as part of Dinder Toddler Group, worked on the dragon's wings with her two sisters, Iona and Belinda.
Iona has this to say of her beloved Eleanor: "I miss her face. So expressive and abnormally stunning, it was a face you were always happy to see. For each of us, as her sisters, she was our best friend: there was nothing you couldn't tell her and she was always a willing ear. She may have been my younger sister but I looked up to her a lot. She was good at everything and she always found the fun way to do things, including writing my CV.
"I admired her sense of entitlement to every aspect of life. She'd have a chat with homeless Laurence, about his ticketless ambition to see the Rolling Stones, whilst drinking his whiskey – and why shouldn't she? She'd walk, with a damaged ankle, beside Canada's Minister of Defence whilst he carried her bag and blew her bubbles – and why shouldn't she? With myself and many other of her friends she enjoyed random role play- in Budapest last year as we wandered around, picking up any accent we heard and would start up loud and obnoxious conversations as we entered public places such as the zoo, spa, restaurants, cafes and bars.
"She was a dedicated joker. She had no reservations; she saw life, she dived straight in and she excelled. That was her way.
"She revelled in being indefinable and she was. The only words that could truly do her justice would have been her own. She had a unique mastery of the English language. Every minute that passes is a minute longer since I saw her face. I will miss it forever – and who's going to write my CVs now?"
Eleanor had no boundaries: every person with a good heart was her friend, from the Canadian Minister of Defence to the homeless man living behind a door somewhere just off the bottom of Glastonbury High Street.
When she was fifteen she had all her hair cut off and sent it to the charity Locks of Love in America, so her hair could be made into wigs for children who had suffered hair-loss from cancer-treatment. This was done in support of a friend who died, aged 18, of leukaemia.
For her Duke of Edinburgh Award she spent Sundays – her only day off – working in Cancer Research in Glastonbury. For Red Nose Day she dressed as a giant red nose, made over several days by applying papier-mache over an exercise ball. She adored her cats, weird ear-rings, rings, pasta, words, friends, skiing, Harry Potter, goat's cheese, coffee, the Killers, Bob Dylan and Shakespeare; she could see through people's motives at a hundred paces and detested being patronised, hated cruelty, despised snobbery and pretension. She was a strict vegetarian who never ate, or even tasted, meat or fish.
For some months last year she upgraded to being Vegan and for Lent gave up chocolate. Typically, she stuck to her promises with an iron will.
She had left Wells Cathedral School less than a month before her tragic death, and the friends she made there will remember her for life.
Overall she was adventurous, generous and erudite and the family is very grateful to the many circles of her friends who have expressed their condolences.
The cause of her death is not yet established and will be the subject of a Coroner's Inquest.
Although grief-struck, we are thankful for the 18 years, two months and a day that Eleanor was at the heart of our family. She was a one-off, a shooting star who lit up the lives of all who were close to her – and there were hundreds. We shall not see her like again.
People have asked if there is a charity to which they can send money in her name, and we hope in time to set up Aiming High – the Ellie Rowe Trust – Gateway to Higher Things, in conjunction with any of the charities mentioned above, plus the charities where she was planning to work for in her gap year.
For more information, wait a month or two and check with us at ion email@example.com.
Look after one another, for today is all we have.