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Tributes paid to community star

PUBLISHED: 16:42 13 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:52 12 August 2010

MUCH LOVED: Joan Ralph.

MUCH LOVED: Joan Ralph.

A SON has paid tribute to his exceptional late mother who was a poppy appeal collector for more than 75 years. The funeral of Joan Ralph, 88, of Bencurtis Park, West Wickham was held at St John s Church in West Wickham last Friday, the place where she

A SON has paid tribute to his "exceptional" late mother who was a poppy appeal collector for more than 75 years.

The funeral of Joan Ralph, 88, of Bencurtis Park, West Wickham was held at St John's Church in West Wickham last Friday, the place where she began collecting for servicemen some 77 years ago.

A piper led the funeral procession up Corkscrew Hill to the church, where scores of mourners bid farewell to the "strong-minded pillar of the community" who was an avid Royalist.

I Vow To Thee My Country was played, along with Sir Edward Elgar's Nimrod, during the service which was led by Reverend Ken Gaved and attended by Beckenham MP Jacqui Lait.

Her son, Doug Ralph, 57, said: "We are devastated as we have lost the matriarch of our family and Beckenham has lost a pillar of the community.

"I'm very proud to have had an exceptional mum like her. She wasn't run of the mill. I'm proud that she contributed so much to the community and other people.

"She was very strong-minded but had a great sense of humour. You knew if she was in the room - she was not the shy, retiring type."

Mrs Ralph grew up in West Wickham where her parents owned a grocery shop.

As a young girl she would visit St John's Church where her father was a bell ringer.

She became poppy appeal organiser for Beckenham in 1967 and in 2006 was honoured for her 75 years of service. The British Legion was a big part of her life and she was appointed President of Beckenham women's section in 1985 and Chairman of Beckenham men's section in 1991. In 1987 Mrs Ralph was given the mayor's award for services to the borough.

She had an early career as a civil servant and would travel from West Wickham each day to London for work. Her son said: "She was always late for the train. One day the railway porter held the door open for her as the train was about to leave and that man became my dad, Albert Ralph. They had four children together."

He was called up during World War II as a Royal Navy gunner and the couple only saw each other when Mr Ralph was on leave. His son believes the war years influenced his mother's life.

He said: "She was a huge Royalist. She loved her country. The war definitely had an impact on her and her poppy collecting.

"She met Prince Philip at the opening of Crystal Palace. He stopped to talk to her but she monopolised the conversation. She was very pleased to have met him so she took her chance to talk to him."

Mrs Ralph fell ill during a visit to York on April 16 and died from a heart attack. She leaves behind three children, nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

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