Bishop of Crediton joins Upottery parishioners to honour Ruby Cooke

PUBLISHED: 15:26 03 February 2010 | UPDATED: 00:51 16 June 2010

The amazing Ruby Cooke.

The amazing Ruby Cooke.

WHEN Ruby Cooke learnt to play the organ as a teenager, she could never have guessed that 70 years later she would still be serving her parish church. A surprise presentation at St Mary the Virgin Church, Upottery, marked the milestone.

WHEN Ruby Cooke learnt to play the organ as a teenager, she could never have guessed that 70 years later she would still be serving her parish church.

A surprise presentation at St Mary the Virgin Church, Upottery, marked the milestone.

The Bishop of Crediton, the Right Reverend Bob Evens, was on hand to pay tribute to Mrs Cooke's outstanding loyalty and service.

He presented her with a hand-made quilt, depicting musical instruments. It was painstakingly stitched together by parishioners, most notably Sue Key and Marion Anning.

An inscription said the quilt was being presented as "grateful thanks for 70 years' dedicated service that has enhanced the worship of the congregation".

The church choir presented her with a gift voucher.

Ruby, 85, said: "I started playing the organ when I was 12. My music teacher was Harold Carnell, the organist at St Paul's Church, in Honiton.

"Although I grew up on Cockhayes Farm, Upottery, I attended the former school at Smeatharpe.

"On Sundays, the school was turned into a mission church and that is where I first played, on a harmonium."

In April 1940 the then Vicar of Upottery, the Reverend Arthur J H Hobbs, presented Ruby with a book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. He wrote in it: "In recognition of your valuable assistance as organist at the Smeatharpe Mission Church."

When Ruby reached 15, she was given a six-month trial as organist at her parish church, St Mary the Virgin.

"Because of my age, they didn't know if I was up to the job," she said. "The two manuals and pedals Willis organ really is a little gem of an organ and I'm still playing it today.

"There used to be services twice a day. That was the format up until the 1980s."

When Ruby was married in the church in 1950, Mr Carnell played the organ.

Later, a Mrs Reed moved into the parish and she, too, could play the organ. Both women had young children and decided to share the church organist's job, volunteering their services on alternate Sundays.

In 1969, Ruby gave up her free Sunday to be organist at the parish church in Yarcombe.

"I'm still there, too!" she told the Herald.

She has played the organ in Upottery during the reign of at least 10 vicars and has performed at so many weddings and funerals she has not been able to keep count of the exact number.

"The first hymn I learnt to play was Lead Us Heavenly Father, Lead Us, but I'm most fond of Handel's music," she said.

Last year, Ruby was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace - in recognition of her community work in Upottery.

She has previously served on the Manor Room Committee, the Parochial Church Council and was, for 16 years, chairman of Upottery Fete Committee.

Ruby said: "As long as my fingers and feet are fine, I shall carry on playing the organ.

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