Bessie Sylvia (Rusty) Ellis nee Keetch

30th. June 1910-10th April 2011

By Jack Hemmings

Rusty Ellis passed away in her sleep, in her own own home, during her 101st year following a short illness. She was born in Bedfordshire before the start of WW1. Rusty was born Bessy Keech in Cardington near Bedford on the day that Florence Nightingale died. Two of the songs of the day were “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” and The Ballad of Casey Jones.

George V had been on the throne for 54 days. Herbert Asquith was Liberal Prime Minister. Young Winston Churchill was Home Secretary.

Rusty remembers the building of the Cardington Hangers for the airships. Age 20 she actually visited the ill-fated R101 which crashed in France on it’s maiden voyage in 1930. Her mother kept their home and kept the accounts for the small business as well as being a very active church worker. Unusually, for the time, she was one of only two children and was brought up with her dear brother who she adored. Her enduring love of the countryside grew from those early days in rural Bedfordshire. After attending school she started work in the offices of Randalls, builders’ merchants, in Bedford

In the mid thirty’s a young man from Rye, the 8th child of George and Minnie Ellis was sent to Randalls to serve an apprenticeship. By all accounts, much fun was enjoyed and not inconsiderable amounts of teasing went on in the Bedfordshire builders’ merchants. The apprentice initiation endured in good humour by Philip Ellis attracted the young Bessie Keech. Eventually, Philip brought his intended to Tower House, Rye, to meet the Ellis family. His sister Ella opened the door to them and as soon as she clapped eyes on Bessie with her striking auburn hair, she declared that she would “forever be called Rusty”. And so it was. They married in 1936 in The Bunyon Meeting Hall, Bedford. Rusty’s father built them a house in Cople. Philip continued to work at Randalls until’ the start of WW2. Strangely, during the war years many children were evacuated from Rye to Bedford and surrounding area, some were to meet her again in Rye many years later. Through the Church, Rusty, her mother and some friends took an interest in a camp near Cople which held young Italian POW’s. They did their best to bring a bit of light relief to the interned by organising music, shows and dances which included, despite rationing, a few extra bits of food.

In 1951/2 they gave up their life in Cople and moved to Rye to run Ellis Brothers, Ironmongers, at 1a High Street, now Ironmongers Extrordinare. There are a few people who still remember buying nails by weight, paraffin by the gallon and various pieces of farm equipment as well as pots and pans. Rusty remembered recently, that when she made the garden at the back of the shop, they dug up dozens of clay pipes; no-one knew why there were so many in that place but she would probably be the last person to remember the archaeological dig.

Rye Baptist Church was a very important part of their lives. Philip and Rusty together with the Ellis family hardly ever missed Sunday worship.

Being devout baptists the Ellis’s never swore but in the Ironmongers Rusty saw a way of collecting money for her charity “Cancer Relief” now “Macmillan Nurses”. She set up a swear box in the shop; anyone heard swearing or blaspheming be they staff or customer would be invited to contribute to Cancer Relief. She would say “Thank God for the sinners, they give generously with their tongues”. She worked for 50+ years raising money for Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund and in 1996 received an award for 45 years service. Her garden parties were an annual event; table top sales, jumble sales charity auctions must have taken much energy to organise but she had good friends who helped. Almost every shop in Rye had one of her charity boxes.

Rusty was a lifelong Liberal supporter, Philip served Rye as a Liberal Councillor for many years. In 1968 Philip Ellis became Mayor of Rye and Rusty his Mayoress. She always said,” that year was the best”; she enjoyed every day of the Mayorship to the full.

At retirement Rusty and Philip moved to Cadborough Cliff. There, Rusty was able, with time on her hands, to indulge herself in her passion for gardening. She made a garden and re-made the garden several times introducing new features and specimen plants. Anyone, visiting her couldn’t help but be bowled over by the view through a blaze of colour to the English Channel. With Camber Castle to the right and Rye to the left, such a picture! Again, she opened her garden several times in aid of Macmillan Nurses, the last time was when she was 95 years old.

Latterly, Rusty liked nothing more than a drive though the country lanes, enjoying the changing seasons through the hedgerows. She thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of “my little bus” as she called the wonderful service offered by Rye and District Community Bus. She had been known to tell the drivers of the coaches standing in Station Road on a Thursday, to move on, because they were in the Rye and District Community bus stop! The service allowed her to get out and about independently and make new friends ’til she was in her 100th year. On her 100th birthday the bus came up to her home with a cake, gifts and balloons, everyone got out and came in to wish her Happy Birthday. It was very touching.

There are now but a few people who remember Rye before Rusty Ellis. With her colourful personality and love of life, she couldn’t be missed …….She will be missed.

In her last years she was greatly helped by Bernie Cook and her daughters and at the end was cared for by Peter and Denise Drury- Ellis – they and all the family would like to thank the Rye District Nurses and Valery Belcher for their care and kindness through Rusty’s last days.