Tributes to Joan Brookbank who passed away aged 93


Joan was known to many local people through her voluntary work with people with dementia and their carers.  She will be sadly missed by her family and many friends.

Joan joined the Alzheimer’s Society when her husband developed the condition.  She nursed Bob for about seven years.  After he died in February 2003, she got involved in various charity work, including the formation of the local support group in Crowborough for other people who were caring for loved ones with dementia.

Carers often feel isolated and lonely.  Their monthly meetings and outing helped those who had to cope with the demands of the illness.

Pat Arnold strongly believes Joan deserves to be remembered and have her long and full life celebrated:

In those early days, there was very little information available on how to live with someone with dementia and Joan and her group provided much needed comfort and help at a difficult time in people’s lives.  For many years she led monthly group meetings, latterly at Heather View Care Home, providing a listening ear and support, and endless delicious homemade cakes!  Between meetings Joan was always happy to take phone calls and make home visits and spent many hours doing so.

I first met Joan when we came together around fourteen years ago to run a very successful ballroom dancing morning for dementia sufferers and she and I became firm friends.  She certainly had persuasive powers and before I knew it I became involved with the Sussex High Weald Dementia Social Group which, thanks to a very generous donation, expanded to provide coach outings, lunches and teas and also included summer and Christmas parties.  Joan worked tirelessly to help those in her group and the wider community and was awarded a Civic Award by Crowborough Town Council which she was very proud of.

Joan will be very sadly missed by all who knew her.

Michael Drake, her son-in-law said:

Joan will probably be best remembered for her love of dancing and for her baking.

At her 90th Birthday Party in 2014 which many will have attended, and which she insisted on organising herself, including the band and supervising the food with the helpful staff from Heather View, she was probably the one who danced the most.

For her dementia group meetings she loved to take along some of her own cooked cakes and biscuits.  There was rarely a time when her bungalow was not full of delicious baking smells.

Philip Fermor, former councillor and Mayor of Crowborough from 2008-2009, said:

I first met Mrs Brookbank when I was the Deputy Mayor and attended one of her functions.  I was very impressed by the work she doing to help others and the effort that she put in, because of that I chose her charity as one of my Mayor’s charities.  Following on from that time my wife got very involved and worked alongside her.

She will be very much missed by many people.

Joan Brookbank (with Abi Goldsmith) opening Heather View Care Home on Beacon Road in September 2011


Joan’s early life

Joan was born in Chelsea, an only child, at a time when Chelsea was more of a bohemian and poor artists area, rather than the expensive borough it now is.  Her Mother was Belgian and a high quality dressmaker for the affluent.  Her Father had been in the air corps in the Great War, and afterwards often had difficulty finding work, but her mother was able to support the family and she was extremely ambitious for her daughter.

This Joan was sent to a small private school, which she says she hated!  At four years old she was given ballet lessons by a good teacher, some sort of deal between dressmaker and client.

The children put on many small shows and she well remembered doing some at Working Men’s Clubs where she was given food hampers in lieu of money – very handy in hard times.  Joan was also sent to pose for a successful artist in Chelsea.  Society children would not sit still long enough so she was the body, and the “child’s” head would be added later.

As she got older she was found other work in photographic modelling as well as her dancing classes, and then her mother got her piano lessons so together with her formal education she had little spare time.  She moved to a state school and also at that time changed ballet school.  At her new school she had also had lessons in mime, tap, acrobatic and other forms of dancing and the school put on shows.  A highlight was being in the chorus of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall with Royalty watching.

During the summer of 1937, Joan was given three month’s work at Denham Film Studios in Buckinghamshire.  She was involved in films like Sixty Glorious Years and The Citadel.

At 13 years old Joan gained a scholarship at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School.  Margot Fonteyn was there but 18 years old and did not want to know the juniors. However Wendy Toye, another famous dancer and choreographer was there and was very kind to her she said.  With Sadler’s Wells she had the opportunity to do understudy work for chorus and dancers at the London Coliseum.

At the outset of World War II, Joan left school and joined touring theatre company that did reviews.  Very poor money and dodgy digs but quite enjoyable she said.  She then tried to get into nursing, but being under 18 she needed her Mother’s permission, which was not given.  She then tried the Air Force who referred her to ENSA, an organisation which provided entertainment for armed forces personnel, but it was not until two year’s later that they finally contacted her.  She found fill in work at The Windmill Theatre and got onto a variety circuit.

At The Chelsea Theatre she met Bob (her future husband).  He was working assisting the customers and when the troupe returned there the relationship flourished.  However her Mother forbade the relationship.  She was 16 and Bob 17.  Bob came from a poor background and was poorly educated and he had run away as a boy and joined the Spanish Civil War.

One day she secretly packed her bag and left home.  They were able to get a furnished room with bathroom in West Kensington.  A year later Joan’s Mother traced them and then gave her consent to marry, assuming incorrectly Joan says, that she was pregnant.

On 15th December 1941, with Joan now 17 years old they got married at Fulham Registry Office.

In 1942 Bob got his call up papers and joined the Royal Navy.  Bombing in London was bad by now.  Joan was at the Poplar Theatre when the London Docks were bombed.  They did their performance by candlelight and then the situation got so bad the theatre closed.

On two occasions during the war her home was destroyed and a new place had to be found.  At this time she was contacted by ENSA and she worked entertaining the troops, the Air Force, Navy ships in dock or American forces waiting to be shipped out.

In 1946 Bob returned home having been demobbed.  Joan became a Mother in 1948 and had her second daughter in 1950. Bob however got called up again for the Korean War and was away for a further 2 years.  Their home now was a flat in a council block in Chelsea and furniture was supplemented by wooden boxes as chairs.

Joan’s Mother separated from her Father after the war and was very ill fighting cancer.  She moved back to her beloved Belgium, but in less than 2 years had passed away.

Gradually things improved, Bob got a car and the family were able to get out of London at weekends to hike, climb, canoe, fish and enjoy life.  Soon after this Bob got a job at the Battersea power station and became a turbine driver which he continued to do until his retirement.

Joan joined the London Electricity Board doing office work using primitive accounting machines.  However in the late 1960s she had a serious fall over some wiring and got early retirement.  In the early 1970s when Bob had retired they moved out of London to Paddock Wood.  In the mid-1990’s they moved to their bungalow in Crowborough and enjoyed their retirement until Bob began to suffer with Alzheimer’s.  He died at the age of 80 in 2003.

Funeral Service

Joan’s funeral service will be held at the Kent and Sussex Crematorium, Cemetery Chapel on Friday 6th April 2018 at 2pm.  No flowers.  Donations, if desired, to a charity of your choice.

If you would like to leave a personal tribute you can do so via Tester & Jones’s website:



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