Thursday, 18 August 2022

Woman with indomitable spirit and friends around the world

THE death of Sally Wagner (née Skelton) to a pernicious cancer will have an impact, far and wide,

THE death of Sally Wagner (née Skelton) to a pernicious cancer will have an impact, far and wide, across this land and beyond these shores right across the world where she visited and made friends for life.

Her early life saw her travel, joining her Royal Navy father on his postings to places like Malta and Gibraltar.

At 19, Sally took the boat journey to Australia as a "£10 Pom". Here she worked before travelling through Australia, eventually ending up on a cattle station, Gunawarra, and working for two years as a Jillaroo. She lived the life of mustering on horseback in the days before helicopters doing this work.

Returning to Britain, Sally made the journey by sea to Japan and Hong Kong, where she worked for the Australian Trade Commission for six months before taking the last train into communist China as the Red Guard menace started.

Suffering several unpleasant experiences at their hands, she eventually managed to get through to Peking and so further north, through Mongolia, linking up with the Trans-Siberian line to Moscow, through Poland and eventually arriving in Liverpool Street station.

Sally found life back home stifling after her recent adrenaline-pumping experiences, so took her bicycle across the Channel and spent six weeks cycling around Holland, learning Dutch and, inevitably, as only Sally could, making lifelong friends. After returning to London, she worked for the International Wool Secretariat that in turn seconded her to the South Africa Wool Board. Arriving in Pretoria, Sally soon met her husband-to-be, Marcel. They met on January 26, 1969 and, wasting no time, were married on May 31 in Harpsden church. Both their children were born in South Africa.

After returning to Henley in 1972, Sally took up various challenges before joining the administrative staff at Shiplake College. This connection was to last the rest of her life in various forms. The most important connection was the last one, helping run the college’s Expedition Society for 25 years where Sally touched the lives of countless young men and women. Her touch was evident in the contact these young people kept up with her as they moved through life.

Sally was also an integral part of Gap-Africa, a charity started by the Expedition Society that currently influences the education of more than 7,500 schoolchildren in Kenya. She has had a massive impact on the lives of many and has steered the future of many young Kenyans to brighter futures where otherwise only desperation and wasted intellect would have resulted.

There is so much more to add about Sally’s contribution to her community and involvement in so many spheres locally, but those who knew her will know of all these for she was well-known and will be much missed.

Sally also made it possible for so many of us to travel to places in the world, particularly Africa, and experience reality rather than mere tourism. At 68, her can-do spirit saw her braving the huge rapids on the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, in a flimsy inflatable raft for 16 days.

Aside from family, music and cinema, her passions were Scotland and the sea, the latter of which led to following in the footsteps of her seafaring father on her beloved container ship voyage halfway across the world.

She found her laughter and indomitable spirit in her forebears, being the granddaughter of Admiral Sir Reginald Skelton, who went to the South Pole with Scott in 1901. She never let them down.

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