Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Wanted: the new Queen Bee

THE daughter of a Henley woman who helped raise more than £650,000 for a cancer charity

THE daughter of a Henley woman who helped raise more than £650,000 for a cancer charity is searching for someone to step into her shoes.

Susie Gerhartz took over the role of Henley fund-raising co-ordinator for Cancer Research UK after her mother Liz Salmon passed away in January 2012 and has overseen £69,000 worth of donations herself.

But now she has had to stand down due to her increased workload at Harpsden Pre-school, where she is a supervisor, and is appealing for a successor.

Mrs Gerhartz, 53, of Rotherfield Road, Henley, says it’s vital that a replacement is found.

She said: “The charity is achieving so much to help beat cancer sooner. My mother used to say, and I agree, that what we do is so important because it puts money towards their amazing breakthroughs.

“We all know someone who has had or died from cancer.”

Mrs Gerhartz’s earliest memories are of her as a child accompanying her mother to fund-raising events.

Mrs Salmon was a professional mezzo-soprano in London when she moved to Henley in 1955 with her husband Tony, a doctor who became a partner at the Hart Surgery and is now 90 and retired. They had two daughters, Jane and Susie.

She began fund-raising for the Cancer Research Campaign, as it was then known, in 1964 as she was moved by the cruel consequences of the disease.

She succeeded Pam Wynne Willson and was still volunteering for the charity when she died 48 years later, aged 83.

Mrs Gerhartz said she could recall sitting in the family’s VW camper van in Hart Street on a flag day in 1966 while her mother stood on the pavement holding a collection tin and handing out stickers to people who made a donation.

“I would have been four,” she said. “I was sitting on the inside of the sliding door helping.

“Mum would still do the flag day on the Thursday during the regatta with an army of helpers. She would sit there at a table all day and she carried on doing that until she died.”

In June 1972 Mrs Salmon had a letter published in the Henley Standard appealing for donations for a “just a second” sale that took place in the town hall on a Thursday and Friday.

Mrs Gerhartz said: “The first one was very successful and raised £1,202, which was quite an amount back then. We had to carry most of the money to the bank because it was in coins.

“They ended up doing it across two days in May and then had another sale in October. Anything which wasn’t sold at the first sale was retained for the next one. They stored it in a barn somewhere.

“As children we helped out. It was incredibly hard work but there was the most amazing group of helpers.

“At one sale a helper took off her shoes because her feet were sore and someone sold them! We did manage to retrieve them.

“They would use the whole of the main hall with the better buys in the council chamber and the men’s clothes in the committee room.

“There were ‘fitting rooms’ which were some curtains probably borrowed from the hospital.

“They sold anything that was reasonably good quality, including things such as lawnmowers but it was mostly clothes. My sister was a professional musician in a national orchestra when she was in her teens and a lot of her friends kitted themselves out for performances from the sales.”

In 1993, Mrs Salmon organised a daffodil supper in Harpsden after Moira Black, from Shiplake, a regular volunteer at the sales, died from cancer.

Mrs Gerhartz said: “It was a coming together and a fund-raiser in her memory. There was also a tree planted for her in Mill Lane, Shiplake, which is still growing.”

The supper became an annual event every March, when the hall would be decorated with daffodils from Mrs Salmon’s garden in Rotherfield Road.

“The hall takes 120 people and we have always had 120,” said Mrs Gerhartz. “It was open to anyone but it was mostly people who had helped with the sales.

“More people always wanted to come and over the years some of my friends came, or someone who had lost their mum or a family member would organise a table of 10.”

A raffle would take place at the supper, with prizes donated by local businesses, and all the daffodils used for decoration would be sold at the end of the evening to boost the total raised. Each year’s menu was kept to ensure the organisers didn’t repeat one and every year a group of about eight people would meet in January to confirm the date and menu for that year’s dinner.

Mrs Gerhartz recalled: “With the group it meant there was never too much on one person.

“We would provide the food and my mum always thought it was important to keep costs down.

“Through everything my dad was in the background and has been there every step of the way.

“Mum and dad had the most amazing partnership. She was a doctor’s wife back when the calls came through to the house.”

Over the years, Mrs Salmon’s fund-raising efforts have been recognised a number of times.

In 1990 she was awarded the British Empire Medal.

She was also asked to sit on the charity’s national appeals committee. “She was one of the people doing it at grass roots level so she would advise on how to engage volunteers,” said her daughter.

In 2001, Mrs Salmon was given the charity’s Lady Benson Award for making the biggest impact as a local fund-raiser. In 2002 a party was held at the town hall to thank all those who had volunteered over the years. About 200 people attended and the helpers were asked to sign a card for Mrs Salmon to “salute” their “Queen Bee”, as she was known.

Elaine Dudeney, from Rotherfield Greys, had drawn some cartoons depicting scenes from the sales, including one of “Queen Bee” surrounded by goods for sale and a thermometer-style donations counter.

In 2010, Mrs Salmon won a lifetime achievement award at the Sue Ryder Women of Achievement awards.

The award came as a surprise. Speaking at the ceremony, Mrs Salmon said: “I was up for another category and the other two women in it were both caring for children — what I had done was nowhere near the aspirations that they had.

“It is jolly nice that somebody thinks that what we have been trying to do is worth being noticed.

“One hopes it brings home to people that the research into cancer is the only reason that so many people are being cured.

“I haven’t been troubled by cancer personally, touch wood, but being a doctor’s wife, I have been only too aware of how many people are.”

Speaking about her charity work, she said: “I have always tried to do it without incurring expenses, to put on events that people could afford to go to.

“When we started doing sales at the town hall people would give me things to sell and we would make £4,500 in a day-and-a-half with no expenses. We carried on like that year after year.

“We sold lots and lots of clothes and anything else we could get our hands on. I remember selling a lawnmower and a red loo seat.

“Once someone found out that someone had died and the undertaker said there were some jewellery boxes that we could have to sell but when we looked inside we found that each box had a set of false teeth in it!

“There have been about 80 of us doing it — we have always had fun. By getting lots of super people around you, one can achieve a great deal. Maybe if I had a committee I could have raised more but it didn’t appeal to me or the people I was working with.”

After Mrs Salmon’s death, her daughter took over co-ordinating the daffodil suppers. Mrs Gerhartz, who is married to Ulrich, a director of piano makers Steinway, and has a 14-year-old daughter, Lucy, said: “Mum had already organised the annual January meeting so I just carried on. It was what she would have wanted.

“All the volunteers were up for doing it and they all did it for her. She could not have had a more loyal team of helpers.

“We were so busy at the event itself and it was a very happy occasion. The helpers, my dad and I had a toast to her before everyone arrived.

“She believed passionately in the charity and felt it was fantastically well run. The amount they spend on admin is very low, so the vast majority of money spent is on research.

“Time and again people end up having cancer and my mum realised they were making such fantastic progress with the research.

“She believed in it passionately and wanted to help find a cure. The more money raised the more we can do and they are making breakthroughs all the time.

“Mum had this amazing ability to rally the troops and make it fun, whether it was a supper or the sales or the flag days in town. She led by example.”

The last daffodil supper was held in 2014 as Mrs Gerhartz had become too busy to organise them.

She continues to hand over the money from Cancer Research UK collection boxes in Henley and will do so until she finds someone to take over.

Mrs Gerhartz said: “People have their own ideas and ways of doing things, so someone might want to organise a fun run, a ball or a quiz.

“It’s important for the charity to find someone who is interested in raising money within the town.

“Everybody who helped us had their own reasons for doing so and people do want to get involved.

“We want to find someone but also to thank those many, many loyal helpers over the years.”

• If you are interested in becoming Cancer Research UK’s co-ordinator of the fund-raising group for Henley and South Oxfordshire, call 07770 646996 or send an email to  tanisha.greenwood@cancer.org.uk

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