Polly Burns 1943-2017
Polly has been such a mainstay of the SGT that it is difficult to believe that she is no longer with us. Her eventful life began in 1943 in Gloucester as Pauline Elizabeth Hamblin Chew. After schooling in Gloucester she went on to Cardiff University, where she graduated with a history degree in 1965. After a couple of years as a bus conductress in Bristol" knowing Polly, one can imagine her being supremely efficient at this" she must have felt that her undoubted talents were under-used so in 1968 she became a civil servant.
First as a research officer in the Ministry of Technology, moving in 1970 to the British Overseas Trade Board, then seconded in 1974 to the Foreign Office to organise trade fairs in Germany. Her capabilities were recognised by promotion to Higher Executive Officer and then, in 1976, to the post of Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister of State in the Department of Trade. In 1977 Polly married William Burns, a ships surveyor, and a year later her life took yet another new turn when she resigned from the Civil Service and moved to Suffolk to care for her much older husband. Although he died in 1983, she decided to stay in Suffolk, working initially for Suffolk County Council and then as a National Insurance Inspector for the Department of Health and Social Security, moving on in 1988 to be a Housing Officer with Suffolk Coastal District Council. This led a degree- level course at Anglia Polytechnic University and membership of the Chartered Institute of Housing. In 1991 she became the Special Needs Housing Officer with Babergh District Council.
Her life had taken another new direction in 1991 when Nigel Surry became her partner. A week-long course on ‘Gardens, the Disadvantaged Art´ a year later led to another new passion, gardens; this despite an admitted early antipathy to them, demonstrated by “carefully weeding out my mother´s lobelias and salvias to leave neatly thinned weeds”. She took a Diploma in Garden Design from Writtle College in 1996 and a City and Guilds Diploma in Garden Construction in 1997, leading to her resignation from local government work in the same year and a new career as a self-employed garden designer. New careers were nothing new to Polly" as a colleague noted in wonder at the time, “You´ve tried them all!”
The Suffolk Gardens Trust was established in 1995 and both Polly and Nigel were founder members. Polly joined its Council two years later and, together with Nigel, became the joint editor of its Newsletter. Starting at no. 4, they shouldered the heavy burden of editing and producing the Newsletter until no. 23 in 2006, when they were aided in its design and production by Tina Ranft . Tina took over more fully in 2007, though Polly and Nigel continued to be a rich source of material for the newsletters.
From 1998 to 2002 Polly was also the very active SGT representative on the national Association of Garden Trusts, being elected to its Management Committee in 2004. Polly and Nigel also took on the job of events organisers for the SGT in 2004, an onerous task that they fulfilled valiantly and very successfully until 2010.
In this time she added a characteristically special, extra level, to the events programme by organising ‘Polly Tours´ to Italy (having added fluency in Italian to her many talents, as well as a house in Spoleto). In 2007 it was ‘Villas and Gardens of Frascati´, in 2008 it was gardens in Lazio, in 2009 it was gardens around Sienna in May and those in the Veneto in September, in 2010 the Veneto in May, Umbria in June and Sienna in September. Unfortunately health issues prevented more tours, much to the sorrow of those who had had the luck to win a place on one of them. Giving up events was hardly a dereliction of duty, as Polly had become Chairman of the SGT in 2008 and even for her the duties were becoming a bit excessive. Polly ably steered the SGT as chairman until 2013. A major achievement was the launching of the SGT onto the web as www.suffolkgardenstrust.org.
In 2004 Polly and Nigel were instrumental in setting up a SGT Walled Gardens Group to record the many walled gardens that they saw were falling into decay. After countless winter days spent recording in the wet and cold, Polly and the Group successfully honed and converted their field notes into a book, which was published by the SGT as Walled Gardens of Suffolk in 2014, and has since almost entirely sold out. I leave the final words to our Patron, Lady Marlesford, who writes of Polly as “being witty, erudite and knowledgeable” and “an imaginative and hard worker for the Trust”, but “most of all I think of Polly as a real friend” and that is a sentiment that we would all echo, as we raise a glass to her memory.
There have been a number of requests from members and others who wish to contribute to a fund in Polly´s Memory. If you would like to contribute, please send these direct to our bank: Suffolk Gardens Trust Clearing Code 40-52-40 Account No. 00024303. Please mark your payment clearly POLLY BURNS The Council and others will be deciding on the best memorial.