This tribute was written by journalist Narelle Groenhout and originally published in The Local, an award winning magazine circulating throughout Central Victoria. A tribute to Dear Fay was the lead article in the 4 July 2022 ed (No 257) and is reprinted here with kind permission.
Many of you will have followed John WB Hungerford [B.3a.4b.1c] on Facebook as he wrote intimately about his recently deceased wife, Fay.
WHEN well-known and much-loved local John Hungerford started sharing Facebook posts about his beautiful wife ‘Dear Fay’, he never expected the outpouring of emotions from friends and strangers alike.
John and Fay were well known in the Newlyn and wider district with Newlyn Antiques and Nursery and their shared love of people.
When Fay was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than 15 years ago John knew she would fight with grace and gusto and she didn’t let him down. A move to Campbell’s Creek enabled them to embrace a new community but Fay’s eventual move into Ellery House in Castlemaine was a time of great sadness for John.
But it didn’t stop him writing a journal every day about the time they spent together, the new memories being made and the hardship of life during Covid when visits were rare. His journal became his comfort and when he decided to share it with family, friends and strangers on social media, he inadvertently touched the lives of so many.
Recounting an outing during a break in lockdown restrictions John remembered the joy Fay felt when visiting her favourite shop in the world and the café where in John’s words she was ‘once again the leading lady’. She relished the love. John relished the joy of her happiness.
One post talks about a visit home to their cottage where Fay was quite concerned whether the bath mat had indeed been hung up. It had. Or the beautiful goodbyes that were part of their life together. John would say ‘toodaloo’ and Fay would reply with ‘yodelayheehoo’.
“I knew when she might have been a bit upset with me because on those occasions there was no yodelling. When I would leave Ellery House we would always end with our song to each other,” he said.
Fay sadly passed away in May this year, and through tears and tea, an afternoon spent with John was nothing short of a privilege. I was one of the strangers who took great comfort in reading John’s posts. In the beginning I thought I was intruding on his space thinking he meant the posts for family and friends. But he has embraced social media from its inception and was hoping his posts would be read by those near and far, highlighting his love and devotion to Fay and determined to shine a light on Fay, her gift of giving (literally…’she would give everything away if she could have’) her singing and acting talents and her life devoted to others.
Her childhood friend Yvonne, who died a year before Fay, was the one who encouraged and inspired her to sing and act. Fay was shy. But somehow the stage became her refuge and John even recalls a time when Fay was asked to tour England following years of theatre productions.
“She was exceptionally talented and was the most beautiful singer. But if she had toured, I would have never met her.”
John and Fay had both been married previously and when they got together their lives began with four children between them. But while you’d expect this true love story to begin with love at first sight it didn’t happen that way.
“I was at a conference staying with my sister. I’m not sure if she was bored with my company but she suggested she invite her friend over for dinner,” he said.
“Fay and I got on well but the next day she told me off for not walking her the one block home. As friends we spoke every day and then a few months after during a phone conversation Fay inadvertently proposed to me. We married within a year and not one day has gone by where I haven’t been by her side or spoken to her on the phone.
“Her calmness was inspirational. She would often say ‘keep calm, John’ and in our entire relationship I had only ever see her angry once. She had fallen in the kitchen. A dear friend and neighbour was there and I believe she saved Fay’s life before the ambulance arrived.
“Two lovely ambulance drivers arrived and Fay was not happy to be going to hospital. And she made it very clear how she felt. It was the only time I have ever seen her truly angry.”
The couple were both social workers in Melbourne and when John resigned he took up furniture restoration. There was a little antique store they would visit and one day he saw an ad in the paper for an antique store for sale. It turned out to be the same store and they bought it.
“Fay always wanted to move to the country so when the opportunity arose to move to Newlyn we jumped at it. We eventually established a nursery in Newlyn and the staff we employed part-time became lifelong friends.”
Despite years devoted to each other and years of memories made, there is one that John remembers every day.
“We were invited to my sister’s for Christmas lunch a few years back and I wasn’t sure how Fay would cope. Her body was tired. When the younger generation gathered around her, interested in her singing and acting, none of us were prepared for what happened next. Fay amazingly started singing Over the Rainbow. With her exhausted mind and body, she found the strength to sing Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. It was moving. This was her last performance and to she chose those songs.”
Fay would be delighted to know John is remembering to hang up the bath mat and not having too many ‘visitors’ which was Fay’s code for female callers! And while John has a lifetime of his own stories and adventures he is writing about and the life he shared with Fay, he will continue to share posts in honour of Fay and their love.
For now, he is planning a solo trip to Queensland to visit family. He is happy to drive alone knowing his beloved ‘Dear Fay’ is by his side and the opportunity to be at one with his thoughts and memories that will inspire him to go on writing his Dear Fay posts and his own life stories. I arrived at John’s cottage as a stranger connected by heartfelt posts that inspired and moved me – I left his home a friend.