Jane Dolby is one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met.
Her life has seen her carry a heavier burden than many of us would feel able to bear.
But out of sadness and loss she had created something beautiful – music and song. And I am so chuffed that the Independent ran my interview with her today, which you can read online here.
When Jane’s husband Colin, a fisherman, drowned at sea after his trawler was caught in a storm five years ago, his body wasn’t found for over a year.
While Jane should have been laying the love of her life to rest and beginning to grieve for him, the lack of a body meant no death certificate could be obtained, and no death certificate meant bills mounted up as Jane couldn’t prove Colin’s death to banks and utility companies – she couldn’t even give him a funeral.
So she faced two of life’s toughest hardships together – bereavement and debt as she struggled to cope, looking after two small children on top of everything else.
She was helped at the time by the Fisherman’s Mission, a charity which helps fishermen and their families in times of need.
Here’s a fact: fishing is the UK’s most dangerous peacetime occupation. Something to think on next time you’re tucking into a fish supper.
The charity took over Jane’s legal battles, helping her financially and emotionally as well as practically, and she vowed to repay them for the role they played in helping her back into the land of the living.
There was another thing that touched me about Jane’s story. She’d always sung in bands, or just for fun. But when Colin died, she couldn’t bring herself to open her voice in song. She described it as too much emotion threatening to spill out if she tried. So she stopped.
Until she decided she was going to start a choir. A Fishwives Choir. Made up of women from her Leigh-on-Sea fishing community who would record a karaoke track and sell it in their local pub to raise a few quid for the Fisherman’s Mission.
What happened next is the stuff of Hollywood films. Slowly at first, with some queries from nearby Hastings down the Sussex coast, then in more volume, emails came in thick and fast from women linked to fishing communities around the coastline of the UK asking if they could get involved.
Women who waved goodbye to fishermen fathers, brothers and husbands everyday, from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Kent, many of whom had lost their loved ones to the sea themselves, and all of whom knew the daily worries and strains of loving a man who puts his life at risk just by going to work each day.
I met Jane when I worked on the Southend Echo as she works for the local YMCA, who’s events I covered from time to time. I was struck straight away by her extraordinary energy and capacity for positivity. So it didn’t surprise me when she suddenly found herself at the helm of something quite astonishing – if anyone could handle it, it was Jane.
And handle it she did. With laughter, inventiveness, self-deprecation, friendship, healing and self-discovery.
A single was recorded over the summer. Amazingly it’s now in the running for the official Christmas number 1. And what’s even more amazing is that Jane found her voice once more and started to sing.
It’s a long journey from November 10, 2008, when Jane took a taxi to a friend’s party after Colin failed to return home in time to drive the family.
He never did return that day. But Jane goes on with music in her life once more. And its a rare privilege to be able to tell her story.
Buy the single here (every penny goes to the Fisherman’s Mission).