When her long-time friend Joyce Nelson died 34 years ago, Maud Fuller’s role as godmother to the four motherless children expanded significantly.
Now grown adults enjoying successful careers in the United States, the siblings paid glowing tribute to Fuller at her funeral last Saturday at St. Clements Church. The educator and cultural ambassador died two weeks ago in hospital after suffering a stroke in mid-December.
“July 1979 marked a significant evolutionary change in the relationship between Bebe – the name she was affectionately known as by her godchildren – and us,” said Rooney Nelson, who lives in New York. “That was the summer that our mother passed away…As we struggled to deal with her loss, Maud’s role in our lives changed from co-pilot to the captain in charge.”
A general surgeon in Florida, Dr. Celia Nelson said that Fuller always made them feel they were special.
“We were at the centre of her world,” she said. “It was always clear that she wanted the best for us and so expected the best from us. When we failed to reach her standards, we heard about it. She successfully guided us all to productive adult lives.”
Virginia-based Marc Nelson, who was at his godmother’s beside when she died, said it was fitting that he was with her at the end of her life because she was present with him and his siblings at the beginning of their lives.
Fighting back tears, he said she will be forever missed.
“You are the true essence of a mother,” Nelson said looking down on the casket.
Born in St. Ann’s Bay and raised in Kingston, Fuller graduated from Merl Grove High School and St. Joseph’s Teachers Training College and taught at St. Catherine and Elletson Primary schools before accepting a 1962 Commonwealth scholarship to study speech and drama for a year in England.
On her return to Jamaica, she enrolled at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to pursue a Bachelor of Arts honours degree. That was the start of an association with the UWI that lasted until her death. After migrating to Canada in 1967, the University of Toronto Master’s graduate founded the UWI’s alumni chapter in Toronto 25 years ago and raised thousands of dollars for her alma mater.
“Maud Fuller was a star wherever she chose to display her many talents,” said UWI chancellor, Sir George Alleyne. “The University of the West Indies is fortunate that she brought her light to it as an undergraduate and continued to let it shine as she created a vibrant chapter of our alumni association in Toronto. She will be missed for her vibrant personality, her infectious enthusiasm and her passionate and unswerving commitment to her UWI, but let there be no doubt that she will be remembered.
In her eulogy, good friend Jean Forde said Fuller was a giant with unique gifts.
“One had to spend only a few minutes with Maud to know that she had a dynamic and vibrant personality,” said Forde. “She knew her own mind and she made her views known…She was a true original and we will miss her warmth, humour, unerring sense of purpose and commitment and her larger than life persona. She has gone to rest, but her spirit will live on.”
Canon Cheryl Palmer said Fuller was beloved at the church she attended for many years.
“Maud was the empress of the two back pews, populated mostly by West Indians every Sunday,” said Palmer to much laughter. “She held court there with a group known as ‘The Maudetts’. There are so many stories of this gigantic personality that we could be here for days telling them, but that would not serve us or truly reflect Maud.”
Fuller’s body was cremated last Sunday. Her ashes will be flown to Jamaica next week to be blessed at the Mona Campus University chapel before they are interred in her mother’s grave at Providence Church on February 9.