Life lessons from Margaret Fulton

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On Monday 9 September, my incredible grandmother, Margaret Fulton, was honoured with a State funeral memorial service. My sister, Kate Gibbs, and I were honoured to speak about her legacy. These are our words.

Our darling Grandma. You used to pat the sofa next to you when we visited. “Sit down darlings. Now tell me, what have you been doing.” What we wouldn’t do to have one more chat, to hold your hand over a cup of tea in the sun one more time. You were simply the most extraordinarily wonderful grandmother two girls could have. 

We may not have you with us any longer, but we can at least ensure that your treasured great grandchildren are raised with some of your infinite spirit and gusto. These are just some of the life lessons you taught us that we hope, in turn, to instil in them.

1.      Work hard. Life won’t be handed to you on a platter. You need to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. And don’t wait to be rescued. A knight in shining armour might come along, but you need to know how to make your own money, and fend for yourself. Be your own hero. 

2.      Be a black sheep. Don’t give a damn what people think. Choose your own path. Dress only for you and wear what makes you feel good. All the other school mothers may be in heels and hats, but you go right ahead and wear your checked trousers and soft flat moccasins. You’ve got work to do after all. Your daughter will eventually get over the embarrassment and understand those differences were what made you so one of a kind.

3.      Set the table properly. Even for a weeknight meal for one. Use your silver cutlery and your best glassware. Don’t wait for a special occasion. You are the special occasion and every meal is worth doing properly. Even a slice of bread (with butter so thick you can see your teethmarks in it), sliced tomato, perfectly seasoned, is a meal worth taking effort over. And, for goodness sake, put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls. It’s not a race.

4.      Be curious. You don’t have all the answers. Ask questions. Think outside the square. Learn from all ages and cultures and never stop discovering. Just like Toad from Wind in the Willows, jump in your car and off you go. There’s always a wild ride to be had and the people that matter will come along with you on it.

5.      Always have Champagne on hand. You never know when you might need to get the party started. Life is a celebration, and you deserve all the effervescence. And never skimp on your friends – if they’re important enough to be invited to your home, they deserve the very best you can offer. 

6.      Be cheery, even about the smallest things. What a treat it is to have a bright-eyed magpie on your window sill, warbling his wonderful song. How delicious is a perfectly boiled egg with buttered toast soldiers. There is no greater joy than a cup of tea from a properly-drawn pot. Even in your final days, tell those by your bedside how grateful you are for their company and confound your doctors with your refusal to complain about a single thing.

7.      Be kind to animals. Never tolerate cruelty. Tell people why they should be buying free range and organic and grass fed, even before anyone has heard of those words. If you must, buy less, but always know your producer is doing the best they can for the animal.

8.      Always have a twinkle in your eye. It counts for so much more than your height or your hairdo. Beauty may come and go, but having a sense of fun and mischief, being able to light up the room with your quick wit and cheeky humour … that will last you a lifetime.

9. Be resilient. Life has its highs, but it certainly has its lows too. And you need to be strong as all get out if you’re going to survive them. Call on your loved ones when you need, and carry on. Buck up kiddo. It’s going to be ok.

10.  Don’t tell your guests what’s for dinner. We all have kitchen disasters, even Margaret Fulton. You never know when roast chicken might need to become chicken soup or when your pavlova might be destined for an Eton Mess.

11.  Travel. The world is your oyster, so go on and eat it up. Go far and wide, explore, say yes. Eat other people’s food and you will better understand their point of view, their lives, the world. Travel to be able to tell magnificent stories to your young granddaughters, who will clamber through your dog door to hear them, to be with you. And, importantly, create a home that you love coming back to. 

12.  Be a strong woman. Don’t let a family of big brothers bully you or a boardroom of men intimidate you. You might be half their size, but you have twice their might if you have faith in yourself. And you have just as much right to sit in the top spot as they do.

13.  Invest in the arts. Go to the theatre. Be a gallery regular. Fill your house with collected treasures that have meaning. Don’t buy replica furniture. Support good design, even if it means having less. Save your money for the real people – the innovators, thinkers and artists who are making a difference.

14.  Drink whiskey. Just a wee dram. And – despite what your doctors may tell you – eat butter. Lots of it.

Farewell our darling Grandma. The last time we saw you we told you how much we loved you, how brave you’ve been, how proud we are. 

Our grief is deeper than we were expecting. It’s hit us hard. Our only comfort is knowing that it’s a measure of the love we feel for you. Thank you for making us the family we are today. Not one of us would be who we are without you.

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'What guides me is home cooking, listening to my appetite, using whole food ingredients, prioritising plant foods and keeping highly processed foods out of my kitchen.'