Great Yarmouth stalwart Valerie Howkins dies aged 83

Valerie Howkins, Museum of memories Great Yarmouth

Valerie Howkins, Museum of memories Great Yarmouth - Credit: Archant

A woman who became a pillar of the local community has died at the age of 83.

Valerie Howkins, Museum of memories Great Yarmouth

Valerie Howkins, Museum of memories Great Yarmouth - Credit: Archant

Valerie Howkins, was born into the circus, but she was taken very seriously over the six decades she lived in Great Yarmouth, and was well known throughout the borough.

She was the daughter of wealthy American heiress Kitty Schaefer and English clown Arthur 'Van' Norman.

The Duke of Windsor-obsessed Kitty vowed to marry the first Englishman she met, who turned out to be a clown visiting her native New York with Barnum and Bailey's circus.

She was disinherited by her family and the couple moved to the UK in 1931.


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Two and a half years later Valerie was born into a circus life of travelling including joining her uncle's Wild West Show as a teenage cowgirl.

The family stayed in Blackpool for 10 seasons and Valerie was mostly home-schooled by her mother, whose regular trips to the pawn-broker with her jewels were equally educational.

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Arriving in Great Yarmouth in 1951, Valerie took her mother's advice, pressing her nose against Peter

Howkins' jewellery shop window, an established family business.

The pair ended up getting married in 1956 and together they had three children.

Valerie and Peter ran the family jewellery and antiques business together until her retirement in 2011.

Her role with the shop and doing the books by night took its toll on her fragile health, taking her to breaking point in the early 1970s – when she discovered yoga, which revolutionised her life.

She went on to train as a yoga teacher and at her peak hosted over 100 people – all with their own mats – in Great Yarmouth library.

But her son David's sudden death aged 18 from viral pneumonia changed everything.

The yoga stopped and the collecting – taking in her mother's own royal hoard – began in earnest, always with the goal of a charity museum.

The collections began in 1972 when her mother died and left Valerie her Duke of Windsor commemorative items.

The project was a form of therapy, as are some of the items on display – intricate miniatures that helped a lady to overcome depression and live happily again, and the famous stamp room – an injured circus clown's obsessive pastime covering a whole Victorian parlour.

The David Howkins Museum of Memories was eventually set up in her son's memory.

Valerie died in her home on November 9, following a short term illness.

Her daughter Eva is looking to set up a fund to keep the museum open although no details have yet been announced. If funding doesn't reach the target to keep the museum open, money will instead be donated towards the museum's chosen charity the East Anglia's Children's Hospice.

Valerie had three children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Her funeral is to take place on November 28 at 11.30am at St Mary's Church on Southtown Road. People who knew Valerie are welcome to attend. There will be a wake at Valerie's home following the funeral.

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