Brenda Copsey: Norwich nurse, midwife and author wrote of her nursing career at city’s hospital

OBIT Brenda Copsey

OBIT Brenda Copsey - Credit: Archant

A former nurse and midwife and author, Brenda Copsey, who has died peacefully aged 76, published two books about her life and career in Norwich.

Her first book, Is That You, Nurse? describes her 13 years in nursing during the Fifties and Sixties.

She started at the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where her general training was spent covering various wards and also at the West Norwich Hospital and the Jenny Lind Children's Hospital.

Born on September 17, 1936 at Sprowston, she was the middle of three sisters. After attending a small private school on Constitution Hill, Norwich, run by the Misses Bidewell, she went to Notre Dame.

As she could not start her nursing training until she was 18, she spent a year at Norwich City College studying biology and physics.

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She then went to Edinburgh, where she qualified as a midwife and later gained further experience at hospitals in London and Cambridge before returning to Norwich.

One March day she met poultry farmer Arthur Copsey, who was standing outside Jarrolds, on a blind date. They became engaged the next month and married in July 1967.

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As she had never learned to cook because she had lived in a succession of nurses' homes, she found it quite a challenge at first to cook for a husband who expected proper meals, including cauliflower cheese.

She left nursing to bring up a family on the three-acre poultry farm at St Faith's.

Then she decided to write a factual account of her career during a period of rapid change, in both medicine and also social attitudes. 'I wanted to be factual, honest and descriptive to show the attitudes, discipline and conditions of the Fifties,' she told the Eastern Daily Press at the time.

When she started as a trainee in 1954, surgeons arrived wearing bowler hats, open fires were in the centre of hospital wards and nurses huddled around value radios in the days before readily available television sets.

It was also in the days before disposable syringes and applying leeches were still part of the training.

The hours were long, with duties based on a 96-hour fortnight. In those days, matron with her 'bespectacled face beneath a frilly lace cap and with starched lace bows under the chin' did not stand any nonsense.

Her first book was published by Mid-Norfolk-based Larks Press in 1993, and there have been four reprints.

Her second book, A Child of School Age, which recalled her life until 1954, was published in 1997 but it is no longer in print.

She also wrote a series of 10 children's stories based around the Little Melton light railway.

She also researched her family's genealogy, on both sides, and was a member of the Littleport Society, from where the Sayle family originated.

Her husband, Arthur, died in May 2011, and she leaves a son, Edward and daughter, Mary, and four grandchildren.

She is survived by an older sister, Margaret, and younger, Diane.

A funeral service will be held at St Faith's Crematorium, on Tuesday, August 13 at 2.45pm.

Michael Pollitt

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