Priscilla grew up on the banks of the uMsunduzi. “I was a wild child,” she recalled happily, “We were given the free run of Pietermaritzburg. After school we’d hop on our bikes and roam for miles.” She was fortunate that the Montessori school she attended was just across the road and that her pals, Ansonia Broome, Basil Drysdale and a fox terrier named Rex, were always ready for an adventure! “Our home had huge sash windows upstairs, with no guards. No one fussed that we would fall out, we were simply told not to.” She remembers driving out into the countryside on weekends in her Grandad Fred Tatham’s Morris. “I was plonked into the outside seat with the instruction ‘Don’t fall out’.” Five year olds have much less freedom nowadays. This made her a little sad and is one of the reasons she encouraged young people to visit and explore Milestone Forest.
With her husband Peter, she built a home bedside the forest in Balgowan in 1975. She was passionate about the magnificent yellowwood trees found there from the start. It was at Milestone that the Conservancy movement in South Africa began. Tony Carr and Nick Steele helped get the ball rolling in 1978 and now there are many Conservancies in the KZN Midlands and around the country.
Priscilla’s other passion was horses – she would disappear for hours on horseback. Her friend and neighbour, Walter Addision, recalls that just a few years ago, aged 89, Priscilla fell from a horse and landed flat on the ground! Her son-in-law, Rick, remembers not long ago asking why she was limping – “A horse kicked me” she replied. Not being able to ride across the hills, walk wherever she liked and get out and about was frustrating for Priscilla in her later years.
She did have plenty of time to dream however. One thing that had been keeping her awake was the idea of creating one big biosphere in the Midlands, with a map of trails all across the hills and valleys. She was passionate about the natural treasures to be found in the Midlands. “We really should encourage people to explore more. With all the wonderful places to stay, the walks would not be too strenuous. Wouldn’t it be lovely?” she said.
In 2007 Milestone forest received Natural Heritage Site Status. Her intention was to open the area to the public, so that everyone could enjoy the forest and learn to care for nature too. Priscilla was very supportive of the recently formed Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF), excited by the work they are doing, giving new life to older Conservancies and spreading the conservation ethic. Milestone was one of the regular walks on the MCF calendar.
She was wild about her garden and gardening. Right to the end, she used her garden fork rather than a stick to potter about in her garden – or hurtle along – as Walter puts it. Granddaughter Camilla laughs “We’ll always remember her bent double, bottom in the air, doing some weeding.” Camilla recalls a story about how Priscilla once put a fork right through her foot, but as there was no one around to help, drove herself to hospital!
Priscilla was outspoken and held strong, well thought out opinions. She believed that if one didn’t like what was happening, one should make a fuss. She was an important member of our community and made friends really easily, loving nothing more than a celebration at Milestone.
Her son, Simon Francis, said at her funeral “This is the end of a long and vibrant life. My mother lived at full tilt, with energy and enthusiasm. A remarkable woman.” Priscilla was honest and brave, determined, independent, gracious and generous, her legacy in the community will last for many years.
On the morning she died, a couple of bushbuck wandered out of the forest, right up to her window, as if to invite her to join them. There is little doubt that Priscilla’s spirit has returned to the mist-belt forest that she loved so much. Her beloved companion, Mary, keeping watch.Read more about Milestone Forest here: https://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/milestone-magic/