A son has paid tribute to his mother, Maureen Hitchcock, after she died at a care home on March 16.

Mrs Hitchcock was a keen nature lover and devoted mother to her children Julie, Martin, Laurence and Philip.

She was married to husband Peter for nearly 60 years.

Philip’s tribute:

When a mature oak falls it is a sad day. When that tree has been the backdrop to nearly 70 years of family history, it can feel something of a tragic loss.

When, however, the tree comes down within minutes of your mother’s death, you can believe it is something quite profound or at the very least, symbolic.

Whilst siblings Julie, Martin and Philip were with their mother Maureen in her dying moments in a Berkhamsted care home, the stormy March winds that blew in last Saturday were bringing down the old oak that had stood on the boundary between Whippendell Woods and the Hitchcock family plot known as 'Blacketts' in Rousebarn Lane.

With Maureen’s death comes the end of the direct link with the original members of the Hitchcock clan who bought ‘Blacketts’ as a family enterprise in the early 50s.

After marrying Peter in February 1957, Maureen moved with him into the distinctive World War One army hut that would become their home together for almost 60 years. During that time, the old oak tree will have been witness to many changes and events. Martin and Philip were both born there, Julie was married there and Laurence simply, like all of us, grew happily and was loved there. It was for many years a hub for countless cheerful family gatherings and birthday celebrations that would typically spill into the wooded garden. When family and friends gathered six years ago to say ‘farewell’ to Peter, Maureen’s husband and our father, it was of course fitting that it should be from his ‘Blacketts’ home that the procession to his memorial bench in Whippendell Woods should begin - so under the old oak tree, we all walked talked and sang.

Watford Observer:

Left to right: Julie Bradley, Philip Hitchcock and Martin’s son, Joe

Maureen was a very spiritual person and during difficult times would always find great solace in nature. Beyond the balcony bird table, she would keenly observe the natural dramas played out in the old oak tree: the courting pigeons; the thieving jays and magpies; the woodpeckers that would drum on its dead limbs; the song thrushes that would sing from its uppermost branches to announce spring.

Our mother was also a passionate environmentalist. She was saddened that we were watching this tree die for many years without it having reached its full potential. She would often quote that an oak in an ideal situation would grow for 200 years, live 200 more before taking a further 200 years to die. This tree, the family estimate, was possibly 250-years-old – too young perhaps but wonderful nonetheless.

Although at a glance, ‘Blacketts’ would appear an idyllic haven where nature should thrive, Maureen was acutely aware of the environmental degradation that she had witnessed in her lifetime both locally and in the wider environment, much of it caused, she felt, by the proliferation of car ownership. She loved her bicycles and believed bikes should play a greater role particularly in urban transport thinking. She was inspired by what The Campaign for Sustainable Transport (Sustrans) was achieving and was a founder member of the Spokes cycle group. The annual bluebell ride that the group would make was initiated by Maureen, and this and many of the other rides would typically round the old oak tree to take in tea and scones at ‘Blacketts’. No doubt there would have been reminiscences from Mum about one of the early Hitchcock enterprises - a tea room run by her mother-in-law back in the early 50s from the same building.

Cousins and family members still live at ‘Blacketts’. Sadly, however, the old oak that has watched over this family for so long will no longer be there. Martin, however, is hoping the council will allow the family to have the tree milled into planks so that the oak that fell within minutes of Maureen’s death can be turned into valued lasting things which will help us remember what she loved and what she stood for.

Watford Observer:

Left to right back row: Philip Hitchcock, Laurence Hitchcock and Martin Hitchcock then left to right front row, Julie Bradley holding Ben Sterling, Maureen Hitchcock holding Tom Sterling, Peter Hitchcock

On May 3, which would have been Maureen’s 83rd Birthday, Peter’s commemorative bench will have a new plank added when family and friends, once again gather in Whippendell Woods to say a fond ‘farewell’ to Maureen.

The wonderful Peace Hospice who cared for Maureen with such grace and compassion will also receive a piece of furniture, made, we hope, from our beloved oak.