Detective minister unearths £128k Norwich will
2008: The sizeable legacy of a quiet Norwich church member will help provide healthcare and a Christian education for hundreds of Indian youngsters thanks to a chance remark and the detective work of a local minister. Derek Haylock reports.
Margaret Woodard was a small and unobtrusive woman, unmarried, and living on her own in a flat in Norwich. A member of Surrey Chapel Free Church in Norwich, she would get on with her own business and simple life, quietly and without a fuss. Few in the church knew, for example, that she had suffered all her life with diabetes. So it was a surprise when our pastor received a call from the City Council to say that Margaret had been found dead at home, as a result of a diabetic coma.
The Council official told us that they were aware that she was a member of the church and asked us to do the funeral service – a responsibility that I, as one who had known Margaret for many years, was privileged to take on.
Extensive enquiries revealed first that no will had been found in her flat, and secondly that Margaret had no living relatives. In these circumstances we were told that the local authority would take responsibility for her estate, such as it was, and that everything would be passed to the Exchequer.
At the funeral service I spoke about Margaret’s strong faith and her simple lifestyle. In this context I mentioned that in this world she appeared to have had very little – she had left no will, no family, and had accumulated little treasure on earth – but that her treasure was in heaven. After the service, a lady told me how kind Margaret had been to her mother, who lived in a neighbouring flat – and that she was sure that her mother had said that Margaret had written a will. I gave her my telephone number and asked her to call me if she could find out anything else from her mother.
Where there's a will there's a way
That afternoon she telephoned me. Her mother had said that she thought Margaret had seen an advertisement in Sainsbury’s supermarket about making wills! I immediately jumped on my bike and cycled to Sainsbury’s. And there on the wall, to my delight, I found an advertisement for ‘Norfolk Will-Writing Services’! Feeling by now like Inspector Hercules Poirot in an Agatha Christie story, I telephoned the number on the poster: “A lady in our church, a Margaret Woodard, has recently died. I think there is a possibility that you may have helped her to write a will?” “Just a moment, sir,” came the reply. “I’ll check through our computer records. Ah, yes. Here it is. Miss Margaret E. Woodard …”
I got on to the Council at once and told them what had transpired and to put everything on hold. Apparently, this was just in time! Then the will-writer telephoned me: “Miss Woodard appears to have left all her books to your church, and everything else to a charity. I wonder if you have heard of it. It’s called … the Dohnavur Fellowship.”
Had I heard of it? Well, yes, as it happens, I had! I am one of the UK directors of this charity, supporting the orphanage and hospital that were set up in South India by Amy Carmichael over 100 years ago.
Exciting as this was, I still thought it was a matter of small consequence. As far as I knew Margaret did not own her flat and she had had little in the way of material possessions or financial resources. But maybe a few pounds would come to the Fellowship and we would give thanks for that.
Then gradually the full picture emerged. Margaret had owned her flat, leasehold. It would be sold for more than £100,000. She had a significant sum of money in her savings. And Dohnavur was the sole beneficiary. It all took some time, but finally on 30 July 2008 we received this email from our secretary in the Brentford office: “Praise the Lord; we have received a cheque for the sum of £128,443.59 from the estate of Miss Margaret E Woodard.”
Praise the Lord, indeed! Surely this was ‘the will of the Lord’!
Derek Haylock is a director of the Dohnavur Fellowship UK and an elder of Surrey Chapel Free Church, Norwich
www.dohnavurfellowship.orgPictured above is Dohnavur Fellowship founder Amy Carmichael and the Santhosha Vidhyalaya School opened in 1982 on the Fellowship's own premises in what had once been the schoolrooms and accommodation for its boys' work, which ran from 1918 to 1984. The school now provides Christian education and home care for over 570 children aged between five and 17.