Over the past 22 years I have been blessed to encounter some marvellous individuals who have contributed significantly to their church. One such individual was Denise Rees (nee Hatton) of St. John’s who passed away this September.
Denise was born in London, and served during World War II with the WAAF as a radar mechanic; she came to Bell Island in 1953 as a teacher. Three years later she married Gerald Rees in whom she was a faithful companion and support for many years.
The first year she was here in Newfoundland, she marched off down to the annual meeting of the church on the Island. She related this experience to the Newfoundland Churchman in 1991:
I was sitting there in a room full of men and just as the meeting was about to begin, one man stood up and wondered aloud whether Miss Hatton knew that women do not attend church annual meetings. I replied, “Oh yes, they do. I’m here.”
Denise went on to organize the Girl’s Auxiliary (G.A.), and was also involved with the Women’s Auxiliary in the 50’s and 60’s. She was diocesan president of W.A. and was president of St. Mary’s A.C.W. for two years. She became the first woman on the vestry on Bell Island, and on the diocesan synod, and served in a number of other capacities including as a delegate to General Synod. And, she matched her activities with continuing support for her parishes, the diocese, and PWRDF. The list goes on.
The Rev’d Canon Ralph Billard wrote the following in 2013 when nominating Denise for the Bishop’s Award of Merit:
“Denise Rees has been witnessing for Jesus Christ in a great variety of ways from her role in the life of the church, to being a faithful wife and helpmate. She is a glowing example of witnessing and evangelism.”
Another former rector of Denise’s, Bishop Cyrus Pitman, had these comments:
“Denise lived her whole life based on the call of Jesus to share in His ministry; and share she did!! In my time at St. Mary’s she was an avid Sunday worshipper as well as daily worshipper in her home. She would often want to reflect and discuss the Sunday homily. She was also very passionate about youth ministry.”
The rector of St. Mark the Evangelist, the Ven. Amanda Taylor, said that while she had only known Denise for a few months, she “was riveted by the stories of her life that were shared with me. As she advocated for Women’s Rights, and stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ2S+ community (even attending a Pride Parade in her wheelchair!), Denise took to heart the baptismal call to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Bishop Cy has the last say about Denise: “There is much more I can say about Denise. She never wanted much said about her. She often said, “Always give God the Glory”.”
What a legacy! Thank you Denise.