– Maureen Rooksby 1957-2013

monkey and sofia blog passed on to a better place header

It with great sadness I have to impart that Maureen has just died, last week, on Tuesday 29 October.

Maureen was and evermore will be Sofia, of MONKEY & SOFIA fame.  Sofia being the magical kitten we rescued from the streets of Odemira in Portugal and who gave us so much love and affection during a very hard time while searching for our place.  And just like Sofia, whoever meets Maureen is instantly touched and changed by that same magic.

She also weaved a similar spell on everything she did, having the unique ability to excel at anything, be it craft, skill, or learning a new language.

I met her at college in London in the 1970s, where we were both training to be art teachers.  The first time I saw her she was hanging from the ceiling in the print room.  I knew then I had to get to know this person.  Two years later we were married, and since then lived together inseparably, for 34 years, until Tuesday 29th October 2013 when she tragically passed away at the ridiculously young age of 56.  With so much left to give.

Neither of us became teachers, but Maureen did spend many years teaching art in other ways.  Starting with the creation of a community darkroom in Wolverton, Milton Keynes.  Devising the community arts events for the York Festival.  Then spending 11 years as the Associate Director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, heading up the community and education department, which spawned many innovative projects (such as HEYDAYS), more often than not setting the standard for others to copy and aim for, throughout the world.

In 2000 we decided to give up a conventional life and head off to find a remote piece of countryside where we could learn to live more simply, healthily, and spend as much of each day as possible being creative.  It took nine long years to find that place, during which we lived in a van, a tiny hamlet on a mountain top in Galicia (NW Spain), a derelict house in the Alentejo (Portugal), in a log cabin on the beach of an island in British Columbia, and finally here.  MONKEY & SOFIA was born during that period, although we had been making and selling things for many years prior to leaving the UK.

I’ve lost count how many Monkeys & Sofias have gone out into the world since then, to become companions and heirlooms to both children and adults who appreciate their quality, it has to be in the thousands.  All made by her nimble hands, along with all the other toys she invented.  Each with a small part of her sewn or knitted into them.  I know this because so many of those buyers have since become not only very good friends but part of our family.

Three years ago, just after we finished the house and moved in, she ripped her sternum carrying a sack of flour.  That took a year to heal, and seriously knocked her back.  After which she discovered a lump in her breast.  This was a particularly scary moment as her mother had died from the same disease and that experience still haunted her.  To such a degree she was adamant from the start not to have anything to do with the national health service.  Luckily though we found a local homeopath who was able to treat her, and it seemed to be working.  Then this summer it reappeared elsewhere, just as she was getting ready to start afresh, including taking up cycling again, and I think now in hindsight that must have used up any remaining reserves of fortitude and strength.  It didn’t stop her from making things though, and she dispatched an order of gloves just ten days before she died.  To me she seemed happy at that moment, and told me that the homeopath had said she would be completely recovered within two months.  Whether this is true I have no idea.  But soon after her health began to fail and in the end, against her wishes, I called an ambulance.  It turned out the hospital couldn’t have been a more kind or caring place, instantly relieving her of any pain, after which she slept soundly for twelve hours then simply stopped breathing, having never recovered consciousness.

Another strange thing happened during the last days.  Something I think very special and magical.  From nowhere a man appeared to Maureen, come to talk with her about the spirit (her words).  He came every day, sometimes with a friend and a child.  I couldn’t see them, but they were often there at the same time.  He was a painter, from Aracena (a nearby town), in his 60s, and she an artist who works with light (her words).  Maureen had recently decided to learn to paint, something she had wanted to do since a child, and was planning this as the start of her new life having beaten the cancer.  I am now convinced that these people were in fact angels, and that there is a much better life for us all in the hereafter.

I would like to thank all her friends and supporters, who over the years who have helped make our life the magic it was.

She has gone to a better place, bless her.


Life without Maureen, so far, has been terrible.  No-one talks about when this happens, and it has been so awful an experience (even compared to what I previously thought were some really nasty moments) that I am now seriously considering suicide as the best solution to the seemingly insurmountable problems suddenly dropped onto me.  For despite all we have achieved in getting here it was all due to us both, working as a perfect team.  I will be honest, I am not someone who can function at all alone.  I need company, I need a creative soul-mate, or just revert to being an empty shell.  This place also needs at least two people to make it work, 2.5 hectares is hard going.  And an income, albeit small (just £3,500 a year), for which I possess absolutely no ability whatsoever to earn (especially here), Maureen having earned every penny of what we needed for the last 25 years (since I stopped work), while I took over the house-husband/ gardening role.  I also have not accrued any right to state benefits or a pension.  So if anyone out there has similar experiences/ advice they could share with me right now, which will be of positive help, I would really appreciate you getting in touch.  I am in a state of utter shock.  It feels like living in a thick fog, with no appetite, wanting to be sick all the time, totally drained of any energy, and so scared out of my mind every second that I fear for my sanity.

Phil Rooksby

  1. kaper54@telus.net said:

    Phil – I send much love and hope you can find the strength or whatever it takes to find a way to carry on, Phil. I think we all have our time to go and maybe yours is not just now. I am so so sorry for your loss. The bond between you and Maureen was clear and shining and I am very happy that I got to know you both a little. I now wish we had stopped at your place when in Spain last year. Again, much love to you. Kath Perreault, Powell River

  2. Pauline said:

    I had no idea that Maureen was so ill. It must have come as such a shock to you to lose her, but please Phil, do not end your own life. It will be such a painful time for you to lose your life long companion, whom you loved and shared everything with and the loss will feel so intense, but please cling on to your own life. Talk to your friends, let them help you at this terrible time, let them know how dreadful you are feeling. Do not make any big decisions at the moment, you are not going mad, but it is not easy to be rational when something like this happens and totally envelopes your every moment. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help, anything at all. Please, please choose to carry on with life, no matter how painful at the moment. It will not always hurt as much as it does now. Your friend in Shetland, Pauline.

  3. janherbie@yahoo.co.uk said:

    Dear Phil,

    We are shocked and saddened by your news. How on earth does that sort of thing happen? You have all of our sympathy and we hope you mange to find the strength to carry on being Phil. Maureen would have wanted that.

    Be assured, despite our long silences, we think of you all the time and are grateful to have your newsy views and opinions on how the world is going to hell in a handcart. Jan is just having another swearing match after reading yet more on our wonderful MPs’ expenses and, goodness knows, they are doing nothing useful about saving us from ourselves.

    We will write more fully soon but, for now, be assured you are in our minds. Stay strong.

    Love John and Jan

  4. Steve said:

    Dear Phil,
    I am really sorry to hear your news.
    I am an avid reader of people that prove there is a smarter way of living than following the current broken model. I have however, never written thanking them for their inspiration until I read Maureen and your blog.
    You mailed back and strengthened our resolve to make a change in the way we live.
    I can relate to how you are feeling Phil, my wife and I are soul mates of many years standing. Time is a great healer, it maybe too early to think this is true but remember you helped Maureen realise an alternative way of living – please do not underestimate your contribution.

    Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help
    Steve & Denise

  5. Hang in there Phil, we feel terribly for you and Maureen when heard. Pauline (above) says what we feel. Your life is also very precious.

  6. Christine Tucker said:

    Dear Phil,
    It is with incredible sadness that I read this blog post. Words are so inadequate sometimes to express compassion and we are not close geographically for me to give you a hug.
    Grief affects us all in different ways, what has helped me through difficult times has been knowing that I can only comprehend a small part of everything that is going on in my life, that somehow in the middle of the mess that I am loved by God in ways that I cannot begin to understand. Your life is precious and you inspire a lot of people, even if you don’t always know who they are.

    Sending you positive thoughts, with affection,

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