Obituary: The school cook mum who loved country music

Helen Mayes, the school cook from Dereham who brought joy to people’s lives

Helen Mayes, the school cook from Dereham brought joy to people’s lives through her loving attitude and her legendary baking skills. - Credit: Lynda Bowden

“She was fun-loving, she just loved life.”

These were the words of Lynda Bowden, who has paid tribute to her mother, Helen Mayes, the school cook from Dereham whose loving attitude and legendary baking skills brought joy to people’s lives.

Mrs Mayes died on December 18 last year aged 79 after a stroke. She worked across the region as a school cook, including 25 years at the primary school in Toftwood.

Helen Mayes grew up in Shipdham before moving to Dereham with her husband and two children.

Helen Mayes grew up in Shipdham before moving to Dereham with her husband and two children. - Credit: Lynda Bowden

She grew up in Shipdham before moving to Dereham with her husband and two children. After her husband died Mrs Mayes found herself as a single mother who needed work, and working in a school kitchen was a good fit.

“She loved working with children," Ms Bowden said. "At Easter and Halloween she would put on special menus for the children, like Easter egg nest cakes, or witches' cakes.

“She loved to make people happy, she loved to see smiling faces.

“Mum was one of those people, whatever she did, she wanted to do it to the best of her ability, you did it well or you did not bother.”

Helen Mayes would create special menus for the children on Easter.

Helen Mayes would create special menus for the children on Easter. - Credit: Lynda Bowden

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But Mrs Mayes did not save her love of baking for school-time - the smell of fresh cakes, buns and bread always filled their Dereham home.

When her children left school she learned to make celebration cakes, even teaching herself to craft decorations out of icing, including intricate flowers and lacework.

Mrs Mayes was also a big country music fan. She and her second husband Doug organised concerts at Watton's Queen’s Hall featuring acts from across the country.

Helen Mayes worked across the region as a school cook, including 25 years at the primary school in Toftwood.

Helen Mayes worked across the region as a school cook, including 25 years at the primary school in Toftwood. - Credit: Lynda Bowden

Ms Bowden said: “Once the bands had finished playing, mum said that no one could drive home on an empty stomach. She insisted that nobody left until they all had eaten and she would spend the day making bread rolls, pastries and biscuits to have with a cuppa before their journey home.  

“She was my friend as well as my mum. She was always there for mischief. I can still see her smiley face that would just radiate happiness.

“She was just lovely, as a mum she was always there for us.

“She always said we all have to go one day, and we do not get to choose how or when, so let's make the most of the time we do have.”

Helen Mayes would create special menus for the children on Halloween, such as Witch Buns.

Helen Mayes would create special menus for the children on Halloween, such as Witch Buns. - Credit: Lynda Bowden