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– Maureen Rooksby 1957-2013

November 2, 2013

monkey and sofia blog passed on to a better place header

monkey and sofia blog passed on to a better place

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.

For the moment I want to keep this site up, as a showcase for her work plus all the wise words of her blogs, although obviously there will be nothing available for sale (except copies of the knitting book).  Eventually perhaps find a way to start the toys again, albeit new ones.  If you would like to be kept in touch about that please sign up as a “follower”.

I would also 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

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  1. Therese Laskey permalink

    Dear Phil,

    I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear about Maureen’s death. I will send you a proper letter soon but wanted to just send a quick reply to this email to say please don’t do anything hasty – now is not a good time to make any decisions about anything – what looks insurmountable now may look more approachable in a month or two. Not really knowing Maureen (although I feel like I do!), I can’t speak for her, but surely she would want you to find a way to live and live as happy a life as possible – that way you can always hold her in your heart and she’ll live on through you. 

    I”m afraid this sounds like so many platitudes, but I hope not. Please know it comes from the heart and I sit here with a lump in my throat thinking of you and the very difficult time you’re going through. 

    Will write soon. Hang on. 


  2. Dear Phil
    I was going through some old papers and found an article about you and Maureen and Midsummer cottage. I bought your little self sufficiency book years ago. I though I would google to see what you are up to now and found this site. I thought this is the best and most inspiring site and story that I have ever come across, (especially when I clicked on ‘courses’ and found none and wonderful reasons why!) Then, when I got to the end and read that Maureen had died I found myself self so unbearably sad because I can see how it has been in your life together. Please don’t take your life…there is so much of your wonderful experience yet to share with and inspire people. Now I cannot put more words or advice as I don’t know any answers anyway but I send my love and concern and will keep you in my thoughts in these dark days.
    from Maureen Summers (sorry, I am a Maureen too!)

    ps. I live in East Sussex on the edge of Ashdown Forest!

  3. John permalink

    Oh Phil, Daisy and I were so shocked and saddened to read about Maureen passing away. we can’t even begin to imagine how devastated you must be. So sorry.

  4. Pam Kenny permalink


    Leona emailed me. I am so sorry to hear of Maureen’s passing. She was such a vital, happy person. I was making a card to send to you, when Doreen forwarded me your lovely tribute to Maureen on your blog and your postscript.

    Peter passed away on February 20, 2013 at home. He was diagnosed on January 27, 2011 with Stage 4 Oesophagael Cancer. Peter chose to have treatment. The treatment was palliative. In order to make sense of his diagnosis, he wrote his own personal philosophy of hope. It involved doing his best; that his best was good enough and that his courage and persistence was all he needed. Peter wanted so much to live. I think about his philosophy and borrow it to help me through. It seems so unfair that this terrible disease has taken Maureen and Peter at such a young age.

    We were a team for 40 years. I miss him every day and think about him constantly. I live by putting one foot in front of the other every day. Living each morning, each afternoon and each evening as he did in the present. I go to “healing touch”, practice meditation and go to grief counseling. These things help me. Everyone is different. The community is very supportive.

    The grief process is different for everyone. The shock protected me for a while. It takes time. Hold on to those memories of Maureen. They are very precious. The memories keep Maureen alive for you, even if she is not physically present. Peter was the writer in the family, but I have tried to jot down a few thoughts of my experience.

    Thinking of you,

    Pam Kenny

  5. Dear Phil

    I was very sorry to hear your sad news. I only came in contact with you and Maureen a short while ago, and I respect your different approach to our shared path towards a life in harmony with the Earth. I still owe you a letter — which I will try and write as soon as I can. I hope you manage to pull through this tough time.

    I can’t help very much, but one thing I can do is make a suggestion. In the short term, what you need is perhaps just some practical help and company to get through the winter. If it would be of any good to you, I can send an email to our volunteering contacts to see if anyone would be willing to come and stay at your place for a few months to help you get back on your feet.

    Hang in there.


  6. Marilus permalink

    Hi Phil, I just read you story and I feel so deep your words that I could not reply. I probably wont find the words to make you feel better, but give to your life another opportunity, who know how many people you will know, surprises that the day can give you. I am now in Brasil, but my family is from a village very close to Aracena, I will be there this holidays. Maybe we can keep in contact, I love to spend time in the field and i would be very grateful if I can help you at least making you some company and chat about everything you need. Big huge Phil!! Hope you feel better soon!

  7. Cathi Finbow permalink

    Dear Phil,
    I just happened to follow a link to your page as several years ago now a friend Helen bought copies of your knitting book and one landed on my doorstep. Maureen’s creativity inspired me and mouse and cat girls and boys appeared in my life. I can’t begin to appreciate how devastated you are by her passing.For myself I have found that after losing dear people in my life my practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo , a Buddhist phrase meaning I dedicate my life to the Mystic Law ( and much more besides ) has helped my to understand their place in my life and the time we were together.
    I will be chanting this morning and will send you and Maureen my heartfelt prayers.
    Best wishes, Cathi

  8. I was so sad to hear of Maureen’s passing. I never knew her personally but had a correspondence via email after contacting her to buy the Monkey & Sofia book. She was lovely to chat with and both me and my husband, as creative people who make our own livings from our work, found you both very inspirational. Our thoughts are with you and I hope that you can continue your creative work. Whilst I’m sure your life will now change dramatically due to your very sad loss, I hope that you are able to continue living as you want to. All the best, Sarah

  9. Phil,firstly let me say how shocked and sorry I was to read your blog and find out this news today.
    I didn’t know Maureen, except a little from reading her blog posts, but sensed her personality from her vibrant drawings and wonderful use of colour.
    I bought your little self sufficiency book years ago, and loved it, it inspired me with a breath of fresh air. So much of that book was YOUR voice, and I think you are a characterful, compelling author and person.
    I know right now you are suffering so much and feel invisible, less than half a partnership, all at sea.
    But your own self,is bigger than you know. .I would like to tell you that YOU MATTER.You have gifts, (writing, amongst them)
    Fast forward some time and you will again do things that bring reward and satisfaction, through that able ‘self’ that I described~ just, please give yourself time to heal and absorb first, take the pressure off yourself.
    I live in UK, I’m married, and cannot begin to imagine how hard it is to go without your loved one,
    so please forgive if I’mnot speaking through direct experience ( I have been bereaved before, however). It’s just it struck me how your life ~ every life~ is valuable, lived to the full, whatever that brings. The pain of love and enduring separation from it will, I believe bring a richer existence after death,but meanwhile we have more experiences of love yet to reap.
    Try to keep your heart open and go gently through the time.
    Sending many good wishes, I will think about you and keep you in my prayers.

  10. Dear Phil,
    I have just bought maureen’s knitting book, at a craft fair, from a friend of yours – the ‘Border Tart’. It is an absolute gem of a book and in some indefinable way feels very important to me. I knit socks and write their stories. Maureen has inspired me.
    Warm wishes and happy days,
    Debbie Zawinski aka ‘the feral spinner’

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