Goodbye to Sister Draper – Joy Astall

Many people have died in this Coronavirus pandemic, and one of the great sadnesses is that we haven’t been able to come together to say goodbye and to give thanks for their lives. And when it’s someone who has been a big part, not only of our family, but also of our community, that is especially sad.

Joy Astall was one of those people who touch many lives. Originally from Warwickshire, she came to Leeds to train to be a midwife – and never left! Joy was a District Midwife for over 30 years. She was known to many families all over Beeston and Holbeck, and in Middleton too, when she covered Mary, the midwife there. She would drive around in her little orange VW Beetle, often with her corgi, Wilhun – named after two Leeds Untied players: Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter.

As a midwife Joy had a very special role – Sister Draper was well-loved by her mums. She was loyal and dedicated, staying with her mums until their baby was born, even if it was well after the time when she was due to stop working. At that time most births were at home; here’s one little story – Joy was an avid Leeds United fan, a season ticket holder – I gather there would sometimes be a call out over the tannoy during a match for Sister Draper, when one of her mums had gone into labour and she was needed.

She went to one mum, Brenda, after an afternoon match between Leeds and Man City. Brenda was deemed to be OK for a while so Joy regaled the new Dad-to-be with how well her team had played while Brenda gripped the arm of her chair ever harder! When neither she (nor the chair) could stand it no longer she suggested to Joy it was time they went upstairs – and baby Clare was born 20 minutes later! Leeds won by the way.

Joy thought she’d helped to deliver over 1500 babies in the community, not including those when she worked in hospital!

I’ve only known Joy for the last 7 years since I’ve been Vicar at St Mary’s, but I quickly saw how big a part of the church she was. She took communion out to people who couldn’t get to church, and would accompany me to Sunnyview each month for the service there.

Joy married Brian 10th December 1983 at St. Mary’s and they developed an interest in gardening. They were asked to look after the church garden, later taking on the St David’s garden as well. Through their hard work we were awarded gold awards for 18 years in a row, spring and summer, in the Leeds in Bloom awards. And when judging day happened they would be there in the garden to show the judges around, not only helping the church to win Gold but also contributing to the award for Beeston in Bloom, which they’d joined.

In the last few years Joy was getting to be a bit unstable on her feet but she didn’t like to give up. Even when she and Brian had stepped down from being the church gardeners, you’d still find her clearing out the old bedding plants, or pruning the roses.

Joy loved children – her nephews and nieces all remember going on holiday with Auntie Joy. And all our church children knew her as Auntie Joy – she and Brian were always giving them little presents and encouraging them in all they did. She encouraged many people: Peter our organist remembers Joy encouraging him when he was learning as a youngster.

Joy did so much more; our cake stalls at St. Mary’s, and at the Beeston Festival usually had a number of Joy’s cakes on them – she made them by the dozen! And she was a great knitter. She discovered that I often wear fingerless gloves in the colder weather, and she kept me regularly supplied. And our Church Magazine was sent far and wide to people Joy had met on holiday and kept in touch with.

Joy was a good friend to many, a loving wife to Brian, a loyal servant of the church, a hard worker – a ‘doer’ as someone described her. She will be greatly missed.

We’re looking at ways to mark her life and we hope that when circumstances allow we will have a celebration of her life at St Mary’s – and we hope all her family and friends will be able to come. We’re also having a collection to buy something in memory of Joy at St. Mary’s – possibly something in the garden. If you’d like to give in memory of Sister Draper, our Joy, please drop it into St. Mary’s or get in touch and I’ll give you the bank details.

God bless you, Joy, rest in peace.


This post was written by Rev Lindsey Pearson

Photo:  Joy, on the right in the blue dress, with one of her mums and ‘babies’, Marjorie and Mark. Joy became part of their family and enjoyed many holidays with them.

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7 Replies to “Goodbye to Sister Draper – Joy Astall”

  1. Did my community placement as a student midwife late 70s with Joy. Lunch times she would cook me bacon and eggs. Lovely woman RIP Joy.

  2. My Mum has always sung Sister Drapers praises, but I have never seen a picture of her. I am thankful that I now have a visual reference of the person that brought me into this world.
    My Mother has always told the tale of my birth, especially when my birthday comes around.
    There was a thunderstorm on the morning of my birth in 1967 at 4.30 am, and I had the umbilical chord wrapped around my neck three times before I was born. As far as my Mum was concerned, Sister Draper saved my life, or at least prevented serious injury.
    My Mum has always sung Sister Drapers praises.
    I’m so sorry to learn of her passing as myself and many others owe our existence to her skills.
    Rest in peace Joy, and thank you.

  3. Joy and Brian, along with many others, made us feel welcome when Patricia and I were sent to St David’s in Waincliffe. Joy was a great one for organising and supporting the clergy and she made sure that everyone was made to feel welcome, no matter if it was their first visit, or if they were regular worshippers.
    Joy and Brian loved to spend time gardening and they won many awards for both St David’s and St Mary’s churches.
    Joy also made the most wonderful Christmas cakes which we enjoyed.
    Joy will always hold a special place in our hearts and she will be genuinely missed. She was a great midwife and helped many mothers to bring a new life into this world.
    She was a loyal friend and a great support in so many ways. She was a gentle woman who knew her own mind and she was full of compassion for others.
    We will miss Joy and we have much to thank her and Brian for.
    Our prayers and thoughts are for Joy and for her family, especially for Brian.
    May she rest in peace and rise in Glory.

  4. Sister Draper looked after me in 1976 then again in 1977 . She would turn up in her VW with her little dog she would say she had “just dropped in too see if everything was ok ” because it was after the time she had discharged me , but i think it was for the coal fire and the cricket she would watch with my husband that would bring her. I was a young mum at 19 and couldn’t have wished for a better Midwife when my son wouldn’t feed and i had come home after 5 days in hospital i was at my wits end he was so hungry and crying she walked into are house sent my husband over to the chemist for a tin of SMA and feed my son a 4oz bottle which he didnt come up for air and said ” theres nowt wrong with him duck , he was just hungry “May you fly high with the angels Sister Draper and God rest your soul xxx

  5. Fly high Sister Draper you was 1 in a Million always felt like apart of the Family xx

  6. Enjoy your rest now Aunty, you have been around my whole life, even when I moved away across the world you never missed a xmas card and a present for us and the kids, I’m a better person for knowing you and the whole community will miss you and your talents. The picture above brings back so many happy memories with Nan and Mark, you and Brian apart from the regular clip around the ear I would get for being cheeky.
    Love you lots and miss you heaps.

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