The atmosphere in Horsham was electric this week as hundreds of people joined a New Orleans-style funeral procession to celebrate the life of a popular musician.
Laura Skuce, of Park Terrace East, Horsham, died aged 52 on Sunday November 24 after a short battle with cancer.
She has been described as a ‘larger than life’ woman who made ‘everyone feel as though they were her best friend’.
On Monday (December 9) around 800 friends, family and loved ones swarmed to the Carfax bandstand at 3pm.
The huge crowd was led by colourful music and cheers to St Mary’s Church in the Causeway.
Leading the band was Al Stewart, 56, who said Laura was ‘flamboyant, strong-willed and cantankerous’.
During the service a heartfelt tribute was given by best friend Melanie Curwood-Moss, who worked with Laura at Cottesmore School for a number of years.
She said: “I know that Laura had some incredible friends and she made each and everyone of us feel as though we were her best friend.”
Melanie regaled amusing stories about the duo’s antics during their time together at the school.
“Laura spent most of her days giving to others and somehow in the midst of her crazy musical life she brought three magnificent sons into this world. There is no doubt of how overwhelmingly proud she was of them. They are the most precious legacy that Laura could leave in this world and I think we can all say how privileged we are to know them and to have them in our lives.”
She closed the emotional tribute by saying: “I think the only thing left for me to say is how blessed we all are to have known Laura and that she touched our lives with music, kindness, unfailing support, a wicked sense of humour, bright dazzling colour and beautiful blue eyes.
“Finally, I’d just like to share some of Laura’s finest chosen words of wisdom and advice. Watch your step. But if you do fall, do so fabulously!”
Laura, who leaves behind her sons Ian, 21, Tim, 18 and Will, 13, was in countless choirs, either conducting, accompanying or singing. She also found time to teach at schools.
She was a member of the West Sussex Philharmonic Choir, the North Singers Choir in Loxwood and Cantatrice Voices in Horsham and Steyning to name just a few organisations.
“Laura is such a loss to the musical scene in Horsham in every way,” explained close friend of more than 20 years Rosemary Hensor, who helped organise the procession and service alongside Laura’s brother Peter Skuce and ex-husband Andy Duerden.
She continued: “Laura was wonderfully gifted and talented. She was passionate about Fairtrade chocolate and she believed in 30mph limits.
“She was the kind of person who knew how important it was to know you were loved, and she made it her business to make sure family and friends knew they were loved.”
Rosemary is putting together a book of memories in honour of Laura and asks anyone who would like to share photos to get in touch by emailing email@example.com
Laura’s spark for music was ignited at a very young age. So young, that a piano teacher refused to take her on as a student. Instead, during their first lesson he played her a tune. But Laura told the teacher he had performed it too slowly, and he quickly realised her potential.
Friend Stephen Brundish, 33, said: “You could always hear the sparks going off in her brain - the world needs people like that.”
He had travelled down from Nottingham to take part in the procession.
Even locals who live in the Causeway draped themselves out of windows armed with musical instruments to join in the celebration.
A few weeks before Laura’s death she underwent a major operation to remove an 18cm tumour.
Before the procedure, to calm her trepidation, she downloaded ‘The Show Must Go On’ sung by Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and played it on her iPod at high volume.
Her brother Peter said she claimed this gave her the strength to get through it.
The funeral theme was a line from that song. A plaque reading ‘on with the show’ was placed on her coffin.
Peter said: “The irony is that the operation only held back the cancer for a few short weeks and, as the stars aligned, she finally died on the same day as Freddie Mercury.”
Paying tribute, he added: “Laura could not walk down the street without receiving a greeting, cuddle, or having a chat with someone.
“Even people I was speaking to a few days ago from the bank talked of her as a friend rather than a customer. One told me of how, just a couple of weeks ago, she, having just had a major operation and currently receiving treatment for the cancer, had been persuading him of how he must give up smoking.”
The Cottesmore School community said it is deeply saddened by the news.
A spokesperson said: “Laura was a valued member of the music department’s peripatetic staff for more than 13 years.
“She taught singing across the school and was a daily presence in our Chapel playing the organ, as well as being a prominent member of the team for every school play and concert throughout the year.”
Laura’s ex-husband Andy thanked everyone involved in the funeral for ‘moving heaven and earth’ to make it happen.