Brian's tribute to wife Jill unearths carving talent

Brian and Jill were married for nearly thirty-nine years.

Brian and Jill were married for nearly thirty-nine years. - Credit: Brian Stannard

A man from Martlesham has turned his hand to wood carving after losing his wife, unearthing a hidden talent. 

Since he revealed the plaque he carved for his late wife, Jill, Brian Stannard has been inundated with requests for more of his creations. 

Brian says he finds wood carving 'very therapeutic.'

Brian says he finds wood carving 'very therapeutic.' - Credit: Brian Stannard

The couple were married for almost 39 years until Jill died after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2021. 

From the moment they met, Brian remembers, he was dazzled by the young Jill Setchell.

They met for the first time when she was 16, through a great friend of Brian’s who was married to her cousin. 

Their paths crossed again sometime later at Woodbridge Community Centre. 

Brian and Jill were married on September 4, 1982.

Brian and Jill were married on September 4, 1982. - Credit: Brian Stannard

“A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a disco, and I said, go on then, I’ve got nothing else to do, even though I wasn’t really into discos,” Brian remembers. 

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It was lucky Brian did go, for Jill was there with her friends, and he was absolutely smitten even though he "wasn't very cool in those days". 

They arranged to meet at the Bredfield Castle pub where Brian played darts and asked if she would pop over.

He said: “Time passed and she didn’t turn up. I said to a friend of mine who worked behind the bar, 'you know Jill? If she turns up, give me a ring.' 

“I was at home in Kesgrave when the phone rang. It was him, saying, 'Brian, Jill Setchell’s here! I said, keep her there, I’ll be there in a few minutes!'” 

Brian hotfooted it to the pub, and the pair hit it off. He invited her to a friend’s wedding reception that weekend, and Jill agreed. They were together ever since. 

Jill and Brian spent many happy years together, and had two daughters and six grandchildren.

Jill and Brian spent many happy years together, and had two daughters and six grandchildren. - Credit: Brian Stannard

Around one year later, on September 4, 1982, the couple were married.

Their first daughter, Tara, arrived in 1983, and their second, Chloe, followed in 1987. 

Brian and Jill, both originally from Suffolk, he from Letheringham and her from Woodbridge, moved around to follow Brian’s career in metallurgy.

“It’s melting metal and putting it into moulds,” he explains, or “bucket chemistry at very high temperatures.” 

Brian’s career took them to Kuwait, Sheffield and Gloucestershire before the family eventually moved back to Suffolk to spend time with Jill’s elderly parents. 

Brain found work at Ransomes, while Jill worked first as a receptionist for Framfield House GP Surgery in Woodbridge, and then at Woodbridge Golf Club. 

She was very happy in this job, and remained working there for 15 years. 

Brian has unearthed a talent for wood carving he never knew he had.

Brian has unearthed a talent for wood carving he never knew he had. - Credit: Stannard

Jill had had a lump removed from her breast in 2013, and was monitored. Around the end of 2019, secondaries were found on her lungs, and then on her liver. 

Brian had been due to retire in May of 2020, but lockdown saw to it that that he didn’t return to work after being furloughed, so he was able to care for Jill during her treatment. 

She received one round of chemotherapy, before the doctors told them that Jill only had a few weeks to live. 

Brian Jill were both native to Suffolk, but spent many years moving about to follow Brian's career.

Brian Jill were both native to Suffolk, but spent many years moving about to follow Brian's career. - Credit: Brian Stannard

“After that, Jill took over,” says Brian. “She planned everything with the funeral, which is why she was buried at Greenwoods. I never knew there was a local one. 

“She chose everything, right down to the music. She didn’t want a big funeral, just close friends and family. She’d had a word with St Elizabeth Hospice. She told them, 'I don’t want to be at home when I die. This house is for living.'

“She went there on the pretext of letting me get the house ready for her and giving me some respite.” 

Jill arrived at the hospice on a Friday. She died with Brian by her side, on Monday, May 17.  

Jill loved sculptures of hares, says Brian.

Jill loved sculptures of hares, says Brian. - Credit: Brian Stannard

She was 61, and leaves behind two daughters and six grandchildren. 

Jill, Brian says, was an incredible woman. “She organised me for most of my life.” 

After she died, he was determined to create something for Jill’s resting place. 

“At Greenwoods, they don’t allow headstones, it’s all got to be wooden,” says Brian. “So, I thought, I’ll make her a memorial plaque. I bought a book on lettering and carving, and it went from there.” 

“It took me a couple of months. Jill was very interested in sculptures of hares. I don’t know how many we've got in this house. So, I thought I’d relief carve the running hare into it. We put the plaque into place around August-September. 

Brian spent many weeks carving this memorial plaque for his beloved Jill.

Brian spent many weeks carving this memorial plaque for his beloved Jill. - Credit: Brian Stannard

“I used to love art. I used to draw birds when I was younger and I got an O-level art at Woodbridge school. Other than that, I appreciate art but I’ve always been more of a hands-on sort of guy.” 

However, creating the memorial plaque ignited the spark, and Brian carried on carving after it was finished. 

Others have been impressed with Brian’s creations, and reached out, asking him to create them plaques and monuments to commemorate their loved ones. 

“I’m not interested in money, as long as I've got enough to buy the wood and tools,” says Brian. “It keeps me busy, and it’s very therapeutic.” 

Brian now divides his time between wood carving, and spending time with his and Jill’s six grandchildren.