Geraldine Connor: ‘Her immense talents were a gift to Leeds’

REMEMBERED: The Service of Thanksgiving.

REMEMBERED: The Service of Thanksgiving.

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Hundreds of mourners packed into a Leeds church to mourn theatre director, writer, teacher and black arts pioneer Geraldine Connor.

The 59-year old - best known for her spectacular world-renowned production Carnival Messiah – died suddenly last month of a heart attack.

Among close friends at yesterday’s funeral service at St Aiden’s Church in Roundhay Road was David Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood, who helped wheel in her coffin and read an extract from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Dozens of dignitaries, artists and performers also paid their respects. Among several emotional musical performances was one from Anne Fridal, who knew Miss Connor for 40 years, singing Ride On, King Jesus.

Opening the service, the Rev Alan Taylor, who is also the current Lord Mayor of Leeds, said Miss Connor had made an “enormous contribution” to the city.

“She has inspired and encouraged both young and old to develop their musical skills and ambitions,” he said. “She has left an indelible mark in the lives of many. Our city has been enriched by her talents and gifts.”

Professor Gus John, who knew Miss Connor for more than 30 years, read Miss Connor’s eulogy, having earlier led the funeral procession in.

“How does one do justice to such a monumental figure?” he said. “One with such irrepressible volcanic energy.”

He spoke of her passion for teaching and “unlocking the talents of children and adults alike”, and her “groundbreaking” work in promoting the steel band movement in Leeds. There were emotional readings from Miss Connor’s nieces Teo and Casey, who paid tribute to their “special and talented” aunt and urged her friends to carry on her good work.

One entry in the book of condolences, from Harry Hanna, said: “A true one off. She was the kind of person who lit up the room. There will never be anyone quite like her and the world has lost a bit of its colour.”

She was born in London in 1952 but spent many of her early years in Trinidad and Tobago. Her parents Edric and Pearl were also pioneers of African-Caribbean arts in the UK. As well as her theatre work, she was an academic and lecturer, teaching at the Leeds College of Music and the University of Leeds.

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