Today we celebrate the life and works of Anna Roberts, a woman nothing short of remarkable who leaves a rich legacy. She was wife to Peter, mother to three daughters, nan to six grandchildren, business woman, entrepreneur and co-founder of Compassion in World Farming.
Since their holiday romance in the 1950s, Anna and Peter were inseparable; so much so that on Peter’s funeral flowers, Anna wrote; ‘wait for me Peter’.
When they were together, Anna needed no one to wait for her; she was forceful and energetic. Anna proved the adage; behind every great man is a great woman. When they were still farming in Hampshire, in the 1960s, a farm adviser came knocking at his door; one of an army tasked with spreading the word about intensive farming. ‘If you want to boost your business’, the official visitor told Peter, ‘you’ll have to move into intensive chicken rearing’; that meant rearing chickens, lots of them, in large industrial sheds; it meant factory farming.
Although he already kept a few hundred chickens, Peter was uncomfortable. That evening, he discussed it with Anna. Never one to duck the issue, her reaction was instant; “If you want to do this, Peter, I won’t stop you, but I don’t agree with it!”
It was to be the turning point; they gave up farming and went into the business of feeding people through their company, Direct Foods – importing soya products from America, and of combating cruelty through setting up the animal welfare society, Compassion in World Farming.
Compassion was the word; for people as well as animals; they saw factory farming as being both cruel to animals and worsening world hunger.
Compassion was the deed; seeing it as something much more than dietary choice; as seeing animals as individuals deserving respect in their own right.
Compassion was the spirit, of everything they did; Anna was never the public face of the organisation, but she drove it with her determination, her tenacity, her passion. Peter and Anna discussed things constantly. Anna printed the leaflets, primed the pumps and shaped the thinking. She was the driving emotion, the fire in the furnace of an organisation that would take on some of the biggest vested interests in farming with unshakeable belief. Anna worked full time in support of Peter and as a board member until the late 1980s.
In 1978, Anna set up the Bran Tub, a compassionate food palace on Lavant Street, Petersfield, that is still going strong today. The offices above were where Compassion in World Farming used to be based; it was where I first met both Anna and Peter as a young lad in 1990.
Family was hugely important to Anna. She loved it when all the family would converge on Copse House, the family home they bought in the mid-60s. It was a home steeped in love and laughter, not to mention different types of nut-roast; being the venue for family gatherings; birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and every Christmas.
She was forceful, tenacious and, to her family, often quite strict. Anna’s daughter, Gill, still recalls how she had her mouth washed out with soap. I must confess during all the time I worked and knew Anna, I never had that experience; although in unguarded moments, the odd swear-word nearly proved my undoing!
When Peter was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, Anna put her all into caring for him. In his last years, she was his full time carer, often declining outside care that was offered and that she richly deserved. When Peter was admitted to hospital in October 2006, passing away in the November, Anna found life truly unbearable. She struggled emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Anna and Peter shared a very strong belief that life on Earth is only part of the journey, and that loved ones are reunited in the afterlife.
‘Wait for me Peter’ are the words Anna wrote over six years ago; it was her heartfelt plea. Today, reunited, their wait is over.