Welcome to our new ‘Rona Harman’ Visitor Centre at Ferne Animal Sanctuary, officially opened last week by one of Rona’s oldest friend’s Andrea (pictured).
Thanks to Rona’s generous legacy to Ferne, her donation has enabled us build the Visitor Centre for Ferne, a Sanctuary designated to help foster and encourage ‘best animal care practice’ and help educate all our visitors about animal welfare well into the future.
Rona Cynthia Harman was born on the 16th April 1943, the only child of film processing supervisor William Harman and woollen garment finisher Martha.
As a child, Rona divided her time between her parents’ London home in Harrow and their holiday home on the Dorset coast.
Family photographs show a happy childhood with holidays by the sea shared with family and friends as well as animals of all different shapes and sizes. It is evident from the extensive collection of photographs that Rona and her family were animal lovers and the animals accompanied them on many of their holidays.
As Rona grew up her love affair with animals continued; her family continued to visit the South West, a particular favourite family place was Mangerton Mill, a seventeenth-century water mill in rural Dorset.
One of Rona’s other passions was books and reading and therefore it is unsurprising that she chose a career in the library service working in libraries in London throughout her career. Sadly her career was cut short by ill health and she took early retirement, remaining in the London home of her parents.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Rona was also an excellent needlewoman not only producing beautiful pieces of stitchwork but also teaching herself to frame them!
In later life she cared for her elderly mother until her death. Relieved of her caring responsibilities Rona indulged in her other lifelong passion – films. Being a librarian, however, she was careful to catalogue every visit in her diary demonstrating an eclectic taste having watched films as diverse as Shine and Fly Away Home!
Animals played an important part in Rona’s life – there is hardly a photograph that doesn’t show an animal of one sort or another enjoying life with the family. From our research, we can identify at least seven dogs, one cat and three tortoises.
The Harman family animals came in all shapes and sizes from a little fluffy Pomeranian through to a German Shepherd cross with pointy ears and a brush for a tail!
Rona’s three tortoises called Nefertiti, Cleopatra and Jennifer lived with them in London. In June 1999 as her health declined, Rona decided that she would ask Ferne to look after them. It is unclear how she knew about Ferne and our work before she asked us to take on her tortoises. At the time we took the tortoises in they were already venerable old ladies. Their admission paperwork indicates that Cleopatra was temperamental, Jennifer had something of biting habit and could not be relied upon but Nefertiti was described as friendly. Cleopatra and Jennifer passed away in their sixties but Nefertiti lived well into her seventies and is fondly remembered by some of the current animal care team.
Rona’s closest friend Andrea remembers her friend…
“Rona talked about her holidays, her friends and the animals here at Ferne often. She would spend her day talking to the staff and animals and she would tell me of the lovely meals eaten in the café – watching the world go by! She spent many happy times here.
Rona’s favourite animal was the tortoise, and for years she had 3 in her back garden, she said they were the best grass cutters! Sadly when Rona became ill, she could no longer look after them and they found a new home at the sanctuary. When she came back from holiday she always mentioned that she had seen “the girls” who looked happy and well.
Rona would be thrilled the new visitor centre is named in her honour and helps to strengthen and further develop the good works of the Sanctuary.”
In June 1999 as her health declined, Rona re-homed her tortoises to us to look after. She used to visit them regularly until Nefertiti passed away in 2009. The staff here remember her as a quiet and unassuming lady with a lovely smile and laughing eyes who was always interested in our work and in particular the tortoises.
In 2009 Rona became a Friend of Ferne with a monthly standing order that continued until her death. We continued to correspond with her and she received the then quarterly newsletter.
On one of her visits, Rona asked if Ferne would act as Executor for her will which although we had not done previously we agreed to. She never discussed leaving a legacy to Ferne so we were both surprised and humbled to find that she had left the majority of her estate to Ferne.
Rona passed away in July 2015 after a long period of very poor health.
As a result of her legacy, we have been able to build this amazing new centre that will welcome visitors for years to come and help us educate more people how to take better care of their animals. We think she would have approved!