On July 29th, in Paris, Odette Tester passed into God’s presence, three months short of her 103rd birthday. Loved by all, she was herself the embodiment of a faithful Christian who generously loved others, prayed fervently for her entire worldwide family, and above everything loved God and her Saviour, Jesus.
Born Odette Emilie Georgette Marie Brunnet a year after the end of the first world war, she was brought up in Laon, France, subsequently moving to Paris in her teenage years. She was the second eldest of five siblings and her childhood was very happy, all of them adept at playing various musical instruments, encouraged by their parents. During the Christmas school holidays in 1931 John Tester, aged 11, stayed with a family in Laon, during which time he was shown a picture of young Odette. Somewhat prophetically, and akin to a fairy tale romance, he stated that she was the person he would marry. In 1945, following the liberation of Paris, Odette travelled to London to look after Doreen, John’s sister, who was in remission from breast cancer, and her two children. On arrival John opened the door, and for both of them it was immediate ‘love at first sight’.
Odette and John were married on 22nd September 1951, soon after John graduated from medical school. They knew by then that they were called to serve at The Nazareth Hospital, John having visited during the war whilst serving in the RAF as a meteorological officer – to be met by Dr William Bathgate’s first words to him, “Well, you are on the staff now.” They arrived in Nazareth in May 1952, Odette heavily pregnant with her first child. The early years were extraordinarily austere and facilities basic in the extreme. As John set about the task of trying to modernise the hospital and build the medical team, Odette became the mother to Anne-Francois (1952), Patricia (‘Poush-Poush’, 1955), and Genevieve (1957). In 1961 Annelise was fostered into the family together with her mother. Over time, Odette was also ‘mother to the community’, providing comfort and succour to any and all.
Throughout those hard years Odette’s commitment to John, her family, and to the people of Nazareth, was a bedrock of devotion, support, love and prayer. Her demonstration of selfless service for the Lord was met by enduring bonds of affection from both the townsfolk and the various hospital staff that came and went. Still today, Nazarenes who knew Odette and John speak of their deep love and affection for them.
When the family moved to Edinburgh in 1969, with John becoming Secretary of the EMMS as well as having a job in the Scottish Health Department, Odette adapted her life of service to helping run the student hostel in Mayfield Terrace – ‘The Mish’ – where this new community became another extended family, characterised by great fun and good fellowship. As well as continuing to be the cornerstone of immediate family life, she was frequently the listening ear and unofficial mentor of many a student resident, including myself in 1972-74. She took a prayerful interest in each and every one, for all were precious in God’s sight. This generosity of faith, and largesse of human spirit, extended to the poor and homeless of Edinburgh. It was quite normal for Odette and John to welcome a small number of the city’s rough sleepers to Sunday afternoon tea at The Mish just prior to everyone dashing off to evening church services, and this habit continued in their home after the student hostel closed.
Family tragedy struck Odette and John when their daughter Poush-Poush and her partner died in a road accident in the Scottish Borders in November 1992. Their 18-month grandson spent weeks in hospital and was subsequently raised by Anne-Francois and her husband Alain in Paris. It was natural for Odette and John to move to Paris in full retirement, residing at Rue Alexandre Fleming – an address which befitted their lives linked to pioneering medicine. There they received many visitors from their wide circle of friends, especially those connected with Nazareth. Odette suffered the loss of dear John in 2006, followed sadly by Anne-Francois in 2011, but she continued to live independently until her final days. Until the last, Odette would receive visitors with sincere hugs, Godly warmth and humour, a demeanour which honoured the Lord and diminished herself, and promises of ongoing prayer. To be a visitor was to be spiritually immersed and uplifted – an experience of being embraced and enveloped by love in the presence of a modern-day saint.
“Life is the battle that must be won.” (Odette)
“Never go to bed with an argument.” (Odette & John)
Peter Turnpenny & Annielise Bensoussan