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“I love all of the 21 years I spent with her.” Tributes to a Cwmbran foster mum who cared for 30 children

The family of Rachel Williams have paid tribute to the 48-year-old who passed away at her home in Two Locks.

The mum-of-one took medication for epilepsy and was found lying face down in her bath by her partner, Chris Fowler, 52. Her funeral was held on Thursday 1 April 2021 and the family are now waiting for the coroner to give “closure.”

Rachel Williams and Chris Fowler
Rachel and Chris

Chris and Rachel’s mum, Beryl Williams and her brother Steven Williams met Cwmbran Life to share their memories of the woman they said was an “inspiration.” 

Chris said: “We met in 1999 and she blew me away from the first moment I met her. I asked her if she wanted a pint and she replied, ‘no. I’m perfectly capable of buying my own drinks. Do you want one?’ And I went, ‘ok’.

“From that moment I knew she was the one. We moved in together in 2001. We always had nieces and nephews around. In 2005 she said to me, ‘I want to foster’.  I went to work, came home and she said, ‘I’ve booked us in for a Skills to Foster course’. I said I would go along and see if I like it or not and I’ve never looked back. 

“It was the best thing we ever did. In total it’s got to be 30 children we have fostered. You have your ups and downs, there have been some difficult times. It’s rewarding when you see the end product and you see how you’ve changed a child’s life.

“We’ve always treated them as ours, like family and brought them in as that. Rachel was inspirational. She fought for the children tooth and nail. She loved it (being a foster mum) with a passion.  Her biggest regret was she always wanted to work with children but her epilepsy prevented her from doing that.” 

Chris said fostering was Rachel’s way of achieving her ambition.

“The first child we had got attached to Rachel. When she was in the toilet he used to stand outside and say, ‘are you coming out soon?’.”

The couple took a 12-month break from fostering when Tracey, the partner of her brother, Steven, died in 2006. Rachel and her mum Beryl, helped to look after his children when he was at work.

Chris said: “We got back into it and never looked back.”

In her late teens she was diagnosed with crohn’s disease and in 2003 had an operation to have parts of her bowels and intestines removed.

Chris said: “The doctor told us she was in incredible pain but she came back smiling.”

Beryl said: “She never let her illnesses beat her. She always fought them right to the end and she never complained about them. The children came first. She turned around to me one day and said, ‘the point is mam, I’m the strongest’.”

“She was an inspiration”

Chris said: “She was an inspiration. I took so much strength from her. I didn’t whinge around her. How could you say to someone who was as strong as that, ‘oh, I’ve got a headache’. You just took a painkiller.”

The operation made it harder to fall pregnant so they decided to adopt and were matched with Gracie-May, who was six-months-old and is now seven.

Gracie-May and Rachel Williams
Gracie-May was adopted by Rachel and Chris when she was six months old

Chris said: From the moment we saw her. Rachel idolised Gracie-May.”

Steven said: “She’s a gift from God. They are the spitting image of each other, the same thick hairstyle.”

Chris said: We went up to meet Gracie-May and as soon as we walked in she gave us the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. It was love at first sight. She’s so much like Rachel, even look wise. It was meant to be.

“She will be missed but she lives on in our daughter and lives on in everything that we do. And she lives on through all the foster kids. They’ve all got little traits of her. I take great pride in that.

“She was a fantastic mother to Gracie May and all the foster children. I’m so proud of everything she has done.”

They told how all the foster children were spoiled by Rachel. 

Steven said: “She was in her oils when she was out shopping. You would drop her in town and she would be there for hours. If there was a bargain to be had, Rachel was there.”

Chris said: “When she was shopping it was always for the children.”

“She had a big heart”

Rachel, her mum Beryl, and Gracie-May
Rachel, her mum Beryl, and Gracie-May

Beryl said: “Two years after two children left she found presents she had hidden for them. When we had Gracie May in her pushchair we used to go to town and how that pushchair didn’t collapse because she used to have bag over bag . You had a job to get on the bus.  It’s a sad time but we can think of the jolly times as well.

“Every time she was out shopping she was said ‘oh, the kids would love this’. She had a big heart.”

Steve said he would sometimes be asked to pick her up from town and she would fill up his boot and then tell him to come back later when she had finished shopping.

Gracie-May and Rachel Williams
Gracie-May and Rachel

Chris said: “Rachel was part of a successful campaign to get a park built in Sandybrook Park. She started a committee and they got it built.

“She always has a smile on her face. She always had good things to say to people. If you had problems, she would give you advice.”

Beryl said her daughter stayed up all night to make Steven’s children Easter bonnets to wear to school the next day: “She was good like that.”

Beryl said: “When you talk about her like this you know how much love she put in people’s hearts. My sister-in-law died two weeks before Rachel. With the two of them up there, they will cause chaos.”

Gracie-May and Rachel Williams
Gracie-May and Rachel

Steven said: “Once you met Rachel, you never forgot her. 100%.”

They enjoyed big family holidays to caravan parks and these left an impression on the children in their care.

Chris said: “It gave the foster children a sense of family, you all muck in and play.” One former foster child bumped into Rachel and told how he takes his own child on caravan holidays as “that’s what he remembers the most and how much fun he had. He told her, ‘They were the best’.”

He said fostering became a way of life for other children in his family. “They always knew kids in, kids out, always been welcome to them, the whole family have always been welcome to all the children. That’s what helped them settle so much.”

Chris said: She will always be around. You can’t keep her from her little girl.”

“Gracie-May’s school (Nant Celyn Primary) have been fantastic.  They have been so supportive. Somebody has set up a GoFundMe. It’s humbling.”

A gift pack
A gift pack made by parents at Nant Celyn Primary School for Gracie-May

At 7.45pm on Saturday 13 March, the day before Mother’s Day, Rachel went upstairs for a bath. 

Chris said: “She used to hate people fussing over her. I’d remind her in the morning to take tablets, then when I got to work I would phone her on a pretence. She would say, ‘bugger off, leave me alone.’ 

“But it was always a worry. Three times I had saved her from drowning in the bath when she was having a seizure.  I always knew the bath was going to be the end of her. Always knew.”

A few minutes after she went upstairs Chris heard a noise but thought it was the girls in the living room.

“I said to them, ‘I don’t know what you lot are doing, stop messing around’.  It didn’t enter my head that it could have been upstairs. I went up about 15 to 20 mins later and that’s when I found her.

“I questioned why I didn’t follow her upstairs. I questioned why when I heard the bang it didn’t enter my head that it might have been Rachel in the bath. I thought it was the kids in here messing around. It sounded like it came from in here.”

Her funeral service was held at St Gabriel’s Church and she was buried at Llwyncelyn Cemetery.

Chris said: “The last couple of weeks have been a blur. but I take inspiration because I know she was well loved. I’m so proud of her. She was phenomenal. The way she fought for these kids was fantastic. Always there to support them, no matter what.

“She will live on through us all. She taught us all good lessons.”

“I love all of the 21 and half years I spent with her. There are so many loving memories.”

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“I love all of the 21 years I spent with her.” Tributes to a Cwmbran foster mum who cared for 30 children

Steven, Beryl and Chris
Steven, Beryl and Chris paid tribute to Rachel

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