CAMDEN — Noel Cox, a sociable and inveterate traveler, embarked on her final journey Jan. 5, 2023, to what Shakespeare called “that undiscovered country.” She was 79. It was hard for her family to wave goodbye, but it must have been a relief to Noel to be on the move again. In recent years, her once-wide vistas had narrowed. She had been trapped in her tiny Camden cottage with only gargantuan houseplants for company during the pandemic lockdown. No sooner had she regained her freedom than she was struck by a neurodegenerative disease that robbed her of the independence she cherished. Yet at no point in her travails did Noel ever lose her innate elegance or her sportive attitude. To the end, she obeyed the vow of the Girl Guides that she had taken to heart as a child: “A Guide smiles and sings under all difficulties.”

Noel Mary Gillman was born Oct. 31, 1943, in Cape Town, South Africa, to Frank Neville Gillman and Violet Mary Gillman. The family’s modest suburban house lay across the road from the edge of the Indian Ocean, where Frank cleared rocks away to create a sandy beach for his daughter and her younger brother, Peter. The beach is still there today. From her mother, Noel learned to be resourceful and industrious, and to strive cheerfully to do her best. From her father, Noel inherited a restless nature and a passion for travel. All her life she liked nothing better than organizing trips, going on journeys, and making friendly connections. Noel never wanted an EZ-Pass for her car because she didn’t like to miss the opportunity of chatting with the highway tollbooth attendants.

At 17, unhappy at school and eager to see the world, Noel left South Africa with her newly retired father. The two embarked on a great international adventure, traveling by freighter up the east coast of Africa and stopping repeatedly along the way. Noel remembered anchoring off Somalia and seeing passengers whisked to Mogadishu in little baskets on a cable strung between the ship and the shore. Father and daughter visited Venice and the Greek islands and eventually landed in Brussels, Belgium. There, the intrepid teenager secured lodgings and a job looking after children in a nursery, while her father returned to South Africa to collect the rest of the family. For the next few years, Noel alternated between working and hitchhiking around Europe with friends. At 19, while staying at a youth hostel in Scotland, she met Allan Cox, an American who was touring Europe by motorcycle with his brother, Bob.

In June 1963, Noel and Allan were married at her parents’ new home in England. Eleven months later, now settled in the United States, the young couple welcomed a daughter, Meghan. Soon thereafter, Noel earned her GED and hired on to drive a school bus. It was a job that she loved, and that typified her approach to life: it involved chatting and being in charge; it earned her a bit of money (but not much; Noel was never ambitious that way); and, because Meghan could come along, it meant she could maximize time with her child. In 1970, Noel and Allan were divorced, but they remained lifelong friends. Noel eventually became the manager of the bus company where she’d begun as a driver. In 1976, Meghan moved to Maine to live with her father, who’d built a homestead in Appleton, and, in 1980, Noel followed them as far as Camden.

The town was the perfect match for this energetic, outspoken, cultured and civic-minded woman. While working various jobs, Noel threw herself into community life. She was a pioneering member of West Bay Rotary (becoming the club’s first female president and many times a Paul Harris Fellow), a dedicated usher for Bay Chamber, and an active participant in the life of the Congregational Church (it is she who came up with the name “Heavenly Threads” for the church thrift shop). Noel loved Mozart, Strauss and Bach, and she loved to sing. Her clear alto could be heard amid the voices of the Down East Singers and in the chorus of the Surrey Opera Company, with which, to her abiding pride, she traveled to the Soviet Union to sing Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” on stage. In addition, Noel arranged and led trips to Australia for her fellow Rotarians; to France and England for guests of Tauck Tours; and, in collaboration with Congregational minister Archie McRee, to Greece, Turkey, and Israel — in the footsteps of Paul the Apostle — for her fellow churchgoers.

These excursions were in some respects the least of the expeditions Noel took. Her parents had relocated to Valentia Island, off the west coast of Ireland, and it was one of the joys of Noel’s life to visit that wild and beautiful place. As a young woman, she used to take Meghan out of school before the end of the academic year (when airfares are less expensive), so the two of them could maintain treasured relationships in England and Ireland. In her middle years, Noel returned twice to South Africa to revisit the scenes of her youth and to reconnect with members of her extended family. Well into her seventies, she would not hesitate to jump in the car — even in the teeth of a snowstorm — to whiz off to Ontario or Quebec or Maryland or Connecticut or South Carolina or rural New York if it meant she could spend time with the many people she cared about.

Noel reveled in her role as a mother and grandmother, often describing herself as “the” mother and “the” grandmother, to the mingled amusement and chagrin of other mothers and grandmothers. And though she was never much of a cook, each December she scrupulously followed a century-old family recipe for Christmas cakes, producing loaves so dense and buttery that she single-handedly converted scores of skeptics to the merits of this much-maligned Yuletide treat.

Noel is survived by her daughter Meghan Cox Gurdon and her husband Hugo Gurdon, of Rockport; her grandchildren Molly (and her husband, Nathan Pinkoski), Paris, Violet, Phoebe and Flora; her great-grandson Philip; her former brother-in-law Robert Cox and his wife Lynda, of Cape Cod; her ex-husband’s second wife (and dear friend) Grace Simonson, of Camden, and her children, Lizzie and Tom; by her brother, Peter Gillman and his wife Angela, of Coulsdon, England, along with their children Carol and Michael, and their families; and by a cadre of great friends — Becky, Margo, Louise, Gillian, Kathleen, Laura, Kashi, Lisa, Essie, Wendy, Freya, Leslie, Claudia, the Debs and so many more — who kept vigil with her until the end. Noel is greatly loved and badly missed.

A memorial service and a celebration of her life will be held Jan. 28 at 3:30 p.m. at the First Congregationalist Church, 55 Elm St., Camden ME 04843. Donations in Noel’s memory may be made, if desired, to the Shields Mission Project, at the church, or to the West Bay Rotary Club, P.O. Box #1033, Camden ME 02843.