Joan Brittain – A eulogy to my mother
By Dr Richard Brittain LLB
14 July 2015
My mother was many things to many people and she relished, and thrived on her eclecticism.
Originally she was the youngest child of a family in rural South Wales.
Raised in the Methodist tradition she was always highly principled and would brook no waste and even in later life shunned many attempts to indulge her comfort.
Her passion for:
- complying with the recycling imperatives of the current era;
- Re-using wrapping paper amongst other things; and
- Declining numerous offers of breakfast (and other meals) in bed:
Were well known
The latter on the basis that she was raised as a Methodist and therefore could not risk having any crumbs in her bed.
Her youth in Wales was dominated by the exigencies of the Second World War and the intrinsic isolation of the rural location.
Notwithstanding these environmental factors her parents were both principled and nurturing people with a passion for culture and politics who encouraged and supported my mother to achieve everything that she was capable of.
As a teenager my mother won a scholarship to the Gowerton School,an accolade reserved to the more intellectually gifted and in those days a potential pathway to a university education available to so few women.
However, she decided to assertthe independence that she subsequently became famous for by refusing to go, to the great disappointment of her parents who were at a loss for how to respond to this situation.
A solution was provided by an aunt of mother’s who lived in London and was well socially connected and my mother came to London and stayed with her aunt at number 47 Belgrave Square before taking up her first job as an administrative assistant in the offices of the late Sir Oswald Mosley. A person whom she described as a perfect gentleman.
My mother met and married my father in London and they were married for nearly half a century until my father’s death in 1997.
My mother also distinguished herself professionally as a retail manager in Daniel Neal’s in Portman Square, a shop specialising in children’s wear that later became part of the John Lewis Partnership.
The latter encompasses the Peter Jones Department store in Sloane Square that my mother described as a temple of retail therapy – and many of us enjoyed some lovely meals with my mother at their Brasserie overlooking Sloane Square which was a particular favourite of hers.
My mother was also very much involved with bringing Montessori Education to this part of London after she joined Elizabeth Hood assisting her with the nursery school that she had established in 1960. This led to a long term friendship that endured until my mother passed away.
Many people have observed that the many children who went on from the Montessori schools run by Elizabeth Hood and my mother were distinguished by their superior bearing and preparedness for the next stages of their education.
Despite having only one child (in order to concentrate on being the best parent possible) my mother was involved with nurturing so many children in this part of London that she has been aptly described by one very special friend of mine as the ‘Mrs Chips’ of SW11.
My mother also under took and eventually became an Advanced City and Guilds women’s tailoring lecturer assisting many women to become professional clothes makers and designers.
She balanced this by running dress making classes for special needs people and worked with students from theSt Martin’s School of Art undertaking the fashion and design module of their degrees in art.
She became a member of the Rotary Club of Battersea Park when my father passed away where she became a Paul Harris Fellow and a member of the Gang of Four.
Notwithstanding a venerability that would have entitled her to attend the Battersea Park Christmas charity lunch for the elderly she was an enthusiastic volunteer at this function for many years
Her interests also extended to be being an active member of the:
- Battersea Society;
- Friends of Battersea Park;
- Westminster Decorative & Fine Arts Society; and
- National Trust.
She was an active member of this parish and a dedicated flower arranger.
The common thread that ran through all my mother’s undertakings was her principled approach.
My mother would always do her best and try to do whatever she did well. She would always try to get it right and do a good job.
Whatever she did she did with an infectious enthusiasm and high energy.
She never appeared un-prepared, dishevelled or fatigued and as her energy waned she would do less and less but always with the same enthusiasm, verve and meticulous preparation.
She was uncompromising on her principles but tactful and compassionate. On matters of principle it was often said that she was very ‘black and white’, in fact with my mother important things were always very ‘black or white’.
In addition to being principled she genuinely loved people and was a ‘people person’. She had a huge range of friends spanning the entire compass of society and the huge range of activities with which she was involved.
She was always stylish but understated and tried to persuade me to be the same.
Whilst my mother was many things to many people she was to me:
- A mother who provided unconditional love;
- A mentor;
- A model;
- An advocate;
- A wise counsel;
- A consoler; and
- A very good companion.
She helped me to develop an appreciation of what is really important in life, and a positive attitude was one of the main things that she emphasised.
She advocated an appreciation of our rich culture and heritage as well as of good food, good wine, good company.
She abhorred open clashes and would never go to sleep on a row, a principle that she regularly demonstrated on my famous Christmas visits where we both enjoyed many a robust discussion on a wide range of topics over a night cap.
As we mark my mother’s passing I have no doubt that she would have wanted us to treat this occasion as a celebration of her life.
As an opportunity to reflect on, and cherish the good memories of the times that we had together, and the positive influence that she has had on our lives – to be thankful that she was, rather than to be sorry that she is no longer. To appreciate her legacy and the many lessons that she taught us all on how to live respected and die regretted.
In summing up her life I can do no better that to use her own words as she said ‘I have had a good life’, and I give thanks for the part of my journey through life that I was fortunate to share with her.
I thank everyone for the lovely, kind, positive and humorous words that they have said about my late mother. These have been an enormous support at this difficult time.