Twenty two years ago, as Geordie and I began to spend some time together, his parents, Henry and Jeanie, asked me to supper at their house by the lake in the park at Highclere, showing me round their garden with delight and offering kindness and support.
With a soft American accent despite already living here in the UK for over 40 years, Jeanie was ever charming and courteous. We played tennis and later inspected tadpoles, went on walks, or commiserated when an early frost caught a rhododendron or azalea. At her husband’s side, but also forging her own interests in music and local charities, she was a much loved and respected lady by the time I was lucky enough to meet her. Soon after marrying Geordie, my own mother died, shortly followed by the birth of my son Edward. Jeanie and Henry were wonderful at such a difficult time and in appearance, my son so resembles her.
She became a widow much too soon and yet, with strength and determination, created a different life, traveling to cities for long weekends with us and with friends, exploring the Galapagos or walking Hadrian’s Wall. Despite the deep current grief and loss, we above all remember the better times.
Her rock was her home in Wyoming, a charming ranch house full of memories and above all views. Many of her family are still there and, as she was able to return less often, she kept in touch by phone. It is a huge landscape with distant mountains, clear air, good treks, with fishing and paddling in the cold creeks in the summer. Here she was happy in jeans and plimsolls, spending time with family and friends, thinking nothing of the great distances in order to visit the people she loved.
In contrast, back at Highclere, she was unfailingly beautifully dressed, retaining her elegant figure and sense of style throughout her life, ever smiling and always there by her husband’s side at Ascot races and dinners. She was a practiced hostess, effortlessly taking on a mantel which must have been as daunting then as it was to her earlier predecessors at the Castle. Married in New York, somewhat unusually her new father-in-law and his valet decided to set off on their honeymoon to Florida with them.
Unfortunately the 6th Earl’s golfing tactics on the Florida courses were a little on the innovative side of the rules and perhaps fortunately he returned home early. She had so many stories to tell, so much laughter and when it is too late you always wish you had made some notes.
Hunting for Lottie, Jeanie’s always missing and rather naughty border terrier was a frequent pastime and occupied much of both the family’s and the staff’s time. There seems to be something about Highclere which encourages dogs to roam widely and freely and my dogs certainly seem to follow in Lottie’s footsteps.
Perhaps one of Jeanie’s most lasting legacies will be the Newbury Spring Festival. Forty years ago she had the idea of creating an international classical music festival. Now, for two weeks every May, Newbury plays host to the most remarkable world famous orchestras and performers in a number of venues in and around the town and appealing to a wide variety of tastes. It is a remarkable achievement and one which has considerably enriched this area as well as forging links to encourage children to take up music and perform.
Above all, she will be much missed by her three children, by all her grandchildren, by those like me who became her daughters and son in law, her wider family and her many friends, the whole community at Highclere along with all whose lives she touched. Requiescat in pace.