Marigold Pakenham-Walsh (-2017)

Marigold Pakenham-Walsh (1930-2017)

Born in Kent, to a decorated soldier from Ireland and an Australian. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College, becoming Head Girl, and is remembered for giving her leaver’s lecture entirely in Latin. She returned regularly to the school as she sat on the Council for fifteen years.

She read Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, becoming Senior Student, and co-founded the University Archery Club, (aka the Cambridge Bowmen). After Cambridge, she spent some time in Greece on archaeological digs but returned to London to pursue her interest in the administration of education, a lifelong passion.

After a period at the Inner London Education Authority, she moved to Bedford College where she worked on the merger with Royal Holloway College; after its successful conclusion she was a made a Fellow.

Outside work her interests in the 60’s and 70’s included a farm in Horsham with a herd of Jersey cows, all individually named by Marigold. She was a life-long cricket fan as well as a supporter of Liverpool FC and she kept an LFC pennant in every home.

Marigold’s initial move to Ansford, along with Pat Salmon, was as a weekender, before their final move to Bruton in 1997. In both places they made their mark joining in fully with the Church and supporting many community events.

Marigold was intelligent, well-read, always interested in the wider world and unfailingly unflappable and cheerful.

Kat Tribute 31 March 2017 – by Richard Pakenham-Walsh

Marigold was always known to her close family as Kat, which seems to have started when she was a little girl and her parents nicknamed her “PussyKat” (with a “K”), for reasons which are now unclear.

She was born in Kent in 1930, the youngest of three children. She had two elder brothers, Ernest, who was known as “Perns” and my father William who was known as “Bill”.  Evidently nicknames were very much in vogue in the Pakenham-Walsh family at the time.

Kat’s parents were Ridley and Mabel.  Ridley was a professional soldier in the Royal Engineers who had been born in Kilkenny in Ireland and eventually rose to the rank of General.  He and Mabel had met and married in 1915 while he was posted to Australia, shortly before he was sent to Gallipoli and later the Western Front where he served with distinction.

Notwithstanding her Irish/Australian ancestry, Kat’s upbringing seems to have been conventionally English, though no doubt tempered by her Australian mother’s irrepressible sense of fun.  Apparently at some point during her childhood Kat and her mother returned to Australia and she met the Australian side of her family for the first time.

Kat was nine when the Second World War broke out.  Her father Ridley was quickly mobilised and deployed to France, only to be badly wounded during the evacuation from Dunkirk. The War years involved considerable upheaval for Kat. After her father recovered from his wounds, the family moved first to Kent, where she witnessed the Battle of Britain at first hand and had frequently to take refuge in the family air raid shelter, the nearest bomb once falling in their next door neighbour’s garden.

During the next few years of the war, the family home moved from Kent to Belfast, the Yorkshire Moors and then Salisbury Plain as Ridley moved from one military posting to another, before finally settling in London, where their flat was hit by a bomb which fortunately failed to explode.  What was it with Pakenham-Walsh’s and bombs I wonder?

Around this time, Kat was packed off to boarding school at Cheltenham Ladies College. Presumably Cheltenham was selected because her father, brothers and various cousins had all attended the boy’s college on the other side of town.   She seems to have flourished at CLC and left as head girl, reportedly delivering her leaving speech to the school in Latin. Hopefully the rest of the school understood. Later in life, she would be invited to serve on the council of Cheltenham Ladies College, a post she would go on to hold for some 15 years.

After leaving Cheltenham, she went up to Newnham College Cambridge to read classics. Again she seems to have flourished and had a very enjoyable time.  Amongst other things she co-founded the archery club, Cambridge University Bowmen (apparently there were no bow women at that stage) and she left Cambridge in 1949, having been senior student at Newnham.

I have few details of her life in the 1950s after leaving Cambridge. However it seems she worked for a time to Greece where she was involved through the British School at Athens with archaeological excavations at Mycenae and she is credited in various learned archaeological publications. Later she acquired a certificate in housing management from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

However by the mid-1960s she seems to set her sights on a career in education administration, first as Administrative Officer for Inner London Education Authority before moving to Bedford College in the University of London where she would spend the majority of her career.   Amongst other things she was the author of the History of Bedford College 1849-1985.  Later it fell to Kat to engineer the merger of her beloved Bedford with another college named Royal Holloway.  One correspondent described her as a champion warhorse who worked tirelessly on the merger, especially getting the required Bill before Parliament to enable the merger to happen and organising the visit of the Queen at the inauguration of the new establishment.  She was an Honorary Fellow of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College.

For much of her time in London Kat lived in London in Bentinck Street and belted around town in a stylish Blue MG Midget.  At weekends she would often drive down to a farm in Sussex run I believe by her friend Bridget which had a herd of pedigree Jersey cows.  It was a lovely place and I recall being taken by Kat with my sister Sarah to spend a weekend on the farm on an exeat from school nearby in Kent when I would have been about 10.

Kat decided that I should learn to drive the farm tractor which was an enormous red machine supplied by the Americans in WW2.  I was placed in a field, empty apart from a solitary tree in the middle, and left to drive around.  After a few successful circuits, I suddenly looked up to find the tree immediately in front of me, with no room left to manoeuvre.  Fortunately the tree was no match for American horsepower.   On my shamefaced return to the farm I was congratulated by Kat on my tractor driving prowess and no mention was made of the unfortunate deforestation.

Stories of her kindness to children are legion.   Her niece Jessica remembers her as an incredibly attentive, generous and trendy aunt and godmother who passed on clothes, loaned hit singles and bought make-up for her nieces. Kat took Jessica and Felicity to several films and shows, including Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’ and a live ‘gig’ by The Hollies. This was on a Sunday and so having just been to Church Parade, Jessica and Felicity turned up in their Brownie uniforms, which were presumably then as now not regular pop concert attire.

Another of her numerous godchildren considered Kat the very best Godmother: wicked and indulgent, serving her Dubonnet and Lemonade, drawing “luxury baths” for her and taking her to visit Carnaby Street.

The early 1990s saw Kat and Pat decided to venture into the commercial world and establish the Bloomsbury Centre for European Study Programmes, which specialised in providing predominantly American students.  This was an imaginative project and in many ways ahead of its time.  However attracting sufficient numbers of students to come over from the US at a time of increasing international tension proved to be an uphill struggle and eventually Kat and Pat sensibly decided to call it a day and retire full time to Castle Cary and later Bruton.   Here many of us were fortunate to be able to visit them and experience their fabled hospitality.

Kat was true polymath. True I never heard her converse in Latin but the breadth and depth of her knowledge was extraordinary.   Apart from the classics and the arts, she was fully au fait with current affairs. Having her and Pat to stay for the weekend could be a daunting experience.  A copy of every Sunday newspaper from the Sunday Times to the News of the World would have to be obtained and she and Pat would spend a large part of the day digesting each in turn.

However she wore her learning lightly and she also had a tremendous interest in sport, particularly cricket and football.  She was, inexplicably, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, a tradition continued (much to her satisfaction) by her great nephew Arthur.

But above all she was interested in other people. She was a great listener and never seemed to tire of hearing about their goings on.  As regards herself, she was modest and self-deprecating, but with a wicked sense of humour, a keen eye for pomposity and a fabulous gift for telling highly amusing stories.

In preparing this tribute, I have been greatly helped by an astonishing number of unsolicited contributions from family, nieces and nephews, cousins, old friends and work colleagues, both here and in Australia.

It is impossible in a few words to do justice to such a remarkable person but I hope I have managed to convey a sense of what a great pleasure and privilege it was to know Kat and how much she was loved by so many people.

(Correction 30 June – ‘Kat tribute’ attributed to Richard Pakenham-Walsh)