Celebrating the life of an amazing woman – my Mum

My beloved Mum passed away last week at the amazing age of 99 – what a life she had, and what changes she witnessed over the best part of a century.

Going through all the old photographs, I’ve found it fascinating to trace the influences on my character and life choices, so for any who might be interested, I thought I’d share these with you, my extended family.

Born in 1920, it was a time of massive cultural change.

At one year old, with a bear on wheels and attended by cook.

The love affair with animals began early – Mum on the right (at 3 years old) with her older sister, Moira, and GSD Dendy. Oh, and maid in the background – such a different era.

Our female line has roots traceable back to the French Revolution, where an ancestor, the Baron Gaumont, lost his head to the guillotine, and the rest of the family fled to England. Mum was christened Audrey, but to be pronounced with a French accent. Her mother became so incensed at people using the English pronunciation, Mum’s name was legally changed to Odreé, (Oh-dray) as an attempt at phonetic spelling. As you may imagine, it has been pronounced (and spelled) in many and varied ways, but by good fortune as a teenager she picked up the pet-name Bobby, on account of her favoured hairstyle, and that stuck with her for life – long after the hair changed.

At 14, with the bob style – one I remember having myself, in my 20s.

Her name did produce one hilarious situation – the family name was Evans, so when the register at school was called, she had to answer to: ‘O Evans’!!!

The love affair with horses started early, and with a grandfather who was a cavalry instructor, I guess that’s in the blood.

Being fascinated by all things animal (no surprise then, that I am too), she had intended to read Zoology at University, and even before that, had formed a friendship with some of the keepers at London Zoo, where she was allowed into the pens to handle animals the general public didn’t get so close up to.

War closed the universities, and she never made it there to study, but she kept up that relationship with the zoo keepers, and my brother and I benefitted from back-of-house access in the same way she had, which triggered my love for exotic species, particularly snakes (yes, I’ve been a snake keeper on multiple occasions).

Before the war intruded, she became a very glamorous young lady

And then she met the love of her life, Peter, and married him in full knowledge that he would not live long. Peter had severe asthma, which in those days was a death sentence. In keeping with attitudes at the time, his own father disinherited him, because he was so embarrassed that Peter failed the military medical and would not be fighting for his country. Fortunately Mum had enough of her own income to manage, and they had far longer together than expected – 10 years – before he succumbed.

So here we find another of those influences on my life. By this time, Mum was a professional ice skater

I’m guessing this is where my love of combined sport and art comes from – and also my showmanship. Mum performed in many shows, and gave solo performances in the breaks in ice hockey matches at the local rink.

Mum as Little Red Riding Hood.

Widowed at 30, she had no desire to marry again, but took up her other passion of sailing competitively, and that’s where she met my father – she had her own racing dinghy, and he crewed for her. That pretty much set the pattern for their married life, I think!

She even spent the last of her inheritance having a 24 foot Cabin Cruiser designed and built for him, as a wedding present.

Catchalot – both the name of a whale, and what Dad did a lot of!

Needless to say, my brother and I spent a lot of our childhood on the water, but before we came along, they enjoyed more high-speed youthful entertainment, enjoying their freedom as a two-car family: a saloon for the winter, and an Austin Nippy 7 sports car for the summer.

Mum and Dad leaving on honeymoon 1953

Mum at the wheel, although she never took a driving licence when they came along.

My brother was born in 1956, when Mum was 36 – a scandalously old age to start a family in those days. I came along when she was 40 – even more unusual.

When I became interested in horses, and began taking riding lessons at the age of 9, Mum was delighted. Because her parents had lived in Richmond-upon-Thames she hadn’t been able to keep her own pony, although the local proprietor (Captain Johns, the guy in the earlier photo) was paid a monthly fee to keep one available for her to ride – Topthorne, on whom she won Chertsey Pony Race in 1933.

Having been raised by a family whose weekly shop came from the royal grocer, Fortnum and Mason, by this time Mum was living (in her words) with ‘Harrod’s tastes on a Co-op income’, so when it became obvious I wanted my own pony, she gave up one of her most treasured possessions – her fur coat – selling it to, as she said, “buy another one, but this one with a pony inside it.”

She joined me in riding later on, and when I outgrew the talents of one horse and moved onto another, she took over the reins of the treasured older guy.

See how that competitiveness is still there? Note the red rosette…

Then later on, when she decided she was too old to ride any more, she switched to dogs, competing in Obedience Trials

In her 60s

In her 70s

And she qualified to compete at Crufts in her 80th year, but decided that would be a good point to retire.

As an 80th birthday present, she asked Dad for a writing course (see what I mean about influence?), which she duly completed, making her first sales at the age of 86 years young!

She sold many articles, letters, short stories, and opinion pieces over the next few years, and entered competitions

She also wrote a couple of books, one an autobiography, and the other, a novel based on the life of my Grandmother (another amazing tale of independence, for another day…), both of which I have copies of, and one day I will publish them.

At the age of 90, she had a bad year – a double mastectomy after finding a small cancerous lump in her breast, and a broken femur while out walking the dog. The latter resulted in 10 weeks immobility in plaster, which subsequently brought on a small heart attack. She had a stent fitted, and then life resumed!

Never one to sit around, she became a frequent sight around the village on her scooter, and it was only after Dad’s stroke in 2016 that she lost her enthusiasm for life, and gradually her world shrank, which seemed so cruel to me after such an active life, but she had no regrets, and nothing left she wanted to do. Right up until then, she had also been active online, using Facebook, Skype, and ordering the weekly shop. Eventually she gave that up, and I must admit the last couple of years, since Dad died (aged 98), have been hard on all of us.

But she’d lived a full life, she’d celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary for a second marriage, raised two kids she’d never expected to have, and thoroughly enjoyed supporting me in my competitive ventures and my writing career – both of which, without doubt, I owe to her influence.

Odreé Lush, 1920 – 2019. You leave a huge hole in my life, but an abundance of wonderful memories. RIP

 

31 comments

  1. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. What an amazing mother you were blessed with, Deborah.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mum – and what a wonderful life she had! Coincidentally, I too lost my first husband to asthma after ten years of marriage, to a lovely man who shared my love of horses. (My 2nd husband knew nothing about horses, but soon learned! 🙂 ) I’m glad she, too found happiness a second time.

    Not only do you have beautiful memories, but lovely pictures to look back on too. While you have those you keep her alive in your heart for ever!

    1. What a coincidence! I was fortunate in that while my Dad didn’t ride, he’d wanted to be a farrier until his father insisted he learned a ‘better trade’, so he was always interested in horses. During my teens, he took up carriage driving, with Mickey, the coloured horse Mum is riding in the photo.
      It’s wonderful to have such a record, so much more to look at than when people had to rely on paintings!

  3. So sorry to hear about your mum Deborah. What a beautiful woman, so stylish and what a love for animals she had! You had an lot in common. Hugs, thinking of you. Marje xxx

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your mother and what a wonderful full life she led 😊

    1. Thank you, Carol, she did, that.

  5. What a wonderful human being your Mum was Deborah; obviously well loved. Her love of animals was obvious too. You have some beautiful memories to cherish.

  6. Wrapping you in much <3, Deb. A moving tribute to a remarkable woman, who truly knew how to live. I see her in you. ❤ The photographs are beautiful, especially the one of her with the fox cubs. ❤

  7. It’s easy to see how you got to be you. Your mom even looks like you–a lot. What a wonderful parent.

    1. Thanks Jacqui – you know I’d got so used to the elderly, frail, and fragile woman of the last few years I’d quite forgotten how she looked when younger, and now I see more resemblance to me than I ever did before ❤

  8. I loved reading all about your mother; she had packed a lot of life in before she had you. Her first marriage so poignant, but life goes on and it certainly did for her.

    1. It was such a tragedy, but she certainly made the most of her second life. In fact, she always made the most of things – I get that from her too, I think.

  9. Oh Deb, this was a most beautiful tribute to your mum. What a remarkable woman and a remarkable life. You look just like her in her younger days. What a privileged life she had and participated in. No coincidence where you got your many talents such as riding and writing. What a gift to be able to converse about writing with your mum. I for one would love to read her autobiography when you publish it. This post alone has great makings for you to write a memoir about her! Thanks for sharing your mum’s life with us and your heart. Hugs ❤ xxx

    1. Thanks Deb, I really do want to write her autobiography, but I plan on starting with the one she wrote about her own mother, who had an even more amazing life story!

      1. Well, I for one look forward to reading! Maybe you could publish your mum’s autobiography and later publish a memoir of yours and your mum’s life. Food for thought. If you need any help, you know how to find me ❤

  10. A beautiful tribute to your mother, Deborah.

    1. Thanks Robbie ❤

  11. Mark Henwick · · Reply

    A wonderful tribute, thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. She was an amazing woman, able to reinvent herself so many times, and she gifted me with her resilience, for which I will be (cliche alert) eternally grateful.

  12. A wonderful tribute Deborah and your mother was a remarkable and is still an amazing influence on your life I am sure and those that she knew. Thank you for sharing her story with us. ♥

    1. Thanks, Sally. This only scrapes the surface, and I keep remembering more stories – this has acted to jog my memory, which has to be a good thing at this time.

      1. And it is wonderful to share Deborah. x

  13. Beautiful story. My condolences

  14. […] mother’s life, as I recounted recently, took a different path to her school-leaving intentions, with war closing universities and […]

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