ISABEL THEA HIPKIN
Mum used to say “good things come in small packages”. It was easy to think this was just a description of her petite size belying her enormous personality, but I think there is more to it than that. Although she didn’t know it, it is also a metaphor for the huge impact that she has made on our lives in the time that she had with us.
Given the enthusiastic way mum lived her life, it would be wrong for me to stand here and say things that would make you sad. Rather, I would love to produce a huge cinema screen and show off how proud we are of her – to put her name up in lights and to play home videos of her to see her laughing and dancing around the kitchen table, but mum was too modest and she would frown at such an idea – so I am just going to try to reflect on what she has meant to us, and especially to father, Vicky, Louise, and Janet.
She loved life and like Janet said she never stood still – she never really had time for television, except to check the daily FTSE updates. We were all talking at home last week and none of us could remember a time in her life when she did not have a project she was working on. I know there are dozens of us in here now who have picked up the phone to mum for a catch-up… as you all know, each time you would sit yourself down for a good half hour of interesting chat, inevitable laughter, and sound advice. And that would usually end with: “nothing ventured – nothing gained”, “go for it”, “absolutely”…
There was always a project that needed mum's attention. If it wasn’t helping us with something or working on one of the many ventures Janet mentioned, it was doing something to the family home. Father recalls our first years in Suffolk – he’d leave home in the morning for a day at work, and come back in the evening to find the house had been re-arranged… he remembered walking in to the Old White House and asking “Thea, where is the sitting room?!”. Mum would have fancied a spontaneous change and single-handedly switched the sitting room with the dining room. This wasn’t a one-off, it actually happened a few times – if mum saw a job that she thought needed doing, she'd do it. In fact, Vicky told me last week how one of her good friends in Cambridge first met mum many years ago… it was a hot summer day and mum was painting the spare room – in a bikini.
Vicky also remembers that absolute enthusiasm and commitment mum showed her when she bought her first family home with Serge; mum sitting on the floor with a cup of coffee and knee-deep in the floor plans – she was in her element. Louise remembers venturing in to the housing market in her early-20s and mum took all the pressure off her, finding her the best mortgage deal. Just after I left school, I was going through a number of jobs in Cambridge and mum came in to my room one morning and said “I think it would be easier for you to get the better jobs if had your own car”. Later that same morning I was sitting in my first car. She was generous but she never spoiled us. Well, maybe she spoiled her grandchildren! No – she never really spoiled us – she made sure we understood the value of everything…
She would hate to see food go to waste (I remember many evening meals as a child when I would sit stubbornly pushing mushrooms around my plate and mum would not let me leave the table until they’d gone – much to Vicky and Louise’s amusement) yet she would spontaneously buy us a second-hand car if it meant we had better opportunities.
Mum was always a hard worker, and she knew the importance of instilling that in us. If you see Vicky or Louise in a kitchen or working on their homes or anywhere near their children you’ll witness mum’s work ethic right there. I was looking through some letters that mum wrote to me when I was 9 and had just started boarding school. There is a theme throughout the letters and it goes something like this: “Dear David, I hope you are having fun and playing lots of sport. I hope you are working hard too. I am glad to hear you are making good friends in your class, but make sure you are working hard. Lots of love, Mummy. PS don’t forget to work hard.”
I remember the summer after I left university and heading to London to distribute my CV and get some interviews. Vicky provided her flat in Putney for my base – I was there for a few weeks and I spent most of the time on her roof terrace, lapping up the sun and achieving very little. When mum came to London and I told her what I had been up to, she was furious with me. I remember being surprised at her reaction but I know that she just hated seeing us not make the most of our opportunities.
But mum wasn’t all work work work.
She loved trying new things and meeting new people. All our friends remember coming to the house and before they had even removed their coat, mum would be asking about their family and their interests. After parties we’d been to, she would want to know who was there, what the food was like, the music, all the details. And she was so good at remembering our friends and where they all fitted in.
She loved her golf and she would watch the tennis at Wimbledon and would make an annual trip to London for the Queens Club tournament, returning with stories of the latest “dishy” tennis player she had watched – this impressed her far more than the first serves and backhand smashes!
She wasn’t a dedicated follower of sport, despite father’s sporting prowess. Mum took Vicky, Louise and me to support father in a regimental cricket match when we were all less than 10 years old. Father was batting on 98 not out, and one of us needed the loo, so mum took us all off for a break and we missed seeing father make his hundred!
Away from the sports field, mum loved a good party…
Be it in Scotland or in Portugal, she was always among the first on the dancefloor. When you consider that father was always there too, doing his unique thing on the dance floor, that is quite a commitment she showed!
Janet told me a few days ago about their holiday in Tenerife with Ruth and a few other close girlfriends in the late 1980s. Janet insists that she had not heard of “happy hour” back then but that would soon change when mum went for a round of drinks and came back having ordered so many cocktails that it required the assistance of several waiters to deliver the drinks to their table.
And some years later, just after Louise moved in to her first place in Clapham, mum joined her for a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Wimbledon was on the TV in the background and there were sharing a bottle of wine while putting the world to rights. In unison, they commented on the quality of the wine and looking at the label they saw they had opened a Mouton Rothschild Chateau Lafite. What I like about this is that it was not a special occasion for any particulate reason. But actually, it was a very special occasion…
…because any occasion with mum was a special one. Even simple things such as the way she would enter a room, be it the family kitchen or the finest restaurant, you couldn’t help but notice her. When you were in mum’s company you always felt like good things were happening.
I know this first-hand, the sense of pride I felt whenever I was with her, but I have also seen the tributes she has received over the last week and there is a clear theme throughout and I’d like to quote some of them now:
“Thea was so full of fun” – “a charming, pretty lady with a great sense of humour”
“Thea was such an amazing woman - she was so lovely and always looked so glamourous”
“a petite, striking, immaculately dressed lady with a sharp wit and a big smile. She had such a bright and sunny attitude to life” and “rather a mischievous side to her sense of humour”
“your beautiful mother, my dearest friend was talented, beautiful, always fun to be with, infuriatingly capable, and above all, caring”
“my memories of your mum will always be of one cool cat. I guess even the brightest stars one day go out”
“lovely Thea, so warm-hearted, vivacious and fun, a wonderful cook, mother and friend to many”
And although mum would now be blushing with embarrassment I think she would particularly like this one:
“what I loved about Thea was her sparkly nature, her razzmatazz, her eye-shadow and her glitzy belts”
Finally, and father I mean it this time.
Over the last few years I have had many opportunities to think about mum’s impact on our lives and I know that is has been cut short and she is missing out on maybe 20 more years of happiness. So I want to explain how I have dealt with that, and I hope that this might provide some solace, in particular to father, to Vicky, to Louise, and to Janet.
So how have I come to deal with this? Well, sometimes, when I am sleeping, in my dreams I go back to September 1975, before I was born and I have a conversation with the angels who control my fate. And they say to me:
“David, we’ve lined up a pretty good mother for you…
She is beautiful, fun-loving, intelligent and gracious.
She will put your needs before her own at every stage of her life, and she will support your every decision and encourage you to be good at what you can be, and to be proud of the individual that you are…
And she will do this until her very... last... breath.”
And I say to them “that sounds too be good to be true” and they tell me, “well, you will have everything you could have ever asked for in a mother – but it will only be for thirty years of your life”.
And so my point is, even if I knew that then, as we do now, I wouldn’t change a thing – I would not change the great years I have had with my mother for anything…
And it makes me smile, and I know it would make mum smile too, to know that father, Vicky, Louise and Janet feel the same.
[ December 2009 ]