Hélène La Rue

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The Independent Online

Hélène La Rue was a warm and delightful friend, a splendid one-off, who found her true place as curator of the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, fellow of St Cross, one of Oxford's smallest colleges, and a pillar of the community in the village where she had chosen to live, writes Mary Dejevsky [further to the obituary by Susan Wollenberg, 3 August]. The life she left so soon seemed already written in the stars from her earliest student days at Lady Margaret Hall – and perfectly reflected her passions.

As a student, she appeared elegantly old-fashioned – and not only because she went up to Oxford in the aftermath of the wild Sixties. She retained a fondness for hearth and home that owed much to the intimacy of her French-Canadian background. And while she seemed quiet and shy, she none the less became a centre of sociability. Among friends, she displayed a wicked sense of humour and an exceptional facility for language that made her pastmaster of the pun.

For those of us who lived on her corridor, tea time chez Hélène was heralded by a burst of "Polly Put the Kettle On" on the piano that, as a music student, she had in her room. Tea parties, cheese parties, dinner parties: she was always a charming host, cheerfully batting around ideas with the best of them, from current affairs and politics, through abstruse points of theology, to medieval music and the purpose of strange objects she thought just might once have served as musical instruments. The wide range of subjects mirrored her wide range of friends.

For all her apparent quaintness, Hélène was in many ways far ahead of her time. Afflicted with migraines, she had a hard time during exams. Without a state grant for the postgraduate research she had desperately hoped to pursue, she funded herself. She worked part-time and overcame her reserve to apply energetically to foundations, charities, businesses – anyone who might help an impoverished would-be ethnomusicologist. As a result, she became an accomplished fund-raiser, a skill she subsequently applied to any number of good causes. Hélène never had it easy. It is a great pity she had so little time to enjoy the fruits of so much hard work.

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