Lives Remembered: Edith Goldenberg

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The Independent Online

Edith Goldenberg, who died on 12 January 2010 a month before her 97th birthday, was very much an individual. But she was above all a classic Jewish matriarch who cared deeply about her family.

Of Russian ancestry, Edith was born in Johannesburg in 1913. The family came to England in the 1920s and lived in the East End. Edith's dentist father died in her teens. A highly intelligent girl, Edith would, in a different era, have starred at university. But family and general culture, and a very dominant mother to whom Edith was notably more obedient than was her somewhat colourful sister, denied her this privilege.

Following her father's death the family moved to Palestine, where Edith was a secretary with the Jaffa Port Authority. But before they moved, Edith, who was a very beautiful and a very social animal, had met Nathan through the Jewish youth movement HaBonim. The move did not prevent a continuing friendship, and eventually Nathan travelled (in steerage!) to Palestine to propose.

They returned to Britain and were married in 1937, although Nathan, who was then a research chemist at Lyons (having arrived in England aged 11 not speaking a word of English), was offered a job at the Weizmann Institute. I was born in 1946, their only son following a miscarriage and a stillbirth. In 1948, Nathan moved to Marks & Spencer to head up their new Food Technology Department – a job in which he revolutionised the British food production industry.

Following her marriage, Edith worked for the Ophthalmic Benefits Council. After a maternity break, she was a company secretary and director with a medium-sized business. She was a brilliant dancer (Gold Star in both Ballroom and Latin American). But she was also a wonderful support to Nathan in all his work – although Nathan kept in his desk a piece of paper saying "Behind every successful man is a woman telling him that he's doing the wrong thing"! Edith took enormous pride in my own progress, in law, politics, business and the voluntary sector. If her pride sometimes shaded into attempted over-possessiveness, it was nevertheless well-intentioned. Interaction between us was not always easy. On one memorable occasion, Edith said "You're very obstinate," to which she got the scathing yet loving retort, "And where do you think I got that from?" But Edith, who had a sharp sense of humour, had the grace to laugh.

After Nathan's death in 1995, Edith remained firmly – or obstinately – independent. She survived one piece of medical mismanagement by the NHS, and two falls – the second of which necessitated a hip replacement at the age of 93. Eventually, in spring 2009, to my shocked relief, she accepted the inevitable, and moved into Clore Manor, where she was well cared for. Her move made our relationship infinitely easier, and we really enjoyed her last months until she went into steep decline a month ago.

She died in peace, comfort and dignity in the superb care of Barnet General Hospital.

Philip Goldenberg



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