Saturday 12 February 2011
Your prominent obituary of Penny Feiwel (1 February) will have fascinated readers who had never heard of her before though she was oneof the most remarkable English women of her time, writes Giles Heron.
It also illustrates the problems of the obituary of a centenarian, especially the extreme dearth of eye-witnesses to corroborate or amend details of the early years. I write as one of the few in her case. For example, to correct a very minor error, my father, Tom Heron, was the creator and managing director of Cresta Silks but not its owner.
More importantly, you implied that Penny found a post in charge of us Heron children. In fact her college principal, a close friend of my mother, arranged for Penny to recuperate from pneumonia in our home instead of sending her back to her parents in Tottenham because they had always opposed Penny's ambition for further education (having removed her from school at 13) instead of earning her living at once. Apart from her keep, most of what Penny earned while living with us was from jobs in and around Welwyn Garden City, including The Cottage Hospital. The convalescent hated her Christian name, Ada, and it was my mother who suggested Penelope instead, which she seized on and stuck to for the rest of her life.
Your obituary rightly focuses on Penny's heroic nursing in the Spanish Civil War, but the remaining 72 years of her life were far from empty and insignificant, though her framing role was as a wife. Michael Feiwel was an outstanding dermatologist and Penny supported him to the hilt as receptionist, nurse, secretary, accountant, hostess and cook.Remaining adventurous in widowhood well into her 90s, she went to computer classes and won a prize for the pupil making the most progress.
Penny Feiwel's life was like a modern fairy tale in its progress from her curtailed schooling in times of depression and unemployment, via the heroic testing climax of the Spanish Civil War to her reward in finding her Prince Charming and living happily ever after. Alas, the subsequent decade of increasing blindness and deafness after her beloved Mick's death was quite another story, which only a person of Penny's courage and resilience could have endured so long.
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