Obituary: Dame Janet Vaughan

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The Independent Online
I FIRST knew Janet Vaughan more than 20 years ago, when I was writing a life of Enid Starkie, writes Joanna Richardson (further to the obituaries by Barbara Harvey, Louise Johnson and Evelyn Irons, 12 January). Janet was her executor, and, over the years, she became a marvellous friend.

I had immense respect for her, not only for her towering professional distinction, but, above all, for her humanity. I shall not forget how, on my mother's death, Janet (who was then nearly 80) came to London to look after me. It was the most inspired gesture of friendship that I have known.

I admired Janet for the standards which she set, for her generous attitude to people's foibles, and her pleasure in their successes. I enjoyed her sense of history: her recollections of her cousin Virginia Woolf and of Andre Gide, whom she had once entertained at Somerville. It was, unbelievably, for her aunt - the young Janet Symonds - that Edward Lear had written 'The Owl and the Pussy-Cat'. 'You might like to know,' she said to me, when I had lunch with her, 'that the recipe for this salad dressing was given to my mother by Edward Lear.'

She was modest about her own achievements. Not long ago, her portrait was painted for the National Portrait Gallery. She said to me, touchingly: 'I think my mother would have been pleased.'

Janet had a commanding presence. She had an innate sense of style, and a zest for life (though, until a few years ago, she also drove a vivid yellow Mini, and she did so with a certain brio). She always had a pile of new books, especially biographies, on her table. She was an accomplished cook, and she enjoyed lunch at one of Raymond Blanc's Oxford restaurants. She had been a keen gardener, and she delighted in flowers. She was always interested, always concerned. She was never disappointing.