Obituary: Frances Donaldson

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The Independent Online
WHAT I most liked about Frankie Donaldson was her forthrightness, writes Elisa Segrave (further to the obituary by Elizabeth Longford and Lord Healey, 30 March). 'Jack believes in the after-life; I don't,' she said to me last summer in their bungalow in Sussex.

This matter-of-fact approach coloured every aspect of her life, including her clear, extraordinarily readable, no-nonsense prose. She loved conversation and you had to be on your mettle in her company. She particularly enjoyed mulling over a situation and trying to get to the truth of it. One of her favourite phrases was: 'What I think really happened was this.'

Frankie was direct but never spiteful, kind without making a fuss. Unlike many of her generation she was not nostalgic for the past. In her eighties she learnt to use a word-processor. She loved meeting new people and she liked to hear the latest gossip about London publishing. Last April a copy of the Face magazine was on her sitting-room table.

I particularly enjoyed the affectionate repartee which went on between her and her husband. Once at dinner I heard a guest ask Frankie if she had met the Windsors in the course of writing Edward VIII's biography. She said no, but it would take a long anecdote to explain why. Her husband, obviously realising that she was longing to tell, told her to 'get on with it, then'. The crucial point of the anecdote was that she decided not to meet the Windsors: if she lunched with them, she explained, she would feel obliged to write only nice things and she wanted to write an objective biography.

The last time I saw her, a few weeks ago, she lent me Edith Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers. She then made a comment about Edith Wharton which I didn't understand but, assuming that she might have become vague because of her illness, I pretended to agree. She looked at me directly from where she was sunk into her arm-chair and said sharply: 'No, you don't understand what I mean, do you?'

Although I was 40 years younger than her she treated me as an equal. She was utterly straightforward and unpatronising.