Obituary: Jean Lloyd Webber
Tuesday 14 December 1993
I FIRST met Jean Lloyd Webber through her son Julian, who was studying at the junior section of the Royal College of Music, when I was 15 and he eight. I was playing timpani in the college orchestra when I became aware of this small, polite boy who would appear on occasions and study the percussion with great interest. After a few meetings Julian declared that his mother wanted to invite me over for lunch. I remember being surprised by the unusually disparate and quaint characters who made up the family. Jean was married to William Lloyd Webber, the distinguished composer and organist, and their two sons, Andrew and Julian, are now household names in their own musical fields.
From that time the whole family, and in particular Jean, showed the greatest generosity towards me. Her near obsession with helping could be embarrassing as well as forceful, and she was insistent on doing all she could not only for me but also for my family in east London.
She was born Jean Johnstone in 1921 and married Billy Lloyd Webber in 1942. He was Director of the London College of Music and Professor of Theory and Composition at the Royal College of Music, and a greatly gifted if retiring musician, who still remains an underestimated composer. After his death in 1982 Jean, with her usual single- mindedness, worked tirelessly to bring his music to the notice of publishers and recording companies.
Jean Lloyd Webber was the ultimate altruist, putting herself last and always helping those at odds with fate or justice. Even at the end in hospital she showed concern only for others, insisting, for example, that Julian should continue his concert tour of Holland despite his wish to be with her.
She was obsessively quiet about her own life. I only found out after her death, for example, that she studied composition with Vaughan Williams and the violin with William Reed (a close friend and biographer of Elgar and leader of the London Symphony Orchestra).
She had a happy start in life, but while she was still very young her father left home and her mother had to give up their much-loved family home in Harrow. She was devoted to her older brother, Alastair, but he was drowned in his teens. She never really recovered from this shock and it clearly haunted her. Her passion for helping young talent resulted in her dedicated life to that end - teaching piano and singing in London at Wetherby School and St Philip's School (both in South Kensington), the Royal College of Music and elsewhere.
Jean had a sister, Violet, who became an actress. She was different from Jean in many ways - optimistic, cheerful and bubbly, while Jean was intensely shy and introverted, her tense, awkward manner occasionally approaching social detachment. Further, her manner was reflected in the way she sometimes dressed, for she had no vanity, nor interest in fashion to the point of appearing eccentric. Once her confidence was gained, however, she remained a staunch, active helper and a totally trustworthy and caring soul of the highest integrity. She also possessed remarkable psychic gifts, but was understandably reticent about discussing them.
Her devoted energies to helping others applied equally to animals - in particular her love of cats. Her main worry during the weeks before her death was the fate of her two Burmese cats. Jean maintained a simple and private way of life, with not a hint of luxury around her - one feels she would have felt hindered by such excesses. Until her last year, for example, she would cycle large distances to give lessons and even during the last months would still insist on walking to see her students.
Her influence was the main contributory factor in the development of my own career as a pianist from my middle teens. Her dedicated approach benefited many, and her efforts in assisting people were overwhelming and utterly selfless. Her passing is for me the end of an era.
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