Obituary: Trekkie Parsons

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The Independent Online
Trekkie Parsons was a person of strong character, strong loyalties and strong affections. She was a dedicated artist and craftsman, a heart- warming hostess and a loving and supportive friend.

She was born in Natal in 1902, of an English mother and a Scottish father, and named Tulip Ritchie; Tulip was quickly discarded for Trekkie, and T. Ritchie became her professional name. The family returned to Britain in the First World War; and in the Twenties Trekkie studied painting at the Slade.

Through her sister Alice, who worked for the Hogarth Press and had two novels published by them, she met Leonard and Virginia Woolf, who commissioned her to design dust- jackets for books including V. Sackville-West's All Passion Spent (1931), John Hampson's Saturday Night at the Greyhound (1931), and Norah and William Montgomerie's Scottish Nursery Rhymes (1946 - for which she also did the illustrations).

Trekkie was briefly married in the Twenties to a fellow Slade student, Peter Brooker, but in 1934 she married Ian Parsons, a young publisher breathing fresh life into Chatto and Windus (he was later, from 1954 to 1974, its chairman). Among the many things they had in common was a great love of poetry. On holiday, if there was no book handy, they would recreate poems from memory, and on getting home dash to the bookcase to check. At the outbreak of war in 1939, Ian joined the RAF and Trekkie the Fire Service. Later she worked for a while as a Land Girl, and finally for Intelligence - riding every day on a motor-bike from London to a super- secret department of the War Office in Surrey.

In their London house in Victoria Square, the Parsons had Leonard Woolf as a neighbour after Virginia's death in 1941; and after the war their lives and Leonard's ran close together. They moved out of their house and shared his in Victoria Square; Ian and Leonard became colleagues after the Hogarth Press joined Chatto's; they were neighbours in Sussex, and Trekkie kept Leonard company at Rodmell when Ian was in London. She was Leonard's companion on his travels to France, Greece, Israel, and his memorable return to Ceylon in 1960. She made the last part of his life a very happy one. "To know you and love you has been the best thing in life," he wrote. She was his "Dearest Tiger". He died in 1969, leaving Monk's House to Trekkie, who presented it to Sussex University. It is now in the hands of the National Trust and open to the public.

In 1952 the Parsons acquired Juggs Corner, a house near Lewes, on the top of the hill above Kingston with an incomparable view of the Downs beyond. There was a sloping garden divided by hedges into secret rooms where you might find a Trekkie sculpture; a flower-filled conservatory; a dining-table she had painted, where she provided delicious food and Ian the memorable wines; stacks of new books on the table in the sitting-room and her paintings on the walls. She had a gift for bringing a room alive with colour; one felt a glow as one walked into the house.

She had several exhibitions in Lewes, but the showing of her work - still- lifes, portraits, drawings of scenes that had taken her fancy, like a lone fisherman by a tree-lined French stream - was never as important to her as the doing. She was, as one artist friend put it, a serious and intelligent artist, though perhaps not a very strong one, and very workmanlike in her lithography and the decoration and illustration of books.

Ian's death in 1980 was devastating. "Nothing can ever mitigate the loss," she wrote to me, "and one wouldn't want it to." Yet Juggs was still as welcoming, with Trekkie cherishing old friends - Dadie Rylands from Cambridge, to read The Dynasts with her (and weed the terrace), Peggy Ashcroft to find peace to study a new part - and making many new ones. She drove to Cambridge and Cornwall; she enjoyed Glyndebourne, and concerts and theatres in Brighton. Then there was increasing trouble with her eyes and her arthritis, and - a penalty of living long - the sadness of losing friends: Peggy Ashcroft, her intimate for 30 years, Dick David who with his wife Nora and Dadie Rylands spent so many Christmases with her, and with whom she used to play word-games by telephone.

Yet for all the disabilities and indignities of age - she who used to stride over the Highlands now walking with a frame! - she was still the old Trekkie: outspoken, funny, affectionate, at times maddeningly obstinate, interested as ever in other people, never self-pitying, never tearful - even after the third time burglars had broken into Juggs. (On one occasion she talked to them through her locked door, asking them not to make too much mess.)

When it became clear she could no longer manage at Juggs, she was stoical. She made her decision; there was no repining. With many friends helping, she moved in May into a sheltered flat in Lewes. After a few weeks there, she had a fall and was taken to hospital, where she died. How we all wish she could have been spared that uprooting.

Janet Adam Smith

Marjorie Tulip Ritchie, artist: born Durban 15 June 1902; married Peter Brooker (marriage dissolved), 1934 Ian Parsons (died 1980); died Lewes, Sussex 24 July 1995.