Saturday 22 October 2016

Harper Lee had a 'brilliant mind to the end'

Ruth Sherlock

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

Harper Lee died age 89 Photo: AP
Harper Lee died age 89 Photo: AP

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, spent her final months inventing rhyming couplets with friends and had a "brilliant" mind to the end, her loved ones have said.

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Joy Brown (88) and Nelle, as Lee was affectionately known, whiled away a recent afternoon "taking it in turns" to write rhyming lines about a Robert Louis Stevenson poem.

"She had such wit," recalled Mrs Brown, a glamorous New Yorker and one of the 89-year-old's best friends. "Her mind was brilliant until the end."

Mrs Brown spoke yesterday in Monroeville, Lee's Alabama hometown that inspired the characters and setting for her seminal novel, where loved ones have gathered to pay their respects after her death on Friday.

Lee's 1960 classic novel about Atticus Finch, a lawyer who stands firm against racism in the depression-era of the Deep South, has gained worldwide acclaim, selling more than 40 million copies.

But its author famously shunned the limelight in favour of a quiet life spent among a close-knit circle of friends. Mrs Brown and her husband, Michael, gave Lee a year's worth of wages as a Christmas gift in the late 1950s, giving the young writer time to craft To Kill A Mockingbird. Mrs Brown said she remembered the impact unexpected fame had on the novelist.

"The book was turned down by nine publishers, and nobody expected it to do so well," she said. "When it did, Nelle gave some interviews, and she helped create the film about it, but then she said, 'Enough, I want my life back'."

Mrs Brown added: "She played golf and sometimes journalists would come out to the golf course to try and interview her, but when she heard they were coming, she'd hide out."

While she avoided publicity, Lee was anything but a recluse. The author was often seen in Monroeville, having breakfast in the Courthouse Cafe, near the court that was made famous as a set for the film of her novel.

Mr Landegger said that in her retirement, she chose to spend her final years in a small care home just on the outskirts of Monroeville.

"It was a very nice home where a man would come every night to play piano and there was a good social life. She alway had this wonderful childish twinkle in her eye,"


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