Tuesday 19 November 2019

Frank Kelly: Maeve was so positive and kindness shone out of her

Frank Kelly

MAEVE had thousands of friends, many of them intimately more important to her than me, but I knew her more than 50 years.

I was at University College Dublin with Maeve. I did civil law which included her subject history, so we shared lectures and had the same professor.

We knew each other well then; I went to her 21st birthday party. She wasn't terribly mobile; she was always a big girl who couldn't get around easily.

She'd sit outside the history library and kind of hold court, mainly talking about college politics and whoever was making a fool of themselves -- but she was never unkind or sending people up. This became a daily happening. A lot of information was exchanged and a lot of fun was had. Gradually our friendship grew over the years.

Maeve became a teacher and whoever was taught by her was very blessed. She loved children. She said that not becoming a mum was a source of sadness to her. But she made everybody's children her children. She made everything into a positive.

She met her husband Gordon in London when he was working for the BBC. I wrote the RTE radio show 'Only Slaggin' with Gordon and a few others for nine years. Maeve has said publicly that when they married it was too late for children but not too late for love. Gordon and Maeve had an idyllic marriage with never a cross word. They loved each other so much. They were an example of absolute devotion. Theirs was the love affair to end all love affairs.

Gordon was absolutely devoted to Maeve. He was truly wonderful to her. He waited on her hand and foot. He did everything for her. He was hugely loving and supportive. They were incredibly close. I lost sight of Maeve for a few years until she appeared in 'The Irish Times' as a journalist. She was always a very entertaining journalist who hit the spot. She shone immediately and was women's editor. I was a journalist too, but the genre of journalism Maeve was covering had nothing to do with what I was involved with, which was current affairs in the day-to-day news way.

I first became aware of her books when her debut novel 'Light A Penny Candle' was published in 1982. There was a kind of universality about Maeve's writing. Most of her writing was for women. She knew who read her books and who didn't. I read about two. But she accepted if you weren't a reader of her books. She wouldn't hold it against you.

She was very excited and pleased at the screen adaptations of her books. She retained a kind of youthful innocence at things happening. She was all celebratory about the fact that somebody thought her books worthy of filming. Success never had a detrimental effect on Maeve.

She lived in Dalkey all her life, and it was very convenient for her. The house in Dalkey she shared with Gordon is small and very unassuming from the outside, though a miracle happens when you enter because it's much bigger on the inside and always beautifully kept. There's a lovely room under the rooftop with space for Maeve and Gordon and their computers. In the mornings they sat down and wrote together.

They also had a cottage at the back of the house for people to stay in, and they built a little library on the side of that where she could keep her books filed. A while ago a journalist from one of the big magazines went to interview Maeve at the house, and after chatting to her for a while said: "You can't possibly live here -- will you show me where you really live?" Maeve smiled sweetly and said: "You see the door behind you . . . get out and never come back!" It was the only time I ever heard of her really being cross, but she did it so politely with a smile.

Maeve was very private in a lot of ways, but her persona was as nice, friendly and outgoing as the public saw. She got on with life and lived every second of it. She was an incredibly generous person. I know she did a tremendous amount of extremely charitable things behind the scenes. She was not slow to reach for her wallet when somebody had a problem. I do know she was very, very kind to people. A kindness shone out of her.

She had a way of looking at you. She could read you. She had an eye that went over you and took you in. We'd meet at events and various functions, and I remember Gordon's 70th birthday, which was a regal affair at the Mansion House in Dublin.

They came to dinner at our house a number of times, and my wife Bairbre and I would go theirs. If she felt there was something to celebrate, there was immediately a party. We had some wonderful evenings. One night she came to dinner and we were still sitting at the dining table when she suddenly burst into song at about 11.30pm. We sang and had the greatest laughs you could imagine -- she was in that particularly funny mood she'd get into on occasions, and that was one of the funniest nights we've had.

It's not that long since we had a lovely luncheon at their house, just the four of us chatting for hours and drinking copious amounts of wine.

Maeve said "Each person gets five minutes to talk about their ailments, and then we don't discuss them anymore!" She was like that; she waged a war on self-pity and was completely devoid of it. But she was very ill herself, but personified bravery.

She was in extraordinary pain an awful lot of the time but she suffered and said nothing. I think she had about everything one could have, including a very bad heart and acute arthritis.

She was a very big person and ended up in a self-operated wheelchair, and she had a special elevator built in her house to take her straight up to her desk.

What she went through health-wise was extraordinary. Yet she was holding dinner parties and writing successful novels. I understand she was still writing short stories to the end. I think she had plans to slow the pace at some stage, but I don't think she ever did. I doubt she could live without writing.

On Monday Bairbre suggested I ring Maeve and see how she was getting on. I rang at teatime and her sister Joan answered the phone, sounding very confused and upset, so I knew then that Maeve was probably either dying or dead because there was such a sense of sadness and unease.

I said "I'll hang up now and we'll talk again". I heard the sad news on the radio. I was sad but not greatly shocked because we knew how ill she was and that she could not last indefinitely. And she wouldn't have liked people to be in a state of shock or anything like that. She had everybody prepared for her demise. The whole country is devastated by her death.

There's an enormous affection for her. Gordon, who will be 80 in October, will miss her dreadfully, but I think the fact that he was loved as much as he was will help him cope. Bairbre and I will miss her hugely, as will our children and grandchildren. She was quite extraordinary. I'd like to see her remembered as someone who gave a very positive uplifting message to people through her work.

Irish Independent

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