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Penelope Mansell-Jones MW

Penelope Mansell-Jones MW

Became an MW 1981, died 2009

Address by Robin Bridgeman at Penelope’s Memorial service 13 January 2010 at St Luke’s, Chelsea

There is something especially sad when one attends a Memorial Service for the life of someone of great promise and great achievement that has been cut off in its prime.

But this is a Service of Thanksgiving – thanksgiving for the life of a remarkable and dearly loved person. I have to say that my first reaction after hearing that beautiful and sensitive Bidding Prayer was “what more is there to say?” But I shall try.

Penelope was born into a happy and secure family. She had many happy memories of their home at Tumby in Lincolnshire, but it was for the magnificent and historic woods that she retained a specially deep and abiding affection. She was by all accounts a gifted child, a good tennis player, skier, swimmer and very musical. And being Penelope, it had to be something special. She preferred playing the organ (when opportunities arose) to the piano. She had a good alto voice and sang with the Brompton Choral Society, including a performance of the Durufle Requiem part of which the Choir have just gloriously sung for us.

In 1971 she and Richard were married. They shared many interests in common – music, pictures, particularly drawings, and holidays abroad where they were able to indulge their love of art and architecture, their appreciation of wine and so on.

And Wine was Penelope’s career, first at Sotheby’s then at Christie’s. In the early days she travelled much, visiting vineyards in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany. When her incapacity made these vineyard visits impracticable she still retained a great love of travel. She and Richard acquired a flat in Madeira and until 2000 they made regular visits to South Africa.

Richard has been good enough to let me see some of the letters he has received. Penelope’s former colleagues in the Wine trade leave one in no doubt that she could have been expected to have gone far. And, by way of footnote, it was her choice, that the Reading we have just heard was the Miracle of changing Water into Wine.

It was while she was at Christie’s that the first symptoms of MS began to appear. With the knowledge of what almost certainly lay in store for her it must have taken great courage to have continued with the Master of Wine course, and with a triumphant outcome.

Penelope was always a loyal supporter of Richard in his company functions. There were for instance many Bibby gatherings in different parts of the country and often in bad winter weather, which she insisted on attending in her wheel-chair accompanied by a faithful nurse. Another letter which Richard has received is one from someone who first met Penelope as a young secretary at Bibby’s. She speaks most movingly of the profound impression she made at their first meeting, and finishes her letter “I am proud to have known such a wonderful strong and beautiful lady”. This is but one example of the inspirational effect which Penelope had on people wherever she and Richard went.

In these past few weeks I have talked much with Richard. He reminds me that Penelope had high standards in everything she did, not only ethical ones but the way she organised her flat and her life in it. It was the discipline that she applied in getting the wine catalogues in Christie’s and Sotheby’s absolutely right. Her collection of CD’s was all colour-coded, numbered and listed. When Richard came to select the CD’s of the music for this Service, nearly all of which was chosen by Penelope, he found that they had all been methodically tagged by her.

As her illness became progressively more restricting, this attention to detail was applied to her own care, which included keeping a medical diary in which she recorded details of her health on a regular basis. Equally it was applied to her appearance; and her clothes were always immaculate. The demands made by her care and medical treatment timetable meant that she lived life on a very tight schedule and insisted that others should adhere to it. Indeed many of her friends, myself among them, when booking a visit found themselves learning the hard way – Book Early to avoid Disappointment.

As one of her friends, Ian Stewartby has perceptively put it “She got on top of the situation” which if one thinks about it was a remarkable achievement in the face of what many sufferers would have simply accepted as an insurmountable adversity.

Many of us, at some time in our lives, must have had the experience of visiting a friend who is seriously incapacitated and of coming away inspired. So it most certainly was with Penelope. A glass of White Burgundy invariably pressed in to one’s hand by Richard was certainly not a hindrance. But Penelope with her quick and incisive mind needed to hear about everything, family, friends and indeed all that was going on. Her own comments were laced with that quiet gentle sense of humour which I for one instantly recognised as a direct inheritance from her father David Hawley. So many of us have felt truly invigorated by these visits.

Richard has asked me to say a special thanks to the devoted band of carers, nurses and doctors who looked after her. I am sure none of them will mind my giving a special mention to Maria Osmanska who was Penelope’s nurse in those last days and who was with her at the end.

No Address about Penelope’s life would be complete without a mention of her faith. She was brought up in a very Christian family. St. Mary’s Wantage gave her that certainty, so evident among St. Mary’s Old Girls known as SMOGS (of which my wife is one) and which was the hall mark of her faith throughout her life. In the last two years since her arrival at St. Luke’s. The Rev. Alison Craven, who happily is conducting this Service, has told us that she has been taking Holy Communion regularly to Penelope, and always at her insistence, with the rite from the Book of Common Prayer and the King James’s Bible. I know Richard owes Alison a deep debt of gratitude as also he does to the Rectors of St. Luke’s past and present.

I have left saying much about Richard to the end. This Service of Thanksgiving is for Penelope’s life. But I suggest it is also a Service of thanksgiving for a MARRIAGE. Few, even those of us who feel ourselves close friends will have any real concept of how much Richard did for Penelope. It was a 24-hour task, seven days a week. He looked after Penelope with a quiet devotion which to an outsider was totally understated. Certainly I never heard him voice a word of complaint or self-pity.

May I share with you what I feel is a very personal touch. Several of those who wrote to Richard suggested that while Penelope was so uncomplaining to a visitor, she may well have vented her frustration on her nearest and dearest. This is a perfectly understandable conjecture based on what so many of us will ourselves have witnessed. But on one such letter, Richard has simply written in the margin “NO”.

Perhaps we should leave the last word to Richard, from a letter he wrote to me shortly after Penelope’s death.

“Penelope never complained about her illness. I asked her about this once and she said that she had decided that if this was the only life she had she had better make the most of it. Penelope was very easy to care for as she always said thank you for the slightest thing that was done for her”.

May she rest in peace.

Tribute by Rosemary George MW

Penelope (she was never Penny) was born in 1948 and I remember the first time I met her. It was in Liz Berry’s (still Liz Watson at the time) flat where a group of us had met for some blind tasting practice prior to joining the study course for the Master of Wine exams. Penelope was working for Patrick Grubb at Sotheby’s and she had just won the Rouyer Guillet Cup, the prize awarded to the best diploma student of that year. She appeared fiercely intelligent, with a deprecating sense of humour. As it happened I had been for an interview at Sotheby’s a couple of years earlier, with John Lloyd, Patrick’s deputy. Penelope subsequently told me that she had remembered the occasion and was much amused by the comment that one intelligent woman in Sotheby’s Wine Department was quite enough, and they certainly didn’t need another! It has to be remembered that in the late 1970s women were still very much a minority in the wine trade.

Penelope moved to Christie’s in 1979 to work with Michael Broadbent, editing sale catalogues as well as the Christie’s Price Index of Vintage Wine, and with a keen eye for detail, she passed the MW exam in 1981. Sadly she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the same year, which inevitably had an impact on her professional life. Initially she continued to work from home, editing Christie’s wine books, notably Noel Cossart’s one on Madeira, but as the disease took its toll, she was forced to stop work. None the less she continued to live as full a life as possible, accompanying her husband Richard on visits to South Africa and enjoying time at their flat on Madeira. Back in London she defied her physical disabilities to attend exhibitions, and the opera at Covent Garden. At her 50th birthday party at the Oriental Club, Penelope graciously welcomed a hundred or more guests from her wheel chair.

She was never short of friends. Even when she became almost completely bedridden, it remained a pleasure to visit her. I would be invited for a cup of tea or a glass of wine and Penelope would want to hear all the news about mutual friends or my latest visit to a vineyard, an exhibition or theatre. And her interest in wine never lapsed. Even when she had to drink using a straw and you needed to hold the glass for her, she would always want to sniff the wine first, and then comment on the flavour. She remained bright and alert and curious about life, dealing with her illness with enormous courage and fortitude.