Archive for October, 2009

Remembering Mary Stott

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Way back when the SDP was a proper party fighting a General Election, I met Mary Stott who arrived at our HQ in an old off-licence in deepest South East London and rolled up her sleeves and stuffed envelopes for our candidate, who was her friend Polly Toynbee, and made tea and talked deep good sense.

I actually at that time had no idea who she was other than the person I sat with on the routine chores of election. Grey haired and calm Mary and I chatted as we packed. I can’t recall really what we talked about. I suspect if I had realized then that Mary was one of the most respected and loved journalists of her day, founding editor of Guardian Women I would have been too overawed to talk about anything, It was only later that I found that out. And when I did it it made sense of something that happened one afternoon.

A woman came in and started to talk to us in a rather general way – “what’s this party about then”, “what are you going to do for me”, “you’re not going to get in are you.” Her accent seemed educated but her manner was distracted. Mary replied in measured tones, answering the questions without patronizing, but kept focused on the envelopes. Then the woman said “I lost my husband you know”.

Mary immediately stopped working, stood up, moved to the woman and took her hands. I clearly remember that all she said was “oh, my dear”. She stood in front of our visitor, just holding both her hands in hers, while the tears fell.

Although I thought I could recognize distress I had not seen what Mary had; the directionless despair of loss. Later I read her autobiography “Forgetting’s no Excuse” when she writes of her life and of her marriage to Kenneth Stott and of how she learned to live alone after he died. I have always remembered (and passed on) her advice to married women, “keep your own bank account”. I’ve just looked at my copy, unread for many years and think I must re-visit. Our visitor, incidentally came back quite often after that, drawn to Mary’s company, never quite as distracted as that first visit, and she even helped from time to time.

Later, I would often see her in Blackheath Village. As The Guardian inaugurated a prize in her name and I see that this year’s winner writes about widowhood. Mary Stott would have understood.