Here’re some reminiscences of Ann mentioned by Richard Hext at the Requiem Mass. I decide to place it in my blog to help remember my beloved boss and benefactress, Ann Hext. She was a wonderful and unbeatable Christian. Her death reminds me that life is so precious, it can be cut short with no good reason. Even so we have to move on and to make most of our lives be prosperous as God’s will.
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I am a very lucky chap for having known and loved Annie for almost thirty three years, about two thirds of her life, so I'd now like to tell you a few things about her.
First of all I loved her to bits. She was beautiful, clever, kind, sexy, brave, very determined, unselfish and loving and thus the best companion any man could wish for. She was also a very private, reserved and disciplined person who preferred to control her environment, disliking uncertainty and most sorts of surprises, characteristics that I often found infuriating! This combination captivated me, enchanted me, enraged me and filled me with joy - sometimes, all at the same time! She was my lover, my best friend, my greatest critic (especially driving a car) and my greatest advocate. She also made my career, giving up hers in Hong Kong to support me in Papua New Guinea, and she was the person to whom I would turn with my knottiest problems and from whom I got the best advice. So where did this lady come from?
Annie was the eldest daughter of Marysia (nee Grabowska) and Roger Curtis, who lived most of their family life in this beautiful town of Wareham. Annie's family pedigree is impressive: Marysia's father was Minister of Justice in Poland before the second world war and Roger's great, great grandfather was Governor of the Bank of England. Annie went to Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth, where she excelled, and after that to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she took a first in History. After Oxford, she joined the Reader's Digest in London, where she worked for eighteen months before we were married in this church (The Holy Spirit Church, London) and she moved out to join me in Hong Kong. We then spent about twenty years being moved around by Mr. Swire: after five years in Hong Kong, we spent two in Papua New Guinea, two back in Hong Kong, five in Sydney and then five back in Hong Kong. Annie worked for most of that time for Asiaweek and Time magazine. Annie couldn't work in New Guinea so she did an MBA by correspondence at Warwick University, gaining a Distinction despite having to study in a sweltering bedroom without air conditioning and, from 1987, with a small baby scrabbling around on the floor. Indeed, although Jamie was born in Poole, his first home was in New Guinea. Jamie was joined two years later by William, also born in Poole, and two years after that by Joey who was born in Sydney. In 2000 we left our life with Swire to move back to the UK when I promised her- and much to her great skepticism - that I'd transform myself from boring shipping functionary to exciting Internet Hotshot. As usual Annie was right, and four years later, I resumed life as a functionary and started commuting between Hong Kong and England. In May 2007, she took the momentous decision to quit her position in Time as Vice President Circulation covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America in order to spend more time with the boys and me. In July 2007, only two months after quitting work, she had a few dizzy spells, which turned out to be symptoms of a tumour in her brain which was then removed in a major, emergency operation. That was the start of two ghastly years during which she fought the lung cancer that had spread to her brain and went later to her leg and liver. Her fight, which involved 4 major operations, 7 lots of radiotherapy, 4 long courses of chemo and incalculable hours of private mental anguish, was truly awesome. She never complained of her suffering and, whilst planning meticulously for the worst, stuck resolutely to the hope that there would be a life for her beyond cancer. She had never smoked, she was extremely careful with her diet and she was in fantastic shape exercising regularly and looking after herself fastidiously. Who said life was fair?
But Annie, apart from having such a powerful intellect, was very focused and practical. Her message to us now would be to point out that it takes a death to put life in perspective and she would exhort us to reflect on that and to get on and enjoy to the full every day that we are lucky enough to be given. She would also remind us that it's all too easy to let little frictions and irritations get in the way of the joy of enjoying our closest relationships.
Annie's closest relationships were certainly what mattered to her most. During her illness, she was asked by one of her doctors to talk about her "most important accomplishments" and the doctor noted her response as follows: " It’s funny, I never look at my life as a series of important accomplishments. Life has been granted to me by God and I am living it to the best of my ability, in joy and according to the precepts He laid down and that would give Him joy. To me the children, apart from my husband and the rest of my family, are the most important accomplishments in my life. I want them to be happy, I don’t want them to be rich, powerful or anything like that, necessarily, but if it comes their way so much the better. But I do want them to be nice, kind, and happy people, and at the moment they are certainly generous spirited. They’re not saints, they’re like anyone else, and they squabble. But I think, on balance, they’ve grown up very, very well, and if I have one thank you to God, it’s that he’s helped me and Richard to do that."
You will have gathered my bias when it comes to talking about Annie so what have others said?
Let me start with Peter Bieneman, who is Housemaster at the Grove, Harrow in a note to the boys: " I always felt hugely honoured to have been entrusted with the care of her three sons, who were everything to her, and let me tell you that it was not a task to be taken on lightly. She had very high standards, and knew exactly what she wanted you all to achieve. At the same time she was very kind and always appreciative. Lynette and I also remember the joyful drinks parties after each of your confirmations with a plentiful Hext / Curtis turnout! I remember both Marysia and Peggy thanking me on one such occasion for including so many Hexts and Curtises when Annie, who had heard this exchange, commented in her inimitable style "Well I should think so - we've paid enough to send the boys here!" Annie was razor sharp, so bright and challenging and there is a great deal of her in each of you."
Of course I know Peter pretty well but I know her former bosses from Time Magazine less well. One boss, Phil Whitney, for whom Annie had a high regard, wrote as follows to me: "Annie had a razor sharp mind. She was truly one of the best Circulators I have ever worked with. Her work and thinking was exceptional but what I remember most about her, besides her brilliant laugh, was her integrity. Moral inconsistencies and incongruity were anathema to her. She was fair to a fault, honest with herself and others and, most of all, she was a clear, direct thinker and communicator."
Let me now say something about her likes and dislikes in no particular order. Annie loved our family life. We have so many happy holiday memories of Cornwall, where she had also holidayed as a child, of Hope Cove in Devon , of Kos and Ko Samui, of Bali , of La Plagne and skiing (which she really didn't like much) , of Bermuda and the frog that had been run over that we adopted, of our discovery of her Mum's Poland , of Tioman and Sri Lanka, and the Blue Mountains and the Sunshine coast in Queensland and Tasmania and Spain and New Zealand and Tunisia and Dubai and Oman where we hunted for melted Easter eggs in the blazing heat and the back of Bourke, where our car broke down. She loved France from her au pair days, through our holidays together in Versailles and Argeles and her relationships with her french cousins and the various moitie moities in her life. She liked going to the Cinema, she loved tapestry, she loved going to the Gym and she used to play a bit of tennis, She loved eating porridge and fish and avocado and chocolate and coffee and diet coke and pringles. In Hong Kong, she loved going on junks and she loved the Wardhaven holiday house. She loved her small, white furry cat with a kinked tail. She liked watching rugby - especially England, for she was quite patriotic, and, with her heart in her mouth, her not so little Joey grunting away in the Harrow scrum. I remember one game when the Colts XV scrum moved on but Joey was left prone and she let out a shriek and went sprinting off around the pitch to give him succour. She loved doing her hair and colouring it and having manicures and pedicures with Mr So at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong and she got furious if we splashed her hair unnecessarily in the pool . She loved luxuriating in the bath whilst having her back scrubbed and sipping white wine; indeed I wrote regularly to the boys at Cothill about their poor, harassed, henpecked, miserable father whose only useful role was to be number one wine slave to Mummy in the bath. Annie loved getting a bargain - she hated buying steak in Koh Samui for two quid if you could get chicken curry for 50p. Her Mummy Happiness Index or MHI (which the boys created and monitored closely) would plummet at Hong Kong Airport whenever her 3 boys flew off to boarding school and would soar when they came home. We used to celebrate the start of holidays at Dan Ryans or at the Cricket Club or at Mc Donalds on the Peak or with a video. One such evening when Joey, age 6, was still at home and Jamie and William had just got back, Annie chose a film called Starship Troopers which she expected to be another Startrek with nice little green men but which was actually a most bloodthirsty and gory film about bugs and humans massacring each other . The elder two boys told Annie that Joey had been scarred for life and the MHI plummeted again! As I said she was so disciplined: during that Dubai holiday we spent ages finding a wadi to explore but Annie then only allowed us 15 minutes to do so because she needed to get back for a session in the gym. She enjoyed doing crosswords and she liked Bond films and walking on the beach and having a spotlessly clean and immaculately tidy house, something that the boys understood but did not always respect. When she was ill and William hadn't tidied up, he described the noise of Annie's walking stick approaching his room as "the click of doom" because, although she loved the boys to a fault, she would hit the roof when she saw any mess.
I hope I have given you some flavor of Annie. Everything she did, she did really, really well whether as a wife to me, a sister to Tom, Katie and Nick, a daughter to Roger and Marysia, a colleague at work, a mother to Jamie, William and Joey or as a dear friend to almost everyone else in this Church.
Let me now leave you with a wonderful story about the last thing that she did really, really well: her death. As I said, she was very practical and selfless - she never wanted her disease to get in the way of others' progress so she insisted that I keep working at Pacific Basin and that the boys should not interrupt their schedules for her. Thus it was that although things weren't looking good in June, she also insisted (that's a good word for Annie) that William go to Taiwan for two months to continue his studies in Mandarin, that Jamie go to Montenegro with Jade and a bunch of mates to celebrate his degree in theology from Oxford and that Joey should continue with his Duke of Edinburgh courses in Scotland and in Somerset. A few days before she passed away, however, I realised that for once in my life I had better countermand Annie. And so the two boys overseas, Jamie and William, rushed home and got back over the weekend before the Tuesday afternoon on which she died. In the case of Joey, I thought we had quite a bit more time and so it was only on Tuesday morning that I asked him to come home. Although Annie was a bit out of it all, she clearly decided not to go until we were all together. And so Annie, perfectly in control as ever, waited for her Joey to arrive. His train arrived at Paddington at 3:30pm, his taxi got to Bonneville Gardens at 4:15pm and at 4:16 pm he was clutching her hand with William and with Jamie and with me. We stayed like that for the next 20 minutes and then, her family suitably reunited and around her, she decided that it was time for her to move on.
So farewell for now my Darling, Darling Annie. I am sure that you are smiling on us from a much better place. Thank you for your wonderful example to us all. You are in our hearts until we meet again.