Tuesday, November 13th, 2012...11:39 am

Valerie Fletcher Eliot (1926-2012)

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Angus McBean, photographer. Valerie and T.S. Eliot, 1957. From the Henry Ware Eliot Jr. Collection, MS Am 2560 (215). Photograph © Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. The passing of Valerie Eliot last Friday evoked sadness for the loss of a good friend to the Houghton Library, and marked the breaking of our the last living link with the life and legacy of T.S. Eliot, a poet inextricably linked to Harvard University.

Mrs. Eliot’s dedication to protecting and promoting Eliot’s literary legacy brought her to the Library at the beginning of her project to edit his letters. Henry Ware Eliot Jr., the poet’s brother, had collected together much family correspondence and photographs, which were invaluable in her editorial effort. And, over the years, the Library has been fortunate in acquiring, both by gift and by purchase, additional Eliot material. This has kept us much in touch not only with Mrs. Eliot, but with the team of editors she latterly enlisted to help her complete her project, the T.S. Eliot Editorial Project under General Editor Dr. John Haffenden.

What I remember most, however, was her kindness to me when I first came to Harvard. It was with some hesitation that I first wrote to her, asking if I could meet with her when I was in London for a conference; it seemed unlikely that she would have time for me. Much to my surprise, she invited me to dinner. While unprepared for the strength and quantity of martinis pressed upon me, I managed not to embarrass myself, or the Library, and it marked the beginning of a warm, ongoing relationship. On a later visit, when she learned that I had not seen the musical Cats (inspired by Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), she phoned the theatre and arranged tickets. Witty, warm, extremely sociable, and unfailingly kind, it was easy to see what had attracted Mr. Eliot.

The stream of stories about “Tom,” and in particular hearing about the happy months she and Tom had spent at Harvard, were endlessly fascinating. Clearly it was one of the most memorable periods of her life, and I, and the Library, benefitted from this reflected happiness.

[Thanks to Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post.]

Photo: Angus McBean, photographer. Valerie and T.S. Eliot, 1957. From the Henry Ware Eliot Jr. Collection, MS Am 2560 (215). Photograph © Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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