The Wiener Library

For the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide

Jean Frances Harff

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Plaque

Jean Frances Harff
Niece of Lady Henriques
born 18 May 1926
died 29 May 2010
London

 

Please use the arrows to scroll to the next page for more details about Jean Frances Harff.

Introduction

Jean was a long time member of the Wimbledon & District Synagogue, who decided to leave a legacy to the Wiener Library because of the close connection with her Aunt, Lady Rose Henriques, whose archive papers are deposited here in the library. In her own handwritten notes, Jean wrote: “My mother was a Coleman and their family went back to the Spanish & Portuguese Jews in the 16th Century. My mother’s sister, Auntie Rosie, was a real dear and married Sir Basil Henriques, the well-known youth magistrate and founder of the Bernard Baron Settlement. Rosie later became Dame Henriques in her own right."

Eulogy (page 1)

The story of Jean's life is told in the funeral address on the following pages, given in 2010 by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild. Please click on the right arrow to read through the complete text.

Hesped (eulogy) for Jean Harff, Randalls Park, June 2010
Jean Harff lived a rich, complex and very private existence. I met her only eight years ago when new to the synagogue, and she was someone to be reckoned with. My first attempt to visit was not a success – when I realised I would be about ten minutes or so late, I telephoned her as a courtesy. Her response when hearing I was about to leave the synagogue was not to bother – I was late and therefore not welcome. My second attempt left me waiting outside her front door for what felt like hours, until she slowly and painfully arrived to let me in, still cross with my previous discourtesy.

I am happy to say that we made it up, and since then became good friends. 

James Leek, whom she adored, has gathered some thoughts her cousin Frida, her neighbours and her personal papers. He writes:  

“As many of you here today, both family and friends and her carers from Nightingale know, Jean was a complex person. She was in essence a unique and lovely enigma. We know a lot about Jean and her views on life, relationships and the political world from her last five years at Nightingale House. It was there that she really seemed to have blossomed and become a much softer and easier person. So let me start at the end and tell you a bit about the Nightingale days before touching on the earlier years."

Jean moved to the Nightingale retirement home in April 2005 after some years of increasing frailness and difficulty living alone in her house in Leopold Avenue.  After the normal difficult adjustment period (which included on one fraught occasion her telling James that he had “moved her to a prison camp!”) she did indeed begin to blossom. One of her volunteer visitors and friends from our Wimbledon Community, Diana Kelion who unfortunately cannot be here today, put it very succinctly and beautifully in a letter she has written to us:

“Do you remember the first few months of not eating and despair? Then the transformation to smiles and taking part in every activity she could. When I first met Jean in her own home, despite her frail frame she had a strength of character I truly admired – an intelligent, interesting lady with a fascinating life in politics; she had an inner light that shone through her physical frame. Since last summer at Nightingale (often in the garden) we talked about death and what might be beyond. We would exchange thoughts – but realised that we would never reach the definitive answer for which she searched.”

Eulogy (page 2)

Jean moved to the Nightingale retirement home in April 2005 after some years of increasing frailness and difficulty living alone in her house in Leopold Avenue.  After the normal difficult adjustment period (which included on one fraught occasion her telling James that he had “moved her to a prison camp!”) she did indeed begin to blossom. One of her volunteer visitors and friends from our Wimbledon Community, Diana Kelion who unfortunately cannot be here today, put it very succinctly and beautifully in a letter she has written to us:

“Do you remember the first few months of not eating and despair? Then the transformation to smiles and taking part in every activity she could. When I first met Jean in her own home, despite her frail frame she had a strength of character I truly admired – an intelligent, interesting lady with a fascinating life in politics; she had an inner light that shone through her physical frame. Since last summer at Nightingale (often in the garden) we talked about death and what might be beyond. We would exchange thoughts – but realised that we would never reach the definitive answer for which she searched.”

And those activities which Jean so readily took part in at Nightingale covered a very wide field: poetry classes, pottery, concerts and musical events, Yiddish classes – this one did not survive long, current affairs and reminiscence discussion groups, scrabble with one of her young volunteer visitors and even a valiant attempt to learn basic email and computing skills. Despite being in a wheelchair, she appears to have been one of the most active residents – and her many visitors from family, friends, old neighbours and Rabbis from Wimbledon were well advised to phone in advance to make sure she would be available for a visit!

And now to reverse the order and talk about Jean’s earlier days. We found some notes in her own handwriting, which I would like to share with you:

“My mother was a Coleman and their family went back to the Spanish & Portugese Jews in the 16th Century. My mother’s sister, Auntie Rosie, was a real dear  and married Sir Basil Henriques, the well-known youth magistrate and founder of the Bernard Baron Settlement. Rosie later became Dame Henriques in her own right.

"My father’s brother was Sir Ben Lockspeiser, a good family man who in the war was chief scientific officer at the Ministry of defence under Winston Churchill; amongst other things he supplied the spotlight altimeter method for the Dambusters raid. He married Auntie Elsie who we all loved and I had 33 cousins with large families and I became close friends with some of them.”

Eulogy (page 3)

Jean did not mention her father’s other distinguished brother, Edward Lockspeiser the biographer of Debussy, but she was clearly very fond of and proud of the entire Lockspeiser family. It is lovely that her cousin Frida (Sir Ben Lockspeiser’s daughter and her husband Vic can be here today, together with other family members of whom Jean thought highly). And here is the enigma of which I spoke earlier. Frida only rarely saw Jean after her early childhood years, although she was in close touch with Jean’s sister Margaret (who died some 10 years ago). But although Jean clearly loved them all dearly, she could not bring herself to see them despite numerous requests – and yet shortly after Jean came to Nightingale she was delighted again to be “re-united” with her cousin Frida and Frida’s brother David who enjoyed some much appreciated visits to her there.  We now begin to understand that inside this very warm and loving person who cherished her family and friends there was a strange fear of actual meeting.  Jean’s room and personal papers are crammed full of cards and letters from family and friends and she delighted in reading them all – and occasionally replying.  And it is one of those replying letters to Frida (which may never have been sent) she explains so movingly how she felt about visiting family and friends: Dear Frida, she wrote:

“It was really lovely of you to ring me and have a nice chat, and so really good of you to invite me along to see you both and Margaret.  But Frida, I hope you won’t mind if I don’t accept your so thoughtful idea of asking me to come over one evening.  It’s so long since we’ve seen each other but I am really a coward in my old age.  Possibly because most of the time I was married I gave dinner parties every Saturday evening as Walter was a very sociable person and loved entertaining in our own home.

"I am just the same with my old school friends – keeping in touch on the phone but somehow not being able to face meeting them – but we all stay really good friends just as I do with the Lockspeisers and the Sanders. I am a right NUT – that’s me – so do please forgive me if I seem ungrateful – indeed I am not and I greatly appreciate your thinking of me in this way.”

There are many other letters now found which may never have been sent, to friends and family, which James Leek will try to re-unite with their intended recipients and they show in the most beautiful way the love and friendship which Jean bore to so many people who she had met in her long life.

And Jean’s great friendships extended to her neighbours in Leopold Avenue – some of whom are here today, Lydia and Neville, Barbara and Emily. There is an old saying – as you sow, so shall you reap – and this is shown so clearly in the Leopold Avenue community. Jean’s friendship with her neighbours gave way, as she became less physically able, to the most amazing support system that enabled her to stay living independently for much longer than she would otherwise have been able to do.

Eulogy (page 4)

Jean's friendships did not stop there. Many of you will remember her dog Pickle and her cats. In her last will, as well as numerous legacies to a wide number of charities and many relatives and friends, there is a special clause requesting her executors to try to erect a bench in the vicinity of 20 Leopold Avenue with words commemorating her dog Pickle and her cats Topsy-Turvy and Ginger! Clearly Jean was a person who loved all of God's creations.

And there were many other happy days in earlier years. Jean married Walter Harff in 1962 at West London Synagogue. There are many photograph albums which show them and their friends spending enjoyable and happy days together – including days on the Thames in Walter’s cabin cruiser. They celebrated their silver wedding in 1987 and although they became divorced some 10 years ago there were happy times during their wedded life.

In the mid 1960s until the early 1970s Jean became a secretary to many MPs in the House of Commons and this was clearly a fascinating and memorable period of her life.  She worked amongst others for the subsequent Speaker, Sir George Thomas, Peter Archer, Kenneth Robinson and Arthur Blenkinsop, Ted Rogers and Sir John West. She was in earlier years a staunch member of the Labour Party, although more recent discussion in the Nightingale Gardens lead one to believe that the love affair was cooling rapidly – she became more interested in what the Liberals were up to, and although she was really unwell at the time of this recent election seemed to look benignly upon the unusual coalition which has resulted.

Jean’s life was full and varied, she had her share of pain but she also had strong friendships and interesting experiences. Her last years in nightingale were possibly her happiest, she relaxed into the experience and enjoyed herself immensely, softening greatly in the process. I will miss my conversations with her, and I know many feel the same. But now it is time to say goodbye and to be with her on the final step of her journey, putting her to rest in this peaceful and beautiful place, remembering and celebrating all that she was. And for those who are able, Jean requested that all who are able should come to a reception immediately after the funeral at Cannizaro House on Wimbledon Common to celebrate her. There will be many photographs and documents of Jean’s life on display there. 

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