Marie: A Remembrance

Marie & Jane in Florence, 2009. (John Anthony Rizzo/ Condé Nast Traveller/© The Condé Nast Publications Ltd)

Delivered at the reception following funeral services, March 12, 2012, Oyster Bay, New York, by Jane Wellesley

Marie was quite simply my best and dearest friend, but I speak for her many, many friends in England who loved her, and most especially her girl friends. For, as others have said, she was the most wonderful girls’ girl. Marie was passionate about everything she engaged with, and that included friendship.

We loved her for her elegance, energy and spontaneity. For her vulnerability, exuberance, and independent spirit. We loved her for her wildness, her loyalty, and fearlessness. And, as she reminded me in an email written not so long ago, “even in the darkest of times,” we laughed. We loved her for her ‘love of life.’ And for me she was the best company wherever we were, because she could segue effortlessly between talking about causes and issues that were close to her heart and discussing some piece of private gossip about the love life of a mutual friend, or indeed hers or mine.

Many of us met her for the first time at a party. I certainly did, nearly 25 years ago. Marie was both a brilliant party giver and guest. And anyone I ever introduced her to fell for her, whether that was my father, now 96, or my two small goddaughters, 2 and 5 when they first met her. Her parties were legendary, in the latter years with her huge beloved cat, Billy Smith, prowling around, furious that he didn’t have his mistress to himself. And as the hours passed, her wonderful American drawl became more gravelly as she flung her arms round anyone that turned up, invited or not. At the best ones (perhaps in slightly earlier days), Marie’s beautiful rugs would be rolled up, and we would dance and party until dawn broke.

I was always in awe of what she did as a war correspondent, but she managed never to make her own extraordinary work dim or diminish one’s own professional endeavours. She was the most generous and giving person I have ever met.

Of course, you have fights with people you care about, and I think the worst one was a couple of years ago when we were in Italy writing a magazine piece together. Apart from tracking down an exotic white truffle (Marie incidentally was a very good cook when she had organized herself sufficiently to buy the food and remember to cook it), the highlight of the trip for her was the Prada outlet about an hour from Florence, which on that day was our destination. Needless to say, we got lost finding it (she was the map reader), and by the time we got there, I reckoned we had 15 minutes, max, to get in and out. I efficiently chose the cheapest, smallest thing I could find, but she was determined to buy some boots, and she had serried ranks of them lined up to try on. I knew we had a deadline – a photographer was waiting for us at the hotel in Florence, and eventually, after giving her several warnings, I said we were leaving – and of course I was in the driving seat. But the perfect pair of boots had not appeared, so she left empty-handed. She was genuinely furious, and didn’t speak a word – not one word on the drive to Florence. But she rarely let the sun set on an argument, and later over several Bellinis, and pasta with truffles, hostilities melted.

It mattered hugely to Marie that she kept in touch with us all, and if one of her girlfriends had gone off the radar, she worried until they were back in contact. Of course, so often it was the other way round, but over the years she managed to ring me from many extraordinary locations. I relied on her to be there for me, and she knew I always was for her. She tried to get through to me and left the last voice message on my cell phone two days before she was killed. She was just checking in, telling me not to be worried but warning me that she might be out of touch for a little while. It is unbearable to think that it’s forever.