I don’t know what it is about Lincolnshire but it seems to produce more than its fair share of men and women who live to be over 100 years old.
This week we lost one of them, a marvellous lady whom I feel truly privileged to have known, Lady Le Marchant of Hungerton Hall.
I first met Elizabeth after I was selected as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Grantham and Stamford. At the age of 95 she had attended the final selection meeting and sat through several hours of speeches and interviews and votes on a hard plastic chair in a chilly gym at the Mere’s Leisure Centre. She voted for me, I am glad to say, and a few days’ later got in touch to offer me the chance to rent one of her cottages. So Church Cottage in Wyville became my Lincolnshire home for the next few years – and Elizabeth became my landlady and friend.
Elizabeth made an immediate impression, one that you never forgot. Though small in stature, she had a strong character. Her personality and willpower shone through extraordinary blue eyes. She combined great kindness, and warmth, with firm views and high standards. I grew very fond of her but never stopped feeling that I needed to be on my best behaviour when visiting her. One year I decided to let the grass in the Church Cottage garden grow as long as a hayfield to save on mowing. I offered her some flannel about the beauties of a wild flower meadow but she wasn’t having any of it. And a few days later I received a curt note from the managing agent reminding me that the terms of my lease included a responsibility to keep the lawn regularly mown.
A few months ago Elizabeth’s son Francis died after a long illness. It took remarkable strength for her to attend his funeral, walk down the aisle behind his coffin and greet hundreds of mourners from a chair by his open grave. A couple of days later I was stunned to receive a call from her thanking me for attending the service. That was the last time I spoke to her. I will always remember her as she was then: an English lady in every sense, whose dignity, and courage, and generosity of spirit were wonders to behold.