Letter: Jennifer Jenkins was not above the odd mischievous comment

Pamela Dunbar
Jennifer and Roy Jenkins on budget day in 1970. Photograph: Harry Dempster/Getty Images

Jennifer Jenkins and I met every few months over the course of several decades. In private she was warm, lively, relaxed and one of the best conversationalists I have known. While always loyal to her husband, Roy, she was not above the occasional mischievous comment: “He is permanently jet-lagged these days [during the Brussels period], he can’t eat lunch on his own – simply can’t!”

It has been observed that in his heyday Roy more or less reinvented the world of the Whig grandee, with his mixing of politics, intellectual life and pleasurable socialising. But there was a touch of the congenial 18th century about Jennifer too – a personal elegance that depended not on dress (she was happiest in jeans), but simply on the way she presented: occasional severity in moral judgment (where she perhaps had the misfortune to be generally right) and, though she would not have acknowledged it, a talent for a good phrase.

Of their youthful love-at-first-sight meeting at a Fabian summer school, Roy used to recount how one afternoon he batted well at cricket and so was finally able to pluck up the courage to talk to the tall, fair girl he had been admiring; while Jennifer’s – “we came separately, we left together” – has the resonant summation that an Augustan stylist might have envied.

Jennifer was an energetic and skilful chairman of the National Trust, the last of her many jobs. To me she never mentioned the grandeur of the houses she visited, though on several occasions she did speak with distress of some owners (names never mentioned) living in straitened circumstances, with inadequate heating and mushrooms growing from the ceiling.

She was also distressed about the hunting controversy, which was doubtless not at the time resolvable to the satisfaction of all.

As well as her achievements in public life, she had a gift for private friendship: her company and conversation became something of a liberal education.

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