OPINION - Happy birthday to a great woman, and to the Queen

·2-min read
 (Nick Curtis)
(Nick Curtis)

Today marks a significant birthday for an inspirational woman who is loved by those who know her and respected by those who feel that they do. That’s right, my mum. Alison Kay Curtis turns 85 just as the Queen turns 96. If her achievements and history are not as well known as those of her more famous birthday “twin”, I believe they still deserve to be celebrated.

Born in 1937 in Orpington to my grandfather William, a surveyor, and my grandmother Mildred, a housewife, my mum was raised to believe that education was everything and gender was no bar. (She is six years older than my Uncle Graham). After grammar school in Dover, she enrolled in the late Fifties at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, one of only two women in an intake of about 30.

The other woman promptly got pregnant and left. My mum stayed on and won the Bannister Fletcher Medal on graduation, either for getting a first or for her alternative design for a National Theatre: she can’t recall which.

Cleaving to my grandparents’ socialist principles, she got a job with the London county council and worked all her career in the construction or improvement of social housing.

At the LCC she met my father John, also an architect but from poorer Midlands roots. Although my dad’s self-reinvention was more dramatic, my mum’s career was the more successful, their marriage an equal partnership, if occasionally fiery early on.

I was born in 1966 into a Putney household full of books, jazz LPs and modernist chairs, my sister Rachel two years later. A feminist, my mum resented the reduction imposed on her pay grade and pension when she paused her civil service employment to have us.

Both took early retirement and threw themselves into enthusiastic grandparenting of my sister’s three children in Denmark. Mum never ceased to be interested in travel, antiques and self-improvement. When dad developed Alzheimer’s in his seventies she cared for him at home in Ramsgate, quietly and with endless loving patience, till his death in 2020.

Even now, she adheres to a schedule of talks, classes and collectors’ groups that would exhaust me, and always has several books on the go. I’m bloody proud of her. Happy birthday mum. Oh, and you too, Your Majesty, obviously.

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