She was maybe the most unexpected person I ever met. I knew her from the phone, before I came to work for National Review. Lots of people knew her from the phone. You could get a picture of a plump English dowager, imperious, stuffy, sitting at night in a velvet chair, with a little dog at her feet.
Then I met her, and I’ll be damned: a slim, stylish, worldly, flirty, sometimes racy East Ender. London’s East End may be known for the Olympics today, but once upon a time it was known as the Jewish quarter of the British capital. One of Frances’s sisters, I believe, dated Harold Pinter. He was over at the house a fair amount. When Pinter won the Nobel prize for literature in 2005, spewing anti-American rhetoric as he did, Frances was both amused and appalled.
She was a singer, and loved, loved music. She got a faraway look in her eye when she spoke of Kathleen Ferrier. It was fun to take her to concerts (Frances, I mean, though Ferrier would have been fun too). She was a city girl through and through, perfectly at home on the streets of New York, as she must have been in London, back then. I loved hearing her stories — tales of WFB and a thousand others. I loved her grin and wink and “Hiya, ducks.”
NR veterans might point out that I caught Frances in the last 15 years or so, when she was considerably mellowed. I’m well aware of this. Bill used to laugh at remembering how terrified certain friends of his used to be of Frances. She was very kind to me, in addition to charming. Fabulous company. In a written tribute, Bill once described her as his “friend and aide.” She wasn’t my aide, but she was my friend, and her friendship “aided” in keeping life bright.