Whenever the Chief Guide travelled, her visit was the reason for special
functions: a tidy up of headquarters, and often for members to have new
uniforms; so she said that not only was she the Movement's Chief Guide but also
the Chief Excuse.
In this year which marks the centenary of her birth I
understand there are to be celebrations, and how she would laugh at being the
cause of yet more fun and events.
I first came to know the Chief Guide when I
married her grandson twenty-five years ago. We became close friends and enjoyed
fourteen happy years spending much of our lives together. She was a most
engaging character full of enthusiasm, not exactly a 'sweet old lady as it was
once enquiringly suggested to me ?she would not have achieved all she did had
she been one. She was not only dedicated to continuing the work other 'darling
man' or 'my darling' as she referred to her husband but also never stinted
herself in doing all in her power to foster and promote Scouting and Girl
Guiding and caring for members of the Movements. Visitors arrived almost
constantly from all parts of the world to visit their Chief at her Grace and
Favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace - some by invitation or appointment and
many just turned up ... the group might be as large as fifty ... all were made
welcome, latecomers always were rebuked.
Hampton Court Palace was cold, so it
was convenient that countries in the southern hemisphere preferred her to visit
them during their summer and the northern hemisphere during their summer. So she
was able to 'perch' at the Palace during the more clement months. During these
months, there were regular lunchtime parties, when up to about thirty people
were asked, and she had what she called a 'finger lunch' of sandwiches, curry
puffs, fruit salad and coffee served in her large drawing room, long passage,
and sometimes we also had to use the bed-sitting room too.
When the eating was
over, she would stand by her desk and introduce everyone in turn, often with
amusing anecdotes. She would then ease herself up to sit on the large desk and
with legs swinging would regale her guests with a talk about her recent travels
and guiding in the countries and places she had visited.
The Chief Guide
received a huge mail daily which included reports and magazines from the various
countries. Dull some of them may have appeared, but not to her, for she read
them, seeing in her mind's eye the people and places that she knew and cared for
- congratulations and encouraging words would then be written.
possible during the day and evening, often well into the early hours of the next
day, the Chief Guide sat at her desk, bolt upright on a stool, a rug over her
legs with her feet on a hot water bottle. She typed with two fingers, 'hunt and
pick' style but at great speed, on a large old typewriter. The routine continued
even when she was travelling, for she carried a portable machine with her, and
the tap, tap, tap could be heard from her bedroom. The typing was very personal,
not a trained style but came onto the paper like her speech. The words had great
warmth and lots of emphasis expressed in capital letters, underlining, great
spaces, missed lines. Confirmation of arrangements were always clearly set out
in letters and as she taught me, the day and date were both written to avoid any
errors - also typed were lists, for she was very keen on itemising things.
Lady B.-P. was a great talker with a deep voice and a charming, unusual turn of
phrase. A senior commissioner of the Korean Girl Guides was always amused as
being regarded as 'delicious Mrs Lee'.
While she would refuse to go bed in the
evening before her desk was clear, a lie-in in the morning was her reward. After
she heart attack while on tour in Canada, it was not too difficult to persuade
her to remain in bed for breakfast and then take her bath late so that the rooms
could be cleaned before she appeared start her day's work. She slept with her
bedroom door closed, but once she was awake and had collected her breakfast on a
tray from the kitchen, the bedroom remained open so that any family or friends
staying could go in and pull up a chair for a cosy chat - 'sagas', as she called
tales, were very much relished.
From her father, the Chief Guide inherited a
love of gardening and this was her great joy and relaxation. She had an
allotment in an old walled garden in the Home Park at Hampton Court. She would
escape to her 'plot' all she could once her deskwork and entertaining was done.
Hour after hour she weeded, bending over hoop style. Flowers were not a present
she welcomed, as she was proud of growing enough to fill her apartment. She also
grew large quantities of rhubarb which was an asset in easing the household
budget, but it was a rather constant item on her menu - it was even bottled and
served out of season.
It was a great pleasure to assist her in any way, for
she was always charming and courteous - one was always thanked. We sometimes
teased her saying the wrote and thanked people for thanking her. Wherever she
had been or whatever one did for her you were thanked, and she died with this
accomplishment. My husband had the task of tidying up her possessions and
affairs. In her desk he found an envelope addressed to me. In the envelope were
two letters of appreciation, the first written much earlier another more
recently, exactly her husband had done for her.
Baden Powell, grand-daughter-in-law of the Chiefs, Guiding in Australia, June