T.S. Eliot's second wife Valerie dies, aged 86

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 2:56am

Valerie Eliot, the widow of T.S. Eliot and zealous guardian of the poet's literary legacy for almost half a century, has died, aged 86.

On Sunday, the Eliot estate said Valerie had died two days before at her London home after a short illness.

Born Valerie Fletcher in Leeds, northern England, on August 17, 1926, Eliot was the second wife of the U.S.-born Nobel literature laureate. They met at London publisher Faber & Faber, where she was a star-struck secretary. "I felt I knew him as a person," from his poems, she told The Independent newspaper in 1994, "and evidently I did."

The poet's first marriage, to the mercurial Vivienne Haigh-Wood, had been unhappy; she died in an asylum in 1947.

He and Valerie wed in 1957, and friends described the union as a happy one despite the almost 40-year gap in their ages.

She described their routine as nights at home eating cheese and playing Scrabble and trips to the theatre. "He obviously needed a happy marriage," she said. "He wouldn't die until he'd had it."

After Eliot's death in 1965, Valerie became his executor, steadfastly refusing to cooperate with would-be biographers, in keeping with the poet's last wishes.