Does a mentor necessarily have to be a teacher? Of course not. A mentor is someone who offers guidance, support and inspiration, someone we might turn to for advice. Last night, I learnt that someone I regarded as a mentor, and also a friend, had died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family.
I first met Linda Kelly, and her husband Laurence (for whom I worked as a PA for 15 years until I moved out of London) in 2003. At that time, I was rather in awe of her – a published and highly-regarded author, she was doing something I aspired to. During the time I worked for Laurence, Linda completed three books – not slim volumes but carefully-researched tomes whose text sparkled with knowledge, intelligence and good humour.
My office was on the top floor of Laurence and Linda’s house in Notting Hill and her study was across the landing from where I worked. I learnt a lot about being a writer from observing Linda. She clearly had a routine and was at her desk every morning. In addition, it was quite evident that writing was an incredibly significant part of her life (along with her family and friends), and also a place to escape to. She felt that writing also provided an important contrast to family life and running a house, but I don’t think she ever regarded it as something exceptional or special – it was just something that she “did”.
When I started writing this blog and reviewing concerts, she would regularly read my articles and reviews, offering positive commentary on my writing. On my weekly visits to the house, she would always find time to come and chat to me, asking after my family, my son’s progress as a fledgling chef, and my own musical and writerly endeavours. Her view was that it was important to have an outlet, a place to go to, to escape – not necessarily to escape from the exigencies of everyday life, but rather a place where one could exercise and pursue one’s creativity. (In fact, she had experienced a number of complicated family health issues before and during the time I worked for her and Laurence, and I wonder if writing was also a form of therapy for her.) She was very generous and supportive of my writing, and also my musical activities and accomplishments, and to have that endorsement from someone whom I respected as a celebrated professional writer and also a friend was incredibly important to me. In addition, when my husband had to go into hospital in April 2017 for complex cardiac surgery, she simply hugged me and said nothing else – she knew that platitudes like “he’s in good hands” or “he’s in the right place” were not that helpful. Her senstivity combined with a pragmatism and philosophical attitude to life (particularly in her last year when she was ill) was something to admire, and emulate.
As we resonate with a mentor, we make them our role model, tune into their special qualities, and draw these into ourselves so that we can utilise and be inspired or motivated by them. Linda’s support and kindness will continue to inspire and resonate with me as I remember her with great fondness and gratitude.