PAULA DAVIES meets LADY HOARE, who runs the Thalidomide Appeal
THEtelephone rang at least 20 times while I was there and the doorbell at least 10. Trying to interview Lady Hoare was worse than one of those old-fashioned "excuse-me" dances.
Her home in St. John's Wood is one of those large, elegant houses that speaks, not so much of wealth. though you'd need a fair amount of that to live there, but of gracious living.
A curved flight of white stone steps framed with tubs of flowers leads to an imposing front door. One expects this to be the residence of. if not a lady of leisure, then at least a lady who can devote herself to the elegant pursuit of the arts as befits the wife of a banker and a former Lord Mayor.
A beautiful hall, magnificent displays of flowers—everything contributes to an impression of cool, cultured elegance.
The one jarring note which indkates that everything is not as it seems is the strange red contraption like a fairground car sitting in the hall. And once upstairs the contrast is complete; it wouldn't be totally unfair to say that this beautiful house has the atmosphere of an organised "shambles," wry well organised, mind you, but still somewhat chaotic.
There is a five-year-old guinea pig in one sitting room —"she likes company, you see," says Lady Hoare. There are two dogs, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, who have the run of the house. And there is a lighthearted air about the tall. attractive woman who manages to be wife, mother, chief shopper and weekend cook as well as chairman of the City of London Red Cross, chairman of the Friends of Moorfields Eye Hospital and president and chairman of the Lady Hoare Thalidomide Appeal.
"f can't compete with the garden." she said rather sadly, looking out on to the vast and beautiful stretch of lawn and flowerbeds. "I just don't have the time." And as the Italian couple who work for her have taken to planting turnips and peas in the rosebeds and lettuce in the herbaceous borders it probably doesn't matter.
"1 don't know why you don't tether a goat on the lawn for them," said Brigadier George Chatterton, Honorary Administrator of the Appeal who, with Lady Hoare, gives 150 lectures a year, besides raising money to keep the Trust going.
"We've become experts in sorting jumble," he added. His schemes to keep the Trust going are pretty original, too; 30 tons of waste material a week is collected and sold and he has even set up a chain— six in all — of second-hand dress shops. "We've got to be able to get along without having to rely too much on public generosity."
Raising £450,000 in seven years isn't had going for any small charity, and all the work is done, at minimum cost, from Lady Hoare's wain house.
The whole of the top of the building is given over to offices where she and the Brigadier, plus two secretaries, organise the entire operation, from lecturing and visiting families to giving grants and loans on the advice of 18 medical social workers, all married women working in their own time.
Lady Hoare, looking as cool and elegant as her surroundings are rushed, admitted that her life is a pretty busy one.
"But then I've always worked," she added, as though she couldn't possibly have any other alternative.
Once her husband's bank had pensioned her off after 20 years—"I went there for a month to help out during the war"--she found herself working harder than ever, first as Lady Mayoress, when the job .is what the person makes of it and then later when she decided that something had got to be done about the Thalidomide appeal which had raised only £1,800.
Most Lady Mayoresses merely lend their names to charities, but not this one. And when her husband's term of office was over, she carried on the work of the appeal.
"The work overflows everywhere," she said, as though she expected a pile of jumble to walk through the door any minute. "And that poor man," she said, pointing at the Israeli scientist who has perfected a very light artificial arm for her children, "had to sleep with two hundredweight of it in his room the other night."
The whole of her life seems to be dominated by her work for the thalidomide victims and, perhaps surprisingly, it is not such a narrow field as it appears.
"We are not just looking after another group of pathetic children," she said forcefully. "We are conducting an experiment into rehabilitation within the family — parents, children, everyone has to be helped."
The movement she heads and works so capably for has enjoyed considerable success despite the lack of any official support. It is now seven years since Lady Hoare was asked to sponsor an appeal during her husband's term of office as Lord Mayor.
"Our whole hope and effort is to try to make this problem not just a thrown-away tragedy but something that the world can step forward and accept— the fact that people can be badly handicapped but still be able to enjoy life. If one can hang one's hat on this group" —she has obviously hung up her own hat for a long time now—"then I think there will be something valuable to show the world, something worth saying about the abilities of even the most severely handicapped.
"We are not trying to elicit pity but positive thinking. We are trying to help these children. to stay at home. to mix normally with other children. We give financial help when necessary and it always is necessary, and moral support to the families all the time."
The hope and effort are paying off. In the 550 families being helped by the appeal, 90 per cent of the children live at home and 70 per cent go to normal schools. By any standards this is a remarkable achievement considering that many of these children have neither arms nor legs.
The success of the venture has been to a great extent due to the combined efforts of the two people who have worked ceaselessly, against considerable odds."Barbed-wire fences" is how Brigadier Chatterton describes some of the official opposition to their work.
"The attitude of ordinary people hasn't helped much either. The public cannot face deformity," said Lady Hoare. "There are still people who say to us that these children should have been killed at birth.
"This attitude has dogged us all the time and still does. In a lot of places we go to lecture people are afraid to look at a film. But the public can't shut their eyes much longer because these children are there among them."
In earlier days children like this would have been kept shut away by miserable parents afraid to show them beyond their front door. Now they are not only showing them but getting them into ordinary schools and helping them to lead as normal a life as possible.
Much of the credit for this should go to a remarkable woman who must be one of the few Lady Mayoresses, if not the only one, to have done more than just grace a lot of grand official functions,