For this week only I found myself commuting back from my Finnish class with a fellow student. He lives in Highgate permanently whereas I am only encamped here on a temporary basis. He used to live in
Wimbledon and it seems he is acquainted with a friend of my friend’s. I knew the woman by name and reputation only and spoke out in her defence. It seems she had almost single-handily saved a local landmark from destruction many years ago and had set up a trust to enable the general public to tour the landmark from time to time as well as raise funds for its general upkeep. Now, according to my friend, this doughty campaigner was being forced off the very committee she herself had founded all those decades ago by a belligerent new guard, who seemed to have little time or respect for her judging by their callous treatment of her. It seemed poor recompense for all the years of hard work she had put in to not only to save but also ensure the continued survival of such an important landmark.
My fellow student knows the woman in question and her work for the Trust. He claims she was domineering and autocratic. She had been so used to treating the landmark as if it were her own personal fiefdom that she refused to countenance any opinions but her own leading to divisive clashes whenever matters of policy were discussed at meetings. Once, the majority of the Trust’s members had complied with her views without dissent. However, the simple passage of years had meant that most of her more ardent supporters had died or moved away from the area. The newcomers were not so quick to offer unquestioning fealty to her. Eventually her obstinacy meant she had to be sidelined as the Trust could not continue to operate under the old system of management, which had worked so well in the past but which was no longer capable of responding adequately to the kind of complex modern challenges facing it. Ironically, the woman’s very qualities of impassioned resolution and dogged determination, which had originally been so crucial for the landmark’s survival, were now jeopardising its very existence through her blanket refusal to compromise.
So is this woman a devil, saint or martyr? I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of either my friend or my fellow student. Either way, it is sad conclusion to such a fascinating story of one woman’s life-long work.