"The happiest ending of all:" Linda Whetstone's life in her daughter's words

At Net In Memoriam V2

Atlas Network grieves the loss of Linda Whetstone, to whom you can read tributes to here. Linda's daughter Rachel delivered these words at her mother's memorial service.

Linda Whetstone, my mother, was an amazing woman: wildly energetic, deeply unconventional, utterly consistent—the most loyal and generous friend. No one who met Linda could ever forget her. She made the most of every living moment, cramming into one day what most of us achieve in a week or a month.

Of course, this was largely due to Linda’s remarkable drive, sharp intellect, and uncanny ability to break the most complex problems down into soluble parts. But just as important was Francis, her husband, who for almost 60 years of marriage gave Linda the confidence to be herself and the freedom to do what she loved. These were the most precious gifts, and she used them until her very last day.

In many ways Linda Fisher and Francis Whetstone were an unlikely match. One had little time for conventions; the other was more old school. They also had an eight year age gap—leading Grandma Fisher to complain when they got engaged that Francis was too old, and Granny Whetstone that Linda was too young.

The first time they met was at a dance in 1960—she was going upstairs, he was coming down. Daddy was immediately struck by how full of life this young woman was. If he’d known what a high speed journey he was about to embark upon, he might have thought twice. Luckily for Mum, he didn’t.

By comparison, Mum remembers him looking disapprovingly at her bare feet. “Don’t you look at me like that,” she said—a comment which led Daddy’s flatmate to remark: “You’ve clearly got an opening there, Francis.”

Despite their contradictions, our parents shared common values: a strong sense of personal responsibility, a commitment to their local community, and a deep curiosity about the world. This made them an amazing team, unwavering in their support for one another, independent, yet united and always delighting in each other’s successes rather than their own.

Linda was also very close to her siblings, Lucy, Mike, and Mark, her entire life. They had a wild, unruly childhood at Newplace, their parents’ farm in Sussex, and she was always reduced to fits of giggles when recounting their escapades.

Her favorites: being expelled from kindergarten for repeatedly failing to wear the correct woolen knickers, which she found itchy. Shooting large balls of putty through a brass pipe at cars coming up the drive while hiding behind a laurel hedge—one of which ripped the canvas on the postman’s van roof, hitting him on the head. Or school reports that read, “Linda is rude, vulgar, and irresponsible” and “Mark neither tries, cares, concentrates, nor listens.”

“Our poor parents,” she always used to say.

While deadly serious about her work, Mummy never took herself too seriously. At dinner in August, she and I were crying with laughter at some of her less good parenting ideas. Like when she taught my elder sister, Kate, to drive the tractor but forgot to show her how to use the brake. I was in the back as we shot across the field with Mum in hot pursuit, loudly shouting instructions. When that failed, she jumped Bond-style onto the tractor to bring it to a halt.

Mum loved horses from an early age but taught herself dressage by watching hours of video on our TV. She also taught herself economics, taking a correspondence degree at the LSE while a young mother of one, two, and then three children; and farming, which she learned on the job.

While she was the ultimate self-starter, Mum was determined to give us the support learning to ride that she’d lacked as a teenager—going to great lengths to find ponies that would suit us. She was so pleased when she found Henny, my middle sister, the perfect horse—and even more delighted when Henny discovered that Ollie liked drinking tea: large buckets of very hot tea with milk and sugar. Being Linda Whetstone’s daughter was always an adventure. I remember early mornings, loading up our ponies into Big Bertha, our horsebox, which Mum had to get a heavy goods vehicle license to drive, and heading off to shows. And returning tired late in the afternoon, with a room full of tack to clean. There were wonderful holidays too in Cornwall, again getting up very early to drive to London to catch the train—all three of us sleeping, wrapped up in duvets, stretched out across the boot.

Mum’s taste in holidays was rather different from Dad’s. She liked it very hot, he liked cool. She liked swimming and snorkeling, he liked history and churches. The first time we went abroad together was to the Loire Valley in France, where we visited two chateaux a day. On the last day, Mum refused to get out of the car: “I can’t bear to look at another chateau,” she said. So Dad and the three of us headed off alone to see more paintings of Agnes Sorel, Catherine de Medici, and my favorite, the Duc de Guise.

As we grew up, Mum encouraged us to travel on our own, like she had as a teenager going across America on a Greyhound bus. Her pass was $99 for 99 days, and she went sightseeing by day and slept on the bus at night. When the bus to Las Vegas broke down in the desert one evening and some of the soldiers traveling on it became a little too friendly, Mum jumped ship, flagged down a lorry and disappeared into the night. We traveled on low budgets too—$1 a night hotels and public transport. By encouraging these adventures, Mum helped to ensure that her girls learned about independence, planning, and budgets, all things she excelled at.

And she was just as fearless for us, as she had been for herself. When Henny was twenty and planning a trip to Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru with two girlfriends, their horrified parents called Mum begging her to make the girls see sense. She saw it differently: they were all adults, and their mothers telling them the trip was dangerous would only make it more exciting.

For someone who said, “When I go to hell, I will be given a job as a childminder,” Mummy was incredibly good with children. It was partly that she took great joy in childlike things—always the first to jump on the trampoline (even this summer aged 78), to play a party game after dinner or slide down our very long, very bumpy homemade water slide, shouting, “Woohoo” as she went. She even chose to have her sixtieth birthday at Disneyland Paris.

But more importantly, Mum treated children like she treated everyone else: as individuals with their own characters and interests, and she never talked down to them. This made her a wonderful grandmother, and she took great pride not only in her grandchildren’s successes but also her son-in-laws’.

Of course, Mum could be a hard task master. She set high standards for herself, and expected the same in others. She was also very direct, and that sometimes meant she said things you didn’t want to hear—as had once happened with her own grandmother. Mum was a teenager at the time. It was the night after a dance and she came downstairs to breakfast at Newplace, yawning. Noticing this, Grandma Green said, “Linda, darling, if you’re tired or bored I suggest you go back upstairs until you’re more interesting.” And going forward, I don’t think Mum was ever tired or bored.

It would also be fair to say she didn’t suffer fools gladly. When I was about ten, Mum was giving me a riding lesson, and I couldn’t get the wretched pony to jump the fence. “Slow down, heels down, head up,” she kept shouting across the arena. Frustrated, I shouted, “Mummy I’m trying.” And the reply came straight back: “Don’t try, just do it.” And that was Linda Whetstone in a nutshell: she had this extraordinary determination and clarity of purpose.

In her twenty plus years at British Dressage, Mum was fearless in supporting reforms she believed would transform her beloved sport, even if they were controversial. And she never complained when she lost an election as Judges Director as a result—remarking to my sister Henny that “people had a choice and you have to respect that.” When she was asked back, she came with the same enthusiasm as ever—and the changes she championed proved instrumental in making Great Britain a world leader in dressage.

All her life, Mum was utterly consistent in the belief that people will achieve extraordinary things if they only have the freedom to do so. It’s why she always fought against limits on others’ liberties. As children we knew what quangos were from a very early age, as well as the European Economic Community—having driven around Sussex during the referendum campaign with Mum imploring people from a loud hailer attached to the top to “Vote no to the EEC.”

Of course, her skepticism about government was driven by her optimism about people. One of her favorite books was called It’s Getting Better All The Time. 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years, which showed how the world had gotten better, not worse, in the last century as people had become more free. And it was to this cause of liberty that she dedicated so much of her time.

One of her key insights was that people in the poorest countries lacked the access to ideas needed to create a free society. So she set about getting all the key free market texts—Adam Smith, Hayek, Friedman—translated into multiple different languages and put onto CDs, where they could be read cheaply and easily. While it was hard persuading the publishers to give their rights away at low to no cost, it was even harder building a network of advocates to bring these ideas to life. Yet that’s exactly what Mum did, with lasting impact across Asia and Africa.

If you didn’t know Mum she could be fairly scary. In fact, she was fairly scary even when you did know her. But she was also enormously thoughtful and generous, especially to people less fortunate than herself. Mum never saw a problem she didn’t want to solve, or a person she didn’t want to help.

As a teenager, she used to get up at 5 a.m. to plait her sister Lucy’s pony for cubbing. She also helped pay for brother Mike’s first car, and a patent for a machine he’d invented. When Eleneus left Rwanda to seek asylum in England, Mum welcomed him at Bassetts—her home of fifty years—and was always there for him. As he told Dad last week: “Quite simply, she changed my life.” When Reverend Julie called up a few years back to say there was a homeless person sleeping in the church porch, Mum gave them a roof at Bassetts. And last summer, she moved

heaven and earth to help get her colleagues out of Afghanistan when the Americans left, and their lives were threatened by the Taliban.

These were just some of the stories we already knew. But since she died, we’ve learned about so many others, and they are all so consistent. I thought this one spoke volumes for so many, and says so much about Mum:

Linda, you took me under your wing and made me believe the impossible was possible. Even in my darkest days, you gave me the strength to pick myself up and carry on. You always had time for others and you were so completely honest.

Mum, you only liked happy endings. And you hated goodbyes. So you always said goodbye at speed to avoid the tears. I wish that just this once you’d stayed a little longer, and we could all have had a bit more time together. You still had so much more you wanted to achieve, so many things you were excited about. But you died at the height of your career, doing the things you loved, surrounded by people who loved and respected you. And for you, that is the happiest ending of all.