Teacher and mother of Michael Portillo
Teacher and mother of Michael Portillo
Born: January 8, 1919; Died: March 10, 2014.
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CORA Blyth de Portillo, who has died aged 95, came from a well-known Fife family but after meeting Luis Gabriel Portillo at Oxford she combined married life, bringing up a family and working in academia in the south. One of her sons was the former Tory politician Michael Portillo
Her family, the Blyths, were owners of a linen weaving business based at the Hawkleymuir factory in Kirkcaldy's Gallatown. They helped to fund the town's art gallery which was built on land donated by John Nairn, the linoleum manufacturer.
The museum was opened in 1925 and the young Cora presented a bouquet of roses to Gertrude Wemyss Honeyman - the daughter of John Nairn. John Blyth was the first chairman of the trustees and remained so until his death in 1962.
Blyth built a substantial residence, Wilby House, on Loughborough Road and became an avid but discerning buyer of Scottish colourists - as early as 1910 he purchased Away to the West by William McTaggart. He hung paintings everywhere - in his office, at the factory and at home. Cora remembered her father often smuggling a new acquisition into the house and hiding it in a wardrobe.
He lent many of the pictures he acquired to Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery and Gavin Grant of the Fife Cultural Trust recalled: "The Blythe Collection is the single reason that Kirkcaldy has one of the finest collections of Scottish Colourists in Scotland. The McTaggarts and Peploes are a magnificent addition to the gallery."
Cora Waldegrave Blythe de Portillo was educated at St Leonard's School in St Andrews. The family were staunch members of Kirkcaldy's Episcopalian Church and were not involved with the local kirk or its minister: Gordon Brown's father.
Cora read Spanish and French at St Hilda's College, Oxford graduating with a First and while she was there met Luis Gabriel Portillo a Castilian aristocrat. He had sacrificed a professorship at Salamanca University so that he could fight for the Republican army in the Spanish civil war.
The difficult circumstances during the Second World War did not stop Cora proposing to him and they married in 1941. As the wife of a registered alien, the war years were not easy for the couple. Cora worked as a censor of foreign mail and with the BBC Latin American service.
After the war, the family moved to Stanmore, Middlesex and Cora taught French and Spanish at evening classes and later worked full-time in secondary schools.
At home the family spoke mostly Spanish and ate Spanish food. Cora was a vivacious and ebullient lady who worked tirelessly for the local Labour Party and the house was a hive of political activity during elections.
In later years she supported the Liberal Democrats and also worked for Amnesty International translating documents regarding torture under the Chilean dictatorship. Cora was always active and busy - one friend described her a "bustler."
But Cora never lost contact with her family in Fife and made annual journeys north to ensure her children spent time with their Scottish grandparents. She remained in contact with the museum and many of the family's McTaggarts and Peploes now hang in the Blyth Room.
Michael Portillo certainly retained happy memories of visiting Kirkcaldy with his mother. On one of his programmes in the Great British Railway series he travelled from Edinburgh, stopping to climb to the top of the Forth Railway Bridge. He recalled visiting his grandfather's house as a child: "My journey over the Forth Railway Bridge takes me back to my grandparents' house in Kirkcaldy. That was very exciting."
Her students recall Cora's enthusiastic teaching and her feisty but attractive personality. Michael Portillo once commented, "I'm certainly 50 per cent my mother's son and I certainly have a lot of her characteristics. I do have a lot of tenacity, endurance and grit."
In 2003, Cora de Portillo unveiled a blue plaque at Westfield House in Oxfordshire commemorating the 30 Basque children who had been cared for there during the war. De Portillo had been one of those volunteers.
Her husband died in 1993 and she is survived by their three sons.