Born: August 17, 1926; Died: November 9, 2012.
Valerie Eliot, who has died in London aged 86, married the poet and playwright TS Eliot in 1957 when he was 39 years her senior. He had had a previous and unhappy first marriage, and Valerie was to provide a more stable and loving realtionship. Many commentators have written that she had a rejuvenating effect on him and their time together gave Eliot some of the happiest years of his life (he called it, "leaping delight").
His death in 1965 was a bitter blow and she became an assiduous protector of his literary legacy, editing many of his most famous works such as The Waste Land, for which she provided an authoritative introduction.
Valerie Eliot (born Esmé Valerie Fletcher) was the daughter of a Leeds insurance manager with a great love of literature and poetry which she inherited. When she was 14 she heard a recording of John Gielgud reading Eliot's poem, Journey of the Magi, and was entranced by his writing. On leaving school she went to work at Faber & Faber where Eliot also worked.
In 1949 – shortly after Eliot had received the Nobel Prize for Literature –she became his secretary. It was the same year that Eliot's play The Cocktail Party was given its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival (with Alec Guinness). He was 60 and their relationship remained very formal: he always referred to her as "Miss Fletcher" and he was "Mr Eliot."
Eventually he asked her for a drink in the nearby Russell Hotel after work and gave her a bunch of roses. They got married, at 8am, in 1957 amidst much secrecy.
Their years together were brief but she settled the poet into a relaxed lifestyle and he wrote in a late poem ("A Dedication to My Wife") of "lovers whose bodies smell of each other". They lived a simple life in South Kensington, occasionally attending, hand-in-hand, literary functions. At home in the evenings they played Scrabble and listened to music.
When he died, apart from her profound sense of grief, she was left to administer his complex (but hugely valuable) literary estate and last wishes. He had insisted there be no official biography and she respected that desire. She became known throughout publishing for her resolute opposition to co-operating with academics and authors who were researching Eliot's works.
In 1974, to widespread acclaim, she published a facsimile edition of The Waste Land, complete with a full-blown scholarly appendix. The edition included a transcript of the original drafts by Eliot with annotations by Ezra Pound. Then came Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Suddenly Eliot's writings were hot property. She managed the contract for Cats shrewdly and made the Eliot estate immensely wealthy.
But she sternly fought to preserve her husband's reputation. There was a play (Tom and Viv) about Eliot's first marriage in the 1980ss and a film in 1994 which caused her much distress as she felt they portrayed Eliot in a bad light.
She was generous with her wealth and helped many literary institutions and the London Library and Cambridge University. There is now much discussion over where the considerable Eliot archives will be deposited.
As a charming footnote to her very personal programme notes for the original production of Cats (1981) in London, she wrote: "Whenever he was unwell or could not sleep, Tom would recite the verses under his breath."