Patricia Honychurch (21 September 1925 – 20 June 2019)
Janet Higbie, Peter Hulme, Lisa Paravisini, Polly Pattullo
When meeting Patricia, one thing we were all immediately made aware of was her extraordinary memory, especially for dates. She seemed to have instant recall of every birth, marriage, and death on Dominica during her lifetime, and she had an equally detailed recollection of all the significant liaisons. Some might call that gossip, but for researchers like us it was gold-dust. Since she combined that precision with a warm and generous nature, she became a delightful and welcoming friend to us over many years. Our research on Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Jean Rhys, and Eugenia Charles would have been much poorer, and much less enjoyable, without her.
Patricia was born in Manchester to Lennox Pelham Napier and his wife Elma, née Gordon Cumming. In 1932 the family, including Patricia’s younger brother Michael and their half-sister Daphne, settled in Dominica at Calibishie. Lennox and Elma both served as elected representatives – Elma as the first woman to sit in a West Indian legislature – and their home, Pointe Baptiste, received Jean Rhys, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Somerset Maugham, and Noël Coward amon its guests. Elma wrote two well-regarded novels and three memoirs. The typescript of the last of these, Black and White Sands, about her life in Dominica, Patricia carefully tended until it found its publisher, Papillote Press, in 2009.
Patricia married Edward Lancelot (Ted) Honychurch in 1951 and they had two children, Lennox (the historian of Dominica) and Sara, before divorcing in 1970. From 1981 she lived at D’Auchamps, part of the old Shawford Estate, near Trafalgar in the Roseau Valley, where she helped raise her grand-daughters, Petrea and Marica. She lived just long enough to know her great grand-daughters, Luna and Ella.
It was here at D’Auchamps that we knew her best, taking tea and cucumber sandwiches on the veranda with its view of the waterfalls across the Roseau Valley, her beloved dogs by her side, talking of books and people, unravelling chronologies of what happened when and untangling the complex relationships of Dominican family trees. She was unshockable and non-judgmental. Then, once we’d written something, her eagle eye would spot inaccuracies, typos, and grammatical infelicities with unparalleled sharpness.
In later years Patricia showed remarkable resilience, living alone at D’Auchamps where she slept with doors and windows open and unlocked, enduring the discomforts and deprivations of Hurricane Maria calm and clear-eyed. Complaining was not part of her indomitable spirit. Her mobility was impaired in her final years and she was lovingly cared for by Lennox and Sara; but her mind remained as sharp as ever. She was 93 when she died last summer. She is buried in her garden.