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Obituary : Margot Collins

Born Margot Mackenroth in Wiesbaden, her father was a farmer on the family estate. Her mother had been brought up to run a household and to entertain, but became interested in improving the health opportunities of local people and was an early participant in the field of teaching classes on calisthenics.

The extended family estates in western Germany near Wiesbaden and in the east, near what was then Breslau, were destroyed during the war. Her father was conscripted, captured and kept for some years in prison in Siberia where he acquired TB. Her mother was left trying to avoid armies and bombs, whilst travelling around Germany with her only child. She had the intuition to leave Dresden the night before the bombing. The little money – which was all she had left – all but disappeared with the great inflation at the end of the war.

Having no sympathy with the various regimes in Germany before and after the war, Margot’s mother sought a new life in England in 1947 for mother and daughter. They were lucky in finding lodging with a widowed headmaster, who lived in a Georgian house on Blackheath and became Margot’s much-loved guardian. The household was of conservative (small ‘c’) persuasion, which ran alongside the headmaster’s close involvement with the higher echelons of the Labour Party. At social gatherings, the young and striking blond Margot danced with a good proportion of Cabinet ministers!

The Rowan School and The French Institute in Kensington behind her, giving her fluency in French, as well as the German spoken at home and an English schooling, Margot embarked on a career, first in Fisons, enjoying civilised lunches in its grand Essex establishment by the sea, then in Eastern Electricity, where she rose to be Head of Accounts. Her final full-time post was Bursar of Keble College, Oxford, where she oversaw a hundred staff and which essentially involved running a small village; the villagers being dons and undergraduates, conferences and chefs, builders, bed-makers, porters, etc. She was the first woman on Keble’s governing body.

Margot took this, like everything else, in her stride; no-one ever asked her to make the tea, or refused her a mortgage, or suggested she did not wear a summer dress to work. She enjoyed old-fashioned civilities and charm which she so often found lacking in the modern age. She was a perfectionist who always worked to achieve the highest standards in all she did - but which did not always make life easy for her: she would never be satisfied, as a cook, with her (wonderfully delicious) stuffed peppers. Gardening had always been a passion – she spoke Latin to her green-fingered friends! – and to prize her away from her French beans in the summer became increasingly difficult.

She met Peter Collins, an Oxford University mathematician, in June 1979, and by November they were married. They were inseparable for the rest of her life. By 1979, she had had enough of her post at Keble, and she resigned to throw herself wholeheartedly into her new career as wife, governor of home activities and chef extraordinary. She took joy in her new joint life, accompanying her husband on many travels, usually involving attendance at conferences and lecture tours around the world. She organised dinner parties to which Peter added the wine. She was very much a partner in his voluntary work for Europa Nostra and latterly for the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Music was another passion she shared with Peter, involving regular visits to the Wigmore Hall and Glyndebourne, and wonderful trips to the Schubertiade in the Vorarlberg each June, amongst the mountains and valleys, glaciers and wild flowers, to hear the best music the world has to offer.

Her calm dignity – so apparent at the very end of her life – elegance and style, charm and gentle grace, wisdom, wit and good company, warmth and natural kindness, and interest in everyone she met engendered love and respect, and made a lasting impression.

Margot Collins, born 7th October 1939, died 2nd December 2019

Kindly contributed by Peter Collins

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