Arlene Conway, my wife for fifty-nine happy years, who was my lover, my friend and confidante and meant everything to me. Of course she was the voice of reason that kept me in check.
I had bought her for a token thirty seven shillings and sixpence from her sister Shirley back in 1963 and knew from the first time that I saw her that I wanted to marry her. Somehow I convinced her, despite the roar from my Jaguar that annoyed all of her neighbours every evening.
Arlene was a loving, compassionate and caring woman who adored her family; her son Daren, daughter Tania, daughter-in-law Karen, son-in-law Mark and grandchildren Morgan, Jaymie and Celeste.
She held very dear her home, of which she was the proud prime progenitor, and especially the garden which is always a riot of greenery.
Above all Arlene had a gentle and benevolent sensitivity and was always trying to help those in distress. But make no mistake she was a firebrand, albeit with a heart of gold.
loved fast cars…..and her cats
Arlene loved fashion, dance and singing and always watched the History and Discovery Channels to learn more about the world that we live in. As a sop to her distant heritage she even had her own Viking axe. She enjoyed going out to restaurants with friends and especially her sister Shirley and brother-in-law David.
She taught me to relate to opera and classical music but, unfortunately for her, she also learned an awful lot about WWII in the Pacific as that is my passion – Guadalcanal became second nature to her.
Arlene also developed a loving of the fast cars that we had; the Jaguars 3.4 and 3.8, the Shelby Cobra GT350, the Pontiac Firebird and even the less than comfortable TVR Cerbera 4.5. She especially loved our driving trips to France and Italy in those heady days when speed was not frowned upon.
Arlene would often accompany me on business trips and immediately made friends with those that I was meeting, many of whom came to Tania and Mark’s wedding. Vladimir especially would always meet her at Sofia airport with a single rose.
She, alongside me, loved her cats Squealy given to us already ill, Sunny, the gentle Crockett, the sweet- natured huntress Scheherazade, the bad-tempered AKA Catzilla, Barberina and finally the incredible Siberian Forest Cat, Lincoln.
sang with her uncle Al Tabor’s band as well as one of Joe Loss’s
Born in the East End within the sound of Bow Bells she was proud to call herself a Cockney, but due to her father’s heart attack and family circumstances, she had to leave school in her early teens, starting out as a model working for several different fashion showrooms.
She also was a jazz singer who sang with her uncle Al Tabor’s band as well as one of Joe Loss’s, but deliberately declined a singing career.
She started to sing again after Daren and Tania were no longer toddlers and joined several different light operatic groups. One day a friend, David Evans, suggested that she had a voice for opera and got her an audition at Beaufort Opera.
She started in the chorus and soon was given small supporting roles. She also sang with several other Brent and West London opera companies. On one occasion at World’s End in Chelsea, she was singing the Countess’s aria in The Marriage of Figaro and could not understand why the audience were laughing. What she could not see was that behind her three stagehands were desperately struggling to hang on to a huge scenery flat to prevent it falling on her-so it wasn’t her singing that was the problem.
she formed AAC presents Opera for All
Eventually, Arlene came to believe that she could run a company better than those in which she had sung. So she formed AAC presents Opera for All, which ran for sixteen years putting on nearly forty operas in venues such as the Sir Richard Eyre Theatre, Victoria Embankment Gardens, competing with the noise of the trains, as well as the South Bank Centre
Arlene went on tour to Israel singing the lead role ‘Raquel’ in Wally Field’s play with music. At Kinneret, where she received praise from one Naomi Shemer, the composer of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, the song of the Six Day War, who was known for saying what she meant and not sugar coating it, Nomi told Arlene that she had heard tens of Raquels but that Arlene’s was the best, especially the song Sham Harei Golan.
Arlene got permission and reintroduced to London after a fifty year wait Floyd’s opera “Susannah” and later one not sung in the capitol for a staggering hundred years, “Polly”, John Gay’s sequel to the Beggars Opera.
Brent Council awarded her with a medal for her artistic endeavours within the Borough.
Arlene was very well respected by the famous international opera companies and often singers used AAC Presents Opera for All as a platform to further their careers. And in a two-way road the prestigious companies suggested singers for her productions. I believe that virtually all the singers loved her compassionate support during each production, except perhaps the two singers who she fired for not knowing their lines at the dress rehearsal.
received praise from one Naomi Shemer
She was also the world champion underwater water skiing ace, as on outing on Yam Kinneret we saw only her nose and part of her head ploughing through the water behind the motor launch.
Arlene went through many heart and hand operations in later life, but was always positive, never letting it interfere with her love and interaction with her family.
I could reminisce for hours about Arlene; her likes, her dislikes and many other personal and lovely things that we did together, but one thing above anything will live with me forever. What Saturday 12 August 2023 taught me was that until then I knew nothing about love, loss and irretrievable, irremediable heartbreak.
I will never forgive her for leaving me.
You may look at me and wonder why I am so dressed for the occasion, but that was my beautiful daughter’s idea as she insisted we could not possibly honour my incredible mother without dressing up. So I even put on shoes I hardly ever wear ,as she was one of the few eighty-five year olds who would still wear stilettos.
great beauty outside and in.
You would never catch her in her dressing gown, and slouchy clothing was relegated for exercise. Mum was always the most stunning, glamorous, and stylish person in the room, radiating warmth and joy. She loved the adage my Grandma gave her, ‘A little bit of powder, a little bit of paint, makes you look like what you really ain’t.’ But she really was. She was filled with great beauty outside and in.
As I was writing this I am still in denial and I am angry, I cannot believe I won’t have my Mum to speak to every day and drive me mad like every good Jewish mother should. Mum was a strong person but also so caring, sometimes too caring, and she would tell me to go to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze or a cough. She really was the epitome of a Jewish mother, and I honestly would not have wanted it any other way.
lit up the stage and everyone’s life
Everyone wanted to talk to Mum and confide their fears and worries, and they would leave lifted and brighter as she had this selfless way of helping people. One time in her modelling career, she saw that the owner of the fashion house was treating his father badly and when she left the job she gave him a direct piece of her mind. The owner gave her a glowing reference.
That is probably one of the things I will miss more than anything, the fact that my mother’s care enveloped me in a warm blanket and everyone else she came into contact with too. I always felt loved and protected. She used to tell me I was her life, and that Dad was her pixie, and she loved my brother Daren just as much too.
Mum, you lit up the stage and everyone’s life, and now you will light up the sky and you will always be a glow in the heart of everyone who knew you.