Jeanne Lester started life as Ada Reuben.
She was born in Whitechapel on 10 February 1931 – the third child of four – to Joseph and Bella.
Ada was not well at birth, her family were not sure if she would survive – so they gave her the Hebrew name of Chaya for life.
She showed her character even then and thrived.
The Second World War interrupted her childhood and she was evacuated with her younger brother Harry. They went around the country to places including Holyport near Maidenhead and Paignton in Devon.
She loved telling us about the adventures she had with Harry, the mischief they got up to and how much the people looking after them cared for them.
Harry has often said “she used to look after me”.
She opened her own salon and was the first woman to do so in London
When the war finished she decided to be a hairdresser and trained under the respected Adolph Cohen.
It was around this time she changed her name to Jeanne – she loved the French spelling.
She opened her own salon and was the first woman to do so in London. Hers was also the first Salon to have installed back facing sinks, used for washing hair.
Ever a pioneer, she was always an amazing business woman.
She loved dancing and would go to the Jewish dances. And there she met a man who took an age to ask her out.
She didn’t give up and waited for her” Marky” (our Father).
Eventually she made him miss her by not showing up one night – he then realised he wanted to be with her.
For their honeymoon they flew with their car to France and travelled across the twisting roads of the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. Jeanne had only just passed her driving test, having been taught to drive by my father.
She adored Mark and set up home with him in Harrow, Middlesex.
They had three children and she loved being a mother as well as wife.
Finding it hard to juggle a salon with three children she switched to being a mobile hairdresser, visiting elderly and disabled women in their homes.
She also went to cooking and sewing courses and made all the curtains for our family home that we grew up in. I can remember her using the big dining table to lay everything out on.
And of course there was the knitting!!! Baby clothes, jumpers, cardigans, teddy bear outfits, as well as outfits for action men, long scarfs and not forgetting knitting the gearstick knob cover for my current car, which has proved extremely useful on a cold winter’s day.
On hearing of Mum’s passing, her niece Shelley called me from Australia to remind me that mum had knitted all the outfits for her baby daughter Catherine over thirty years ago. Because they were of such great quality, it is my understanding Shelley still has them.
She only stopped knitting full time in her eighties after she broke her shoulder and was finding it very uncomfortable to do so.
founding members of the Cambridge-Oxford Owners Car Club in the UK
As an enthusiastic and confident driver, she and my father Mark were founding members of the Cambridge-Oxford Owners Car Club in the UK.
Jeanne with Mark also enjoyed Caravanning and regularly travelled around England and Europe with one. Mum shared the driving with my father, towing the Caravan.
I have fond memories travelling away with my parents, often with Mum negotiating very tricky narrow mountain roads abroad.
She would also drive her two daughters every week to piano lessons, travelling a great distance from Harrow to Bourne End, which is in Buckinghamshire.
She would travel along both the unlit A40 and many unlit country lanes, before waiting in the car whilst they had their lessons. It was often cold especially during the winter months. I recall one time when I was eight years old, the car battery went flat. Mum had to use the starting handle to get the car going again whilst I held the torch for her so that she could see the hole in the front bumper and also ensure the starting handle was correctly located & connected to the engine pulley. She successfully managed to get the car started again.
Mark and Jeanne never lost their love for dancing and were always found on the dance floor at functions.
she decided to train as a licensed black cab driver…the first woman in London to achieve this status
Later, following Mark’s heart attack and failing eyesight, she decided to train as a licensed black cab driver (so she could share his with him).
She was the first woman in London to achieve this status.
Initially not welcomed, Jeanne’s charm and perseverance soon turned things around. She made a name for herself in Harrow on the local rank.
She was still driving a car up until the start of the pandemic.
Mum was a truly amazing parent and was always looking out for us all.
An example included her sending the Police around to check I was ok, whilst I was studying up in Newcastle, because I had forgotten to call.
Following Mark’s death she moved to Edgware, where she eventually met Sid Greenberg. They were together for over fifteen years and often travelled on cruises around the world.
She also became a grandmother to Loren and Azara – who she adored and enjoyed spending time with.
Sadly her physical health started to fail in the last couple of years and worsened during the pandemic. But mentally, she never lost it. She retained her sense of fun and wicked sense of humour.
never missed an opportunity to socialise
My cousin Lisa reminded me of the gathering last year, at which Mum’s brother Harry, Lisa, Lisa’s sister Sharon and myself were all present. It was a truly wonderful time spent with her. Mum had us all in hysterical laughter with her amazing sense of humour.
She loved being around people and never missed an opportunity to socialise with others. Up until the pandemic she was still attending family celebrations as well as various tea gatherings.
My sisters Gillian and Denise and I are so grateful that we were able to spend time with our Mum up until her ninety first year.
We are all heartbroken to lose our Mum, Nana, Sister, Aunt and Friend.
This loss is also felt by our family overseas including Australian cousins Earle, Shelley, Reuven (Russell) & Gillian.
But for her children, we take solace in knowing she is now reunited with her beloved “Marky”.
We are sure they are dancing together again – especially to their favourite style of dance -the Jive.
Jeanne was many things during her life. She started out as Ada Reuben and when she married our Dad, her Markie, she became Jeanne Lester.
She was a hairdresser, taxi driver, cook, avid jumper knitter, curtain maker, sewer, dancer and all round homemaker, to name but a few. But most of all she was our Mum, Grandmother, Wife, Sister, Aunt and friend.
what makes up a life
She loved the company of others. She enjoyed family celebrations and could be found having a good chat and catch up with someone, or up on the floor having a dance.
During lockdown she missed going out and meeting people, either at her tea parties or other social gatherings. At lockdown’s strictest, we thankfully managed to arrange video calls so we could see her on a regular basis. Well, I say “see” her, I really mean see half of her as technology was not her forte. We even managed a call with her brother Harry and his wife which included lots of laughter. And she appreciated the doorstep visits and food gifts from various people.
She had a brilliant sense of humour. She would invariably say something that would send her grandchildren Loren and Azara into fits of giggles. Through them so many of her sayings will live on.
She loved being a Grandmother and knitted jumpers for Loren’s Action Men when he was little and bonded with Azara over nails, make up and hair.
As my Mum she was the constant that you did not think about. But she was always there.
When we were children, she taught me, Denise and Paul silly ways to do things, like putting on pyjama tops. She was our very own taxi driver ferrying us around to our various activities and hobbies. She was also there when you were not feeling well and typically made you drink something disgusting. When I was a teenager she was embarrassing, but would annoyingly be right, well some of the time. When I became an adult she still insisted on telling me off, then immediately followed by asking my advice on something. Mum was always the first person I would ring when I got home from a holiday.
sneaked out of her house to celebrate VE day
Over the years we had good chats and she loved reminiscing about her own childhood and how she met and fell in love with our Dad. She would tell me stories about the different places she was evacuated to during the war with her brother Harry. She told me the story when she sneaked out of her house to celebrate VE day when the war finished, much to her dad’s annoyance.
She was a feisty and very determined woman, traits that she has handed down to me and my daughter. She told me the story of when she had just started working as a hairdresser. She was only a teenager and had asked her employer for the day off for a Jewish festival. He refused and sacked her, and so she took him to court. And of course she won.
When she met our Dad she got tired of being just his friend and dance partner and came up with a cunning plan to make him miss her, making him realise he did in fact want to go out with her. She was then prepared to wait to marry him as his mother was away in Australia and had to come home first.
Jeanne lived her life full of fun, laughter and most importantly love. She loved us and knew she was loved back. We are lucky that we had her as our Mum and that she was able to live to ninety-one years. Her health started to deteriorate during her last years but she tried not to let it stop her doing things.
full of fun, laughter and most importantly love
We had fun and giggles with her up to the end.
As I cleared the belongings from her flat this last year, it made me think about what makes up a life. For Jeanne, it is her full and vibrant personality and the memories each of us have of her being that way. And the everlasting love she gave to us all.