Eight years before he died, famous poet T.S. Eliot married Esmé Valerie Fletcher, who had great familiarity with his work as she had been his secretary and editor. Fletcher, who became Valerie Eliot, was nearly 40 years younger than Eliot and as a result outlived him by nearly 50 years before dying November 9 at the age of 86.
Valerie Eliot spent much of her life as a guardian and executor of T.S. Eliot’s esteemed literary estate. The Washington Post reports that Valerie Eliot went on to edit and publish a great deal of her husband’s work, all the while ignoring or rebuking requests from biographers in accordance with the poet’s last wishes. She presided over editions of T.S. Eliot’s most famous works such as The Waste Land and collections of letters as well. Valerie Eliot had also given her blessing to the Andrew Lloyd Weber Broadway production Cats, which was based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Valerie Eliot was born in Leeds, England, Newsday reports. She was a young secretary when she met T.S. Eliot but felt she knew him already as a long-time fan of his work. The poet was born an American but moved to England and later became a British citizen.
“I felt I knew him as a person,” she told the Independent newspaper in a rare 1994 interview. “And evidently I did.”
Her cause of death was not released. A private funeral is planned at St. Stephen’s Church in London where the couple worshiped. T.S. Eliot preceded her in death on January 4, 1965 as a result of emphysema. She was the poet’s second and final wife.
T.S. Eliot’s first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, died in an asylum in 1947.