We are gathered together to celebrate the life of Mariette VanVelsen-LaMaison with a refleftion on her life
I first met Mariette LaMaison around thirty years ago. She came with her husband Alexander LaMaison and their son Alexander to the Services at the French Huguenot Church in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. They lived in Boughton Aluph near Ashford and attended when they could.
Sadly, due to severe health problems caused by chronic asthma, Mariette suffered greatly all her life but she lived with her condition with courage and good humour.
Mariette was born in Zaandam near Amsterdam on 29th August 1943, during the war. Her father was the Community Health Officer for the population of Amsterdam in these disturbing times, and had to cope with the serious condition of his little daughter from the time of her birth . Fortunately, he was able to obtain extra rations of food to help her survive. There were ten children in the family.
In her young years, Mariette was educated at home by her father as she was too delicate to attend school and she cultivated a great admiration for books during that time. It was then that she studied and became multilingual. She also studied Hebrew!
In her teenage years, she was sent to Switzerland to a boarding school in an attempt to improve her asthma. Later she came to England as Matron at Ashford School where she looked after the boarders. That was when she met her future husband Alexander LaMaison who had a distinguished career in the military with the British Secret Services during the Second World War. He was also teaching English to foreign students and Mariette was one of his pupils!
Mariette and Alexander were married in 1980, their son Alexander was born in 1985 and was later accepted into the Duke of York Military School in Dover. The late Pasteur François Dubois of this Church wrote a reference for him, and thanks to his father's military service, he was accepted to enter this prestigious school. His parents encouraged him to study hard and he later went to University. He now has a good profession which he has pursued seriously, becoming very successful.
In 2008, the French conversation group La Baguette started at the Annexe at Canterbury Salvation Army. Mariette joined us as a team leader and laid a firm foundation on which we continue to build on today. Our members comprehend and read very well, and speak with confidence with Brigitte Bray who took over from Mariette. I remember vividly a Saturday in February some years ago, a cold windy snowy day, few Canterbury residents had dared confront the elements but our brave Mariette arrived, after a terrible journey on the bus - this was our Mariette!
La Baguette was her great interest and the members adored her. Even when her condition deteriorated and she was no longer able to attend, there were many phone calls and cards to give her encouragement; she was always in our hearts.
On the first two La Baguette trips, Mariette joined us in Aix-en-Provence, she came on the site excursions and we have many lovely memories of her and she added to the jovial company.
Mariette and her husband set up a library at the primary school at Wye to encourage and help children develop a love of reading. Not so long ago, the library was named "The LaMaison Library" and Mariette was able to attend the celebration and be honoured. Mariette also taught the Montessori Method at school.
Mariette also went on worldwide cruises with S.A.G.A. and she was asked by the crew to teach them French to help them deal with French tourists. She thoroughly enjoyed teaching them and she was most appreciated.
Loyal to her Judeo/Christian origins, Mariette always demonstrated a thirst for new knowledge and she was always delighted to share her views with others. All of a sudden, like a flash of light from a precious diamond, Mariette came amongst us with her enthusiasm and her infectious smile; like a precious gift from God to La Baguette and to us all but especially La baguette which took off and is now flourishing gently.
To conclude, we will remember Mariette who resembled this multifaceted diamond with so many aspects resembling her extraordinary life.
Farewell, dear Mariette.
Michèle F. Brown, reviewed by Pr. Hugh Boudin.