Scintillating, flashing star of the firmament

Friday, 27th March 2020 — By John Gulliver


Deborah Lavin

I MET Deborah Lavin for the first time at the home of my ex-wife, a fellow teacher, in south London. She was gregarious, intellectually scintillating and could talk lucidly on almost any subject. I was drawn into her company – and she has died at the age of 68 this week.

Known better, perhaps, as Debbie Lavin she was born in Lambeth and ran a private English school near Upper Street, Islington, had three children, and lived since the 1980s in the Red Lion Square area in Holborn.

Her father moved from Glasgow and settled in London with her mother, and when they migrated to Canada she, of course, went with them. But she returned on her own at 16. And judging from her temperament and intellectual development she was destined for a university education at Portsmouth.

Then, apart from running her own school, she turned to the arts – and became a stand-up poet performer as well as writing two plays, which were performed in Germany and Japan.

Her interests were enormously catholic. The first time we met, her mind was on a talk she was preparing on Charles Bradlaugh at the Conway Hall, Holborn. I had always admired this great 19th-century pamphleteer and champion of the free press, a man who had been jailed for his views on liberty, a man against whom I measured my own values and convictions.

She gave two talks at Conway Hall supported by the Socialist History Society of which she was a member, one on Prostitution, Pimping and Trafficking. She also worked with Catherine Howe on the history of the Theatre Girls Club at 59 Greek Street, Soho.

A great admirer of Eleanor Marx, a very intellectual daughter of Karl Marx, she was writing a book on her “toxic partner” Edward Aveling at the end of the 19th century which will be published posthum­ously. I was not surprised to discover this because the first time I met her – three years ago at a public meeting at the Marchmont Street community centre in Bloomsbury – she was clearly drawn to Marxist ideas.

She leaves two children, Richard, a senior police officer in Islington, a daughter who lives in the Caribbean; tragically, her daughter Magdalen died last year around the time that she herself contracted lung cancer. She would spend weekends travelling to Edinburgh to see her daughter. She died at a hospice in St John’s Wood.

A remarkable woman; a flashing star in the firma­ment. I knew her for too short a time but realised how much she had contributed to the world.

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