Obituary: Elizabeth Ada Usherwood

Elizabeth Ada Usherwood and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ada Usherwood and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ada Usherwood - 10 July, 1923 to 3 April, 2009

Elizabeth, known to many as Betty, was born on the 10th July 1923 in the kitchen of her Grandmother’s house in New North Street, Bloomsbury. She was a twin; the other baby, unfortunately, did not survive, which perhaps accounted for the fact that she always appeared to have the energy and drive of two people.

Elizabeth attended the Italian School in Clerkenwell and from there went with her cousin Sheila to the Oratory School in Kensington. Elizabeth joined the Bank of England in 1941 aged 17 along with her life long friend Joyce, with whom she embarked on a world trip in the early fifties. She was still very much in touch with other colleagues from the Bank with whom she enjoyed sharing her great love for the ballet and theatre. In addition to working at the Bank during the day she joined the Red Cross during the war and was a part-time nurse at the hospital in Liverpool Road.

After selflessly caring for her mother until her death, Elizabeth met and married Stephen Usherwood when in her forties and started a new and exciting phase in her life. Stephen was an author and BBC producer in their History Department. Together they enjoyed researching Stephen’s various projects with many a happy day spent in the Reading Room of the British Library. They wrote books together and she wrote a book herself entitled “Women First: Biographies of Catholic Women in the Forefront of Change”. They lectured together and after Stephen’s death Elizabeth continued to write and lecture. They travelled the world visiting friends and family in Poland, South Africa, Australia and America.

Whilst Elizabeth had no children of her own, she took a great interest in young people and their future careers and, in particular, the children and grandchildren of her close friends and family. Elizabeth loved a good party, and was a generous host at her home in St Mary’s Grove, producing wonderful dinners for her many friends, including those in the priesthood, whilst holding forth energetically on her memories and views of the world.

Elizabeth’s faith was the most important influence in her life. Her knowledge of the Catholic Church and her devotion to many of its finest institutions were remarkable. Her dedicated service to the Friends of the Venerabile was exceptional. She was on the committee for 15 years and edited their magazine, “The Venerabile View”, and organised annual visits to historic Catholic homes and sites. Even in the last weeks of her life she was finalising arrangements for a visit to Mapledurham. She and Stephen gave unstinting support over many years to the Friends of Westminster Cathedral. The two of them edited the “Friends’ Newsletter” for some years. Elizabeth and Stephen were stalwarts in the service of the Cathedral – particularly on the occasion of the visits of Pope John Paul II in 1982 and HM The Queen in 1995 during the Cathedral centenary celebrations. This was the first attendance of a sovereign to a Roman Catholic liturgy since the Reformation.

In addition her support for the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, the Catholic National Library, not to mention St Joan of Arc, Highbury, her own parish church, was steadfast. Her stoicism throughout her illness was moving and inspirational. It is a testament to her interest in the careers of so many of her friends in the priesthood that her funeral mass was celebrated by five of them. It was especially pleasing that Canon Digby Samuels was able to assist and to give the Homily, as he had been a very special friend to Elizabeth and Stephen, having known them for thirty five years. He had also celebrated Stephen’s funeral mass. Elizabeth has left such a legacy of happy memories - having touched the lives of so many people - but most importantly she has set the highest example of Christian life to us all; selfless, generous and kind to the last. She will be sorely missed.

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