'She made us laugh – at ourselves and with one another'
Former Irish News columnist Anita Robinson worked for many years with the Pushkin Trust where she passed on her love of language and writing to young people. The trust's chair, Shiela McCaul, pays tribute to her
TUESDAYS will never be the same again – a morning cuppa, The Irish News and the anticipation of what Anita might be writing about this week.
Which of our little eccentricities would she expose and lay bare with her masterly use of language and a turn of phrase laced throughout with wit and humour?
This was the great feature of Anita’s writing. She provided a window into life which most of us of a similar age would recognise. She spoke for us, we had a lived understanding of where she was at, whether clearing out the “futility” room, paying her weekly visit to the hairdresser or, more recently, sharing her strategies for surviving Covid.
She introduced us to her family; her ‘Beloved Spouse’ whose loss grieved her deeply but which she bore uncomplainingly; ‘Daughter Dear’ and their mother/daughter relationship; and her lovely Aunt Molly who featured regularly and who reminded us so much of the matriarchs that we had known.
We identified with Anita to the point of rejoicing when she was happy and feeling her sadness on the few occasions that she shared her sorrows with us.
But mostly, she made us laugh – at ourselves and with one another.
She captured our little eccentricities with appropriate words and phrases, never unkind but wickedly funny. She had a quirky sense of humour and an insight into the human condition.
She talked about the symptoms of ageing and our serial ‘forgettory’; losing things in plain sight and forgetting names of people we knew; and immediately we felt better. We were all in this together.
She could be serious too and her pre-Christmas column, where she looked back on her teaching years, her Primary Three class and the annual watching of ‘The Snowman’, created by Raymond Briggs, stays with me as she shared that the ending moved her to tears while she reflected on the “wonderment of childhood” and the transience of all things.
I have known Anita for almost six decades; from the time that we were students together at St Mary's teacher training college in Belfast, and even then, she stood out from the crowd.
Tastefully attired, with killer heels, beautiful red hair, and porcelain skin, she was never going to be overlooked.
Confident and charming, she developed her career path and had an aura that drew people to her. She valued friendship and cherished her friends, some of whom she had known from childhood and had been there in good times and bad.
I was delighted to catch up with her again, when, following her retirement from teaching, the Duchess of Abercorn invited her to become a facilitator/ teacher educator with the Pushkin Trust.
Here, she shared her love for language and creativity with teachers and children. She held us spellbound as she dismantled our yearly themes in a flurry of prose and poetry with her unique ‘take’ on a subject which stimulated beautiful pieces of writing.
I last spoke to Anita on the morning prior to her going into hospital. I rang her landline (she “couldn’t be doing” with mobile phones), and she answered with her usual laconic “Hello darling”.
We talked for an unbelievable 60 minutes, caught up with one another’s lives and had she not told me, I would never have guessed that she was about to pack a bag for admission to hospital the following day.
I would be hard pressed to remember the details of our lengthy chat, but I know that we laughed, reminisced, and set the world to rights as old friends do. She had been remarkably calm and unflurried as we looked forward to brighter days and our annual reunion with Betty and Marie a few months hence.
I wished her well, promised prayers and will forever treasure the memory of a beautiful and talented friend and that final conversation.
We never got round to talking about an afterlife, but I like to think of a “Loving Spouse,” there, waiting, with outstretched arms.