Obituary: Nancy-Joan Seligman

Madron and Nancy-Joan Seligman
Madron and Nancy-Joan Seligman

Nancy-Joan Seligman, widow of West Sussex’s first ever MEP Madron Seligman, died at her Horsham home last week, aged 94.

Their daughter Olivia Seligman told the County Times that her mother, a fluent French speaker, had been at her father’s side throughout his long career as an MEP, in Sussex, Strasbourg and Brussels.

Born in Battersea during a zeppelin raid, Nancy-Joan Marks grew up in London and Burwash, next door to Batemans, Rudyard Kipling’s home.

“Kipling was her godfather and her unusual name was a combination of her mother’s name, Nancy, with Joan - a tribute to Kipling’s only son, John, killed in the First World War,” said Olivia.

“My mother had vivid memories of Batemans. Kipling would allow her to play in his study, told her stories and took her and her siblings for rides in his small rowing boat on the lake. She was a reluctant debutante in the 1930s, managing to drop the ridiculously long train of her dress into the lavatory before joining the queue of debs to be presented to Queen Mary.

“She joined the Wrens on the outbreak of war, driving ambulances and working at Bletchley.”

As well as working at the top secret codebreaking site, the future Mrs Seligman had the job of driving MI5 agents to their secret meetings.

“She lived in Chelsea and, staying true to the circumstances of her birth, her father and she terrified the rest of the family by refusing to go down to their air raid shelter during bombings.”

The family’s famous connection with Sir Edward Heath began when Mr Seligman met the future prime minister at Balliol College, Oxford in 1937.

‘Uncle Teddy’ would join them for holidays and family occasions, and they would spend Christmases at Chequers.

“My mother played Mother Christmas, always providing the Prime Minister with a Christmas stocking.

“One Christmas, she berated him for his greed when, having opened his stocking before breakfast, he mistook the small globes of bubble bath for sweets, and ate them, later appearing with traces of foam around his mouth.

“My mother was one of the few people who could tease Heath with impunity, and, being a woman of considerable frankness, was able to tell him when she felt he needed to pull up his socks. Determined, direct and extremely down to earth, my mother belonged to a generation of women who had no hesitation in confronting life head on.”

In 1979 Madron Seligman beat Stanley Johnson to be nominated as the Conservative candidate for West Sussex in the first European Parliamentary elections. His winning margin of 95,484 votes won him the seat and a place in the Guinness Book of Records. He held the seat until he retired in 1994, the year he was awarded the CBE. Stanley, father of the current Mayor of London Boris Johnson, went on to become a good friend of his.