LONDON (AP) — Valerie Eliot, the widow of T.S. Eliot and zealous guardian of the poet's literary legacy for almost half a century, has died. She was 86.
In a statement Sunday, the Eliot estate said Valerie Eliot died two days before at her London home after a short illness.
Born Valerie Fletcher in Leeds, northern England, on Aug. 17, 1926, Eliot was the second wife of the U.S.-born Nobel literature laureate. She met him at London publisher Faber & Faber, where he was a director and she a star-struck secretary who had been a fan of his work since her teenage years.
"I felt I knew him as a person" from his poems, she told The Independent newspaper in 1994, "and evidently I did."
The poet's first marriage, to the mercurial Vivienne Haigh-Wood, had been unhappy; she died in an asylum in 1947.
He and Valerie wed in 1957, and friends described the marriage as a happy one despite the almost 40-year gap in their ages.
Valerie Eliot later recalled that their routine included evenings at home eating cheese and playing Scrabble and trips to the theater.
"He obviously needed a happy marriage," she later said. "He wouldn't die until he'd had it."
After T.S. Eliot's death in 1965, Valerie became his executor, editing his poems and letters for publication and steadfastly refusing to cooperate with would-be biographers, in keeping with the poet's last wishes.
She did, however, welcome the unlikely idea of a stage musical based on a volume of Eliot's whimsical verses, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." It became the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Cats," a global hit that brought in huge sums for the Eliot estate.