In Remembrance and Celebration of Linda René-Martin

Sandgate Parish Council were hugely sad to hear of the passing of Linda René-Martin on 17th August. Linda was a huge part of Sandgate for over 50 years, from being a founding member of the Sandgate Society to fighting against inappropriate local development and writing two books about the village.

Details will be published soon of a memorial service which is being arranged for Linda.

The following obituary has been written by David Cowell of the Sandgate Sentinel, and it appears in full with pictures on the website of the Sandgate Community Trust. Many thanks to David for his kind permission to reproduce it here. You can also learn more about Linda’s work on the Sandgate Old Fire Station website.

The Celebration of a life

I first made contact with Linda René-Martin by letter in 2000 to seek information about the Goose Cathedral, the long gone lifeboat station cum cafe that had been on the intersection of the coast and the Seabrook roads and immortalised in the eponymous book by local author Jocelyn Brooke. She replied in her normal prompt, business like manner and it was obvious when my wife Sue and I moved to Sandgate a few years later we would become good friends and we collaborated on many projects and shared many interests.

Linda was born on 18th September 1920 to Mother Davide and Father Mark Lion better known as Max who in the 1930s, to avoid the growing anti German feeling prevalent in this country, changed their family name from Rittenberg to Ritson. Max (1880-1965) was an Australian of German descent. A prolific author for several English magazines, he is best known as the creator of the character Dr. Xavier Wycherley, a psychologist and psychic who helped solve crimes. He wrote a total of eighteen Wycherley stories and he also wrote a series of stories about Magnum, a scientific detective, beginning with The Mystery of the Sevenoaks Tunnel in 1913. He was Chairman of a successful advertising agency in Covent Gardens and gave a career start to a young Charles Saatchi. Linda was active in the Company in its early days and during the bombing of London during WW2, she defied authority by passing through a live bomb cordon to retrieve documents essential to company, family and business.

Linda’s mother edited an extensive and very comprehensive series of ‘How to Books’ under her pre marriage family name of Minter. Beautifully laid out and illustrated they showed everything from darning socks to making cocktail dresses. While Davide was outworldy of the Victorian to Edwardian era, she wore the same well-made suits for perhaps 30 years. She also loved the avant-garde including Salvador Dali. It is easy to see the origins of Linda’s life long love of literature and art. Linda religiously did the London Times Crossword puzzles in her youth which possibly explains her genius at Scrabble.

The family, including Linda’s brother David who was born in 1924, lived in London, initially in Greencroft Gardens in NW6 and then in Belsize Avenue in NW3. It was at the Kingsley School in Belsize Park that Linda began her education then moved on to the South Hampstead School where her teacher was Susan Stebbing who would become the first British woman Professor of Philosophy. Linda would later say that Stebbing’s classes taught them how to think not what to think although Linda’s mother was less sure of these unconventional techniques and felt that the study of Logic would make her daughter argumentative and scare off potential suitors. Linda would often say that her Mother was half right on the matter.

In 1932 the family purchased their house in Coastguard Cottages Sandgate and so began her long, enjoyed and valued association with the village. During the war Linda served as a Leading Wren Plotter at Portland and was actively involved in D Day planning. In 2009 she gave an enthralling talk on the subject to the Sandgate Society. After the war she worked as an Information Officer for UNICEF in Paris and in 1957 for the 11th General Assembly in New York. In her early 20s she left America alone on a cargo ship bound for Greece returning to England overland. She was the first woman to join HMSO’s Design Team and later became Production Editor for Shell Aviation News and then Production Manager for Scientific Publications at the Zoological Society in London. She also worked at the Curwen Press where she spoke of passing the likes of T. S. Eliot and Cyril Connelly on the stairs. At Curwen, Oliver Simon who ran the company and who was the leading British typographer and a major player on the international scene was an immensely important mentor in Linda’s life and their friendship continued until his death in 1956.

Linda’s first husband, René Martin was part of the French Aristocracy and they married in 1950. René, a Moroccan designer and art dealer, was commissioned by the American tobacco heiress, art collector and philanthropist Doris Duke to redesign the living room of her Honolulu estate Shangri La which, following her death, became and still is the excellent Museum of Islamic Art, Culture and Design. René was a major authority, and source, for Moroccan art. While the relationship was unfortunately short lived, it was a bitter-sweet dream-come-true. Linda had the opportunity to live in an ancient Moroccan Palace until her husband’s premature death only six months after they married. Her second marriage was to Dr Jack Grobstein. Jack did his medical studies in Geneva Switzerland and had time between studying medicine to play the clarinet in a jazz band. Jack had a successful career as a psychiatrist in New York where they lived for a number of years, until they retired to Sandgate and London. They were enthusiastic tennis players and Linda still played into her late 80s. Jack sadly died in 1989. Linda retained the name René-Martin for the rest of her life because, she told me, she liked the sound of it.

She travelled extensively but it is as a stalwart defender of the village she loved that she will be best remembered. She had various articles published in magazines such as Country Life (on William Wilberforce in the May 1975 edition and also spoke on the same subject at the Chichester Hall in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade) and Kent Life (on the Old Fire Station in Sandgate in the October 1983 edition) and two books on the subject of Sandgate and would never hesitate to get into the fray whenever an inappropriate development loomed. She was a founding member of the Sandgate Society in 1962 and, in 1983, helped set up the Sandgate Heritage Trust to protect the Old Fire Station from the clutches of developers. The escarpment, Encombe and Princes Parade (in defence of which she attended a House of Commons Select Committee which lasted 13 days and was successful in stopping the construction of an outer harbour and lock-gate to the Canal) all received her personal attention right up until her demise.

Her incisive intellect and fastidious attention to detail made her a formidable opponent and would often rattle friends and foes alike but one could never question her unswerving loyalty to any cause she supported and the many friends she accumulated. Despite her work commitments in London, Linda stood in 1970 as an independent candidate for the Sandgate Ward on what was then the Folkestone Council. Although narrowly defeated she said that it was a shake-up, a signal – take notice of Sandgate.

An avid writer, Linda would put pen to paper to express her views on a diverse range of subjects and often did so in poetic form so it is fitting that we remember the poem she wrote for the Sandgate Society’s 50th birthday celebration:

Forever Sandgate

Here, ceaseless Enbrook meets a timeless sea,
Near Castle, Church and Ilex tree
And Wilberforce and HG Wells
Live deep in village memory.
A VC, too, among the dead
Is writ on stone with pain and pride.
Progress, now , among us dwells
As Saga spells prosperity.

Martellos echo times gone by,
Pebbles murmur with the tide
Clear we hear the seagulls cry.
Dawn and sunset paint the sky –
But creeping concrete, loss of green
Eat into our well-loved scene
Hard as we defy.
Though wind and waves are rarely still
Sandgate survives and ever will.

Without any doubt she had an amazing life in an era when women were at a significant disadvantage and to Linda such disadvantages were challenges to be faced and conquered.

Linda stayed at home in her beloved Coastguard Cottage until the last ten days of her life, dying on 17th August at St Margaret’s Nursing Home in Hythe and is sadly missed by her brother David (Emeritus Professor of Physics at Stanford University), niece Francesca, nephews Marc, Vincent, Matthew and Peter and all members of her family of whom she was immensely proud and she spoke often of their many achievements.

The family would like to thank all those who assisted Linda during her later difficult days, especially the staff at St Margaret’s Nursing Home, Ray Govier and Stuart Macintyre.