Author: Peter Maggs
My mother, Annemarie Maggs, who has died aged 94, was a refugee who arrived in Britain from Austria in 1939 and made her life in the UK, working for many years as a secretary at Brunel University in west London.
For some years she was personal secretary there to Lord Vaizey, the economist and educationist; it was said that he refused any decision of which she did not approve. On her retirement in 1989, she was described as “far more than a secretary – counsellor, confidante, cook, nurse, surrogate senior tutor if not head of department. She has been the fount of knowledge, the social pivot of the department.”
She was born Annemarie Zelníček in Vienna to an unmarried Czech music student and was adopted by a Viennese couple, Dora (nee Radziwiller) and Wilhelm Riedel. Willi managed a well-known haberdasher’s, Riedel and Beutel. Dora was a secular Jew, and, following the Anschluss, it became imperative for her to leave the country; in the summer of 1938 she found employment as a cook in Britain.
It was decided that Annemarie should join her mother, which she did in April 1939. She was not yet 15, and spoke only the English she had learned at school. As Dora was a live-in cook and could not accommodate her child, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith took Annemarie in.
In 1943, by then working as a chocolate packer for Mars in Slough, close to where her mother was working in Maidenhead, she joined the Linguists’ Club. The first person to talk to her there was Norman Maggs, a researcher, printer, photographer and TV repairman who had gone there to brush up on his German. In 1944 they were married. They lived first in an ex-army tent in Bisham Woods, Berkshire, and then a caravan. In 1945 they moved to the house in Ealing, west London, where they lived until 2008, when Norman died.
Everyone who knew my mother agrees that she was a most kind, generous and intelligent person. She was very widely read, a prolific and entertaining letter writer and used regularly to do crosswords in English, French and German.
In the 1950s she trained in shorthand and typing and went to work for the export sales manager at Sperry Gyroscope in Brentford, where her knowledge of French and German was invaluable. In 1963 she was offered a job at what was then the Brunel College of Advanced Technology in Acton, which became Brunel University.
After Norman died, she moved into sheltered accommodation to be near the family in Chelmsford, Essex.
Annemarie is survived by a granddaughter and a grandson, and by me.