For people of a certain age, Elizabeth Taylor will always be an icon, in the company of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman - she was 'us,' in the way that true stars are. A woman of great wit, with a giving spirit and a kind heart, a great actress and great beauty, who lived her life with enthusiasm and independence, despite personal set-backs and ongoing health problems.
Then, like stars do, she blinked out, and on March 24 she was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery, close to her dear friend and fellow child star, Michael Jackson. She was buried within 24 hours of her death, as required by Jewish law (she converted during her marriages to Mike Todd and then Eddie Fisher) and coincidentally died on March 22, the same date that Mike Todd died in 1958. In true Taylor style, she was fifteen minutes late for her own funeral, at her request.
Colin Farrell, a friend of Ms. Taylor's, who is rumored to be portraying Richard Burton in an upcoming biopic, read Gerard Manley Hopkins' The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo, and her grandson, Rhys Tivey, played a trumpet solo of Amazing Grace.
The great love of her life, Sir Richard Burton, a Welshman, was raised in Port Talbot in South Wales by his sister, and was known as Richie Jenkins, but to my grandmother and other housewives in the area, he was simply Richie The Bread - a Welsh tradition of identifying folks by their occupations, stemming from a limited supply of surnames, Jenkins being very common in those days.
Family history has it that Richie The Bread would make his delivery run to wind up at Gamma's house and she'd have him in for a cup of tea and a biscuit and a bit of a chat. She was very happy when he became so successful.
He didn't have a mother, who had died after having 14 children, at age 46, leaving Richie to be raised by his sister in Port Talbot, and he certainly didn't have a grandmotherly person of his own to chat with, so he had my grandmother, who was also from a family of 14 children herself, and mother of 4.
My Dad, her youngest, ten years Richie's senior, became a very successful opthalmic surgeon after his war service in the RAMC, which netted him a few medals, particularly the Military Cross and an OBE. Like Richie, Dad also left the Welsh valleys and struck out for the bright lights of London, quite a daring thing to do in those days.
In an odd coincidence, Richie The Bread worked for Hopkins Bakery in Port Talbot. My Uncle Percy, Dad's older brother, was married to Lillian Hopkins of the bakery family, who died when she was 92. Sir Anthony Hopkins is her nephew and my second cousin, who carries on the acting tradition. I have no idea if he knows of this connection to Sir Richard The Bread.
I was told that when Liz and Richie visited the family in Port Talbot, she was unpretentious and very much liked by the Jenkins clan.
And so, farewell and much love to a great lady, Elizabeth Burton-Taylor, from your friends in the land of Wales. One of ours - home at last.