Lady Luisa Abrahams - a truly remarkable life

23-01-2006

Lady Luisa Abrahams, who died last week at the age of 95, was a truly remarkable woman. Born Luisa Kramerova in 1910 she grew up in the Prague district of Bubenec, where her father ran a hospital. A leading ladies golfer in pre-war Czechoslovakia, Lady Luisa stayed in the UK, where she had gone to play a tournament, when World War II broke out. She spent the rest of her life in Britain, but always maintained close contacts with her home country.

Two years ago I spoke to Lady Luisa Abrahams at her home in north London. I began by asking her what life was really like in Czechoslovakia between the wars, in the era commonly known as the First Republic.

"Wonderful, it was wonderful, under Masaryk we all were very, very happy there. My father, who was born in the monarchy of course, started the hospital in 1896, but he was very happy in the First Republic...wonderful, everybody was happy there."

Did you ever meet President Masaryk?

"Yes, I knew him very well, because his wife was in my father's hospital and when I was nine years of age, in 1919, the president and his son Honza, who became my best friend later on, were every day visiting her.

"She was a manic depressive and she was in our hospital. I was very friendly with the president, and very friendly with Honza, very friendly."

What kind of a man was Masaryk?

"The old man you mean, the father? Wonderful, he was a statesman of the first, first order. And I think that President Havel was like that, he was really a statesman also. He reminded very much of old Masaryk. They were very, very important two people in my life."

There is a question about Jan Masaryk, about how he died. Did he jump, was he pushed - what do you think?

"We well never find out - he certainly didn't like to jump out of the window from thirty metres, and you're also not always dead from thirty metres. His death was a very odd thing, and we will never find out the real truth. But in any case it was the fault of the Communists, there's no doubt about that."

I read that in 1938 you won a golf championships. "In 1938 I won the Czech golf championships and I won many more after that in England, and I was quite a good golfer. Last November I went into the Hall of Fame of golfers - there is the plaque there on the wall...Sin slavy."

What was the secret of your golfing success?

"I don't know. I just liked to play golf and I was very happy playing golf. I was a tennis champion when I was 18. I beat the Kozeluh sister, which was the greatest day of my life then.

"I became the junior champion in Czechoslovakia and my ball boy was Jaroslav Drobny when he was seven years of age, and afterwards he won Wimbledon in '54, so that is quite a history. And then I started playing golf."

What first brought you to England?

"I came to England...actually England and golf saved my life, because I came to England in February '39 to play golf with Henry Cotton, who was the golf champion then, British golf champion, whom I met in '38 in Marianske lazne.

"He thought I was very talented and he invited me to come to England to play golf and I came and stayed with him when Hitler marched into Prague. Hitler killed my entire family but I stayed in England and therefore I survived."

And you married here?

"I went to buy some trousers because I had no clothes with me - I only came for a week or a fortnight here - and I went to Aquascutum to buy some trousers, I met the son of the owner.

"And there it is, I married him and we were married for 48 years when unfortunately Sir Charles died. He was a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order."

I also read Lady Luisa that you joined the Czechoslovak air force during World War II - is that the case?

"Well, I was in the British airforce in something called the wire service and then I went into the Czech airforce at the same time. They really didn't have a women's section but they had a few women, and I became a major of the Czech airforce."

After the war you stayed in England - did you follow events much in Czechoslovakia?

"My roots are very, very deep into the Czech...country, into Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. I started a business in 1971, an English business, under the Communists in Prague, and that was quite difficult because they were trying to do all possible things to get extra money out of us. But I had a shop in Prague under Tuzex, which was the foreign money business."

Were you saddened by the state of affairs in Czechoslovakia?

"I think everybody decent must have been saddened by it. But I never had any trouble with the Communists. And I must say I enjoyed even the time during Communism in Prague, but one was a little scared of course and...it was terrible really at times.

"There was an awful lot of red tape and you had to have visas and everything...but I enjoyed even then coming to Prague."

You told me earlier you were good friends with Olga Havlova and Vaclav Havel - could you tell me a little bit about your relationship with them?

"Well my relationship with them was that I started helping Olga Havlova just after the revolution. And also during the Communist time I helped dissidents a little bit but not really in any strong political way. Because I was married, I had children and I didn't want to be locked up by the Communists.

"But as soon as the revolution came I really went into quite big and I tried to collect a lot of money. I got two ambulances for her, for the Dobra Vule (foundation), for the sick children and I got a lot of money for them. I must say the president was charming, always whenever I saw him.

"I went to some parties afterwards...he had a party for his uncle's hundredth birthday, Milos Havel whom I knew quite well. He started the Barrandov...cinema thing, and he was wonderful. And I went to his wedding, he married a friend of mine.

"President Havel gave a party for his hundredth birthday and they showed a film which he made in 1922, and he started this Barrandov, which is a big...cinema enterprise. Goldwyn-Mayer from Los Angeles came to have a look at it in 1921 or 22, and they copied it because Barrandov was before Hollywood even started."

I know recently, before he retired, Vaclav Havel gave you an award.

"I got a gold medal, which was wonderful. I really should have got it from the president but by the time I got the medal he wasn't the president any more and the new ambassador in London brought it with him, Mr Fule, and gave a wonderful party for me and I got the gold medal and a certificate."

What is the medal for exactly?

"The medal is for services to the Czech Republic. Only six people apparently in England got this medal from Mr Havel. One is the Queen, one is Prince Charles, one is Mr Tony Blair and one is me. I don't know who the other two are. So that's a great honour."

Have you ever met the Queen or Prince Charles?

"Yes, I know them quite well. I met them when my husband got the Victorian Order and we met Prince Philip very often because we did his charity with him. And I saw the Queen when she came to Prague and I was sitting at luncheon in the British Embassy at her table, only six people at the table.

"Actually Mr Klaus was at that same table, who is now the new president in Prague, so I've just written him a letter now."

23-01-2006