Esmé Valerie Eliot (née Fletcher; 17 August 1926 – 9 November 2012) was the second wife and later widow of the Nobel prize-winning poet, T. S. Eliot. She was a major stockholder in the publishing firm of Faber and Faber Limited and the editor and annotator of a number of books dealing with her late husband's writings.
The daughter of an insurance manager in Leeds, she was educated at Queen Anne's School, Caversham, where she was reputed to have told her headteacher that she knew precisely what she wanted to become: secretary to TS Eliot.
A native of Leeds, Valerie married Eliot, almost 40 years her senior, on 10 January 1957. She had been a star-struck fan of Eliot since her schooldays, as she confided to the novelist Charles Morgan, for whom she worked as a secretary. Morgan used his influence to get her a job at Faber & Faber, where she finally met Eliot in August 1949, a debt of kindness which she always acknowledged.
In a 1994 interview with The Independent newspaper she recalled a very ordinary home life of evenings spent at home playing Scrabble and eating cheese, stating "He obviously needed a happy marriage. He wouldn't die until he'd had it."
Following T. S. Eliot's 1965 death, Valerie Eliot was his most important editor and literary executor, having brought to press The Waste Land: Facsimile and Manuscripts of the Original Drafts (1971) and The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 1, 1898–1922 (1989). She assisted Christopher Ricks with his edition of The Inventions of the March Hare (1996), a volume of Eliot's unpublished verse. A second volume of T. S. Eliot's letters was edited by his widow and long-delayed.
One of Valerie Eliot's most lucrative decisions as executor was granting permission for a stage musical to be based on her husband's work Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. This became the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. With her portion of the proceeds Valerie Eliot established "Old Possum's Practical Trust" – a literary registered charity – and funded the T. S. Eliot Prize.
In late 2009, the second volume of Eliot's letters was published. The third volume, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden, followed in July 2012. She donated the £15,000 annual prize money for the T. S. Eliot Prize.
Valerie Eliot died on 9 November 2012 at her home in London.
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- Christensen, Karen. "Dear Mrs Eliot...", The Guardian, 29 January 2005.
- Charity Commission. OLD POSSUM'S PRACTICAL TRUST, registered charity no. 328558.
- "Valerie Eliot, Poet’s Wife and Defender, Dies at 86", New York Times, 13 November 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- Old Possum's Practical Trust
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