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Maggie Keswick Jencks (1941-1995)

Maggie of the Maggie's Centres, Maggie Keswick Jencks, was born in Scotland, and had a peripatetic childhood travelling between Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dumfriesshire, as her father's family traded in the Far East. She went to Oxford University, taught briefly at a convent school, and then ran a boutique in London. She met and married Charles Jencks, a designer and writer, and had two children. She travelled extensively with her husband and together they designed conversions of houses and gardens in the U.K. and U.S. Maggie's interest in gardens was influenced by her knowledge of Chinese landscape gardening and its philosophy, and she wrote a scholarly book "The Chinese Garden" published in 1978, and subsequently lectured on the subject all over the world. She also involved herself in projects associated with her family's charitable trusts, ranging from schemes to help young people deal with social problems in Dumfriesshire, to setting up the first independent hospice in Hong Kong.

Maggie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988, and after treatment resumed her usual activities. The disease returned in 1993 and she was given only a short time to live. She was eligible for, and chose to have, a trial treatment for advanced metastatic breast cancer at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. Average remission after the treatment was 18 months, and it was in this period that Maggie's ideas about coping with cancer took shape and crystallised into definite proposals. Looking at her suggestions it is possible to see, from the bald outline of her life detailed above, influences from other cultures and countries, and the use of skills which had been developed and honed in envisaging, planning, and initiating successfully, many diverse projects.

Maggie's monograph "A view from the front line", written after her cancer metastasised, suggests various ways in which a person with cancer could actively assist in his or her own treatment. Three key ideas concern diet, relaxation therapies and psychological support, and the provision of high quality information. It seems, reading her monograph, that Maggie was very interested in nutrition therapies, and discovered through trial and error herself, what to eat to maximise energy during treatment. This included trying vitamin and mineral supplements, and Chinese remedies. Another aim was coping with stress associated with the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness, both on the sufferer and her family. Yoga, counselling, reflexology, aromatherapy, group therapy are all mentioned, together with the importance of a pleasing therapeutic environment. Finally, Maggie stressed the importance of the availability of useful and useable information in helping the person with cancer take control of his illness and take an active part in treatment.

The above is a very brief account of Maggie's life and some of her ideas. Reading "A view from the front line" in order to write about it for this website gave me a strong sense of Maggie the person. She comes across to me as curious, highly creative - a lateral thinker - intellectually vigorous and full of humour. When she died, she had written the blueprint and constitution for the first Maggie's Centre at the Western General. This Centre offers the therapies, services and information which Maggie thought would be helpful, and especially, I thought when I visited, it offers a welcoming atmosphere, an empathic listening ear, a cup of tea, with no strings attached. Further centres have followed, and more are planned, in Scotland and beyond. Reflecting on this, it seems to me that Maggie, because of the person she was, and the experiences she had had in her life, was able to combine her ideas into a fruitful whole which was both visionary and inspirational. It feels good to be associated with a project which will help and empower the ill, the fearful and the anxious.

Information about Maggie has been derived from the beautifully produced little monograph "A view from the front line" by Maggie Keswick Jencks. Copies are available from Edinburgh Maggie's (The Stables, Western General Hospital, Crewe Rd., Edinburgh EH4 2UX ). I have a few spare copies if anybody wants one.

Maggie's book, "The Chinese garden: history, art and architecture" has just gone into a second edition. It is revised by Alison Hardie, with contributions and conclusion by Charles Jencks, and is published by Frances Lincoln at £35.00.



Page dated October 5, 2015

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