Margaret Mannell, one of the best known figures in legal London and my dear friend, died on Saturday morning.
I met Margaret some 15 years ago when she was running what was then Taylor Joynson Garrett. She showed me to an enormous boardroom, apologising for the scale but explaining that it was the only room in the building where one was allowed to smoke. As she inhaled her way through a packet of cigarettes it became clear that she knew more about me than I knew myself. I said that she had clearly done her research. “I haven’t researched you. I’m too busy. I’ve got someone else to research you for me. I’m not wasting an hour on you without knowing whether you’re worth meeting
.” So I was judged and clearly found acceptable.
Over the years an increasingly strong bond developed between us, although it took a while for acquaintance to turn into friendship. Margaret was the most private person I have ever met. There is still much about her life that I do not know. Her ferocious intellect was obvious: she oversaw the merger with Wessing and mastered German in order to facilitate it. There were rumours that she had a doctorate in Chemistry from Oxford, something she would neither confirm nor deny. Her effortless elegance, ramrod straight posture and dowager-like demeanour hinted at an aristocratic background. Her ownership of a castle in Scotland would have confirmed it, although she always maintained that it was a wreck and she allowed a shepherd to doss down in it.
Margaret was as tough as anything. She used to be a superb eventer, and several years ago fell from her horse and broke her neck. She had to learn how to walk, talk, use a knife and fork again, yet she was back at Taylor Wessing in a matter of weeks. She then moved to Morrison & Foerster where she worked with huge satisfaction for the rest of her life.
We saw each other all the time. When I was going through difficult times Margaret would be the first person I would call upon. She had an innate understanding of how people worked, massive empathy and a bottomless well of kindness. She mentored me, members of my team, my friends, my partner. Everyone who knew her loved her. As soon as she’d walk into a room you knew you were going to have a fantastic time. Every lunch or dinner was littered with profound advice, hilarity and astute market commentary. And, of course, her constant drip of gin and tonic. Always Tanqueray, lots of ice, keep them coming. She was not a young woman (although age was clearly never discussed), yet despite her Calvinist work ethic she seemed to have no stop button. I remember being on the dancefloor at Annabel’s with her in the small hours of the morning when she decided to get up on stage and play the drums.
She told me a year ago that she had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. It was inoperable and had proved resistant to all forms of treatment. Yet despite the protestations of her partners she continued to work every hour she could. She recruited her own replacement – she never saw this as macabre, simply as pragmatic. She was persuaded by her colleagues, who surely loved her as much as I, to summon the strength to go to the partners’ conference in the USA. She did so, as her swan song, to say her farewells.
Margaret and I continued to meet for lunch every month. I said that I was superstitious, that she couldn’t die while we still had a date in the diary. We would meet at the Ivy or at Locatelli’s. She would be, as ever, head to toe in Chanel, blue eye shadow, Theo Fennell jewellery. She’d order pasta with lobster because of its wonderful scent but couldn’t eat more than a mouthful. After two hours of putting the world to rights and hearing about how she would try to make one last trip to her favourite restaurant in Paris or to the casino in Monte Carlo she would suddenly look close to collapse. Her driver would take her home to sleep.
She was in and out of hospital on almost a weekly basis. Eventually came the time where she had to postpone our lunches and then, ultimately, cancel them. My friend Howard Morris, also one of the kindest people I know, had the office next door to her. As he emailed me last September, “you know that we are being privileged to see, up close, courage and humility, dignity and graciousness
Over Christmas she suffered from double pneumonia but still managed to find the strength to pull through. Even in the ICU she was emailing her secretary and asking for work to be sent to her. As soon as she felt well enough she was back at the office and she and I met there, for the last time, four weeks ago. How she had the strength even to stand up I do not know. She eased into a chair with extreme difficulty and apologised. She had so wanted to catch up but her voice would give up after ten minutes and she couldn’t have a glass of water. She wanted to talk about me, the family, my work, anything other than her condition. After ten minutes she excused herself. We hugged. Her specialists were meeting the following day to discuss if there was anything they might be able to do. She would let me know as soon as they had got in touch with her. She was hopeful. “I am just so sick of feeling so sick, Matthew
.” And she hadn’t had a drink in months. “I so hope we can manage to have one more lunch. I’d kill for a martini
Of course the specialists couldn't do anything and we didn’t have that lunch. Paul Friedman, MoFo’s European Managing Partner, called me Saturday morning. He sounded more cut up than I was. Howard emailed me. He was on holiday and now just wanted to come back. Trevor James emailed too. Everyone had expected this, but everyone was in shock.
Margaret and I shared a love of Schubert. We discussed Winterreise and she said that her favourite lied was Der Wegweiser, the signpost. I asked her how she could ever choose one song when every one was a masterpiece, and she replied that it was because it was a treatise on how to live your life. To find your own way, to shun the easy paths that others take. Margaret always walked her own path, and she was a signpost to me as to how to live my own life. If she has touched me in that way then she must have touched the lives of countless others. I already miss her dreadfully. I pour this out as a stream of consciousness because I know that so many RollOnFriday readers will miss her too.
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