Babette Bluett-Duncan

Remembering Babette

 "No small talk, No platitudes, Everything had meaning." 

Babette Bluett-Duncan, 10th December 1959 to 8th August 2021

This page is to celebrate the life of Babette Bluett-Duncan.
Babette was my wife and Co-Director of Art of Living. She had a keen interest in people and her wish to help everyone she met understand themselves a little better (whether they liked it or not!) has become the foundation of "The Art of Living Way".
Her Aunt, Marie Balmary, described her thus, "She has been deeply in search for truth, not intellectual truth, but the truth of life and the truth of love." 

Below is a link to a video of her funeral and some of our memories of her.
Andrew

The Reading from Corinthians

Love is patient, love is kind..... read more

Andrew's Eulogy

So, the connection to Corinthians verses above is the word "Love" in all its guises, because for me Babette often epitomised love.

Now of course I am biased to some degree, but I am going to give you an example of how she showed me love. Up until the point we met again in 1992 and for a number of years after that I had a fierce temper and I could really "rage" when provoked. My problem was that I didn't actually understand really what set it off. But when it did happen it was fairly spectacular. Whilst she didn't necessarily condone what I did in those circumstances, She didn't judge me either. And it was that lack of judgement and her keen ability to see what was actually happening (something that some of you here, may be able to identify with?) it was this that started the healing process for me. This I owe to Babette and is a great example of what Paul (the chap who wrote Corinthians) is talking about when he refers to love....love is patient (in her case very), love is kind, love delights in the truth and Babette I believe always delighted in the truth.

She helped me bring all those feelings to bear and to come to terms with my reality.

 I've always felt she saved me, from my less than adequate self. I shall always be very grateful to her for her deep and enduring love, this being the best example I could think of to illustrate it.

 Now I'm going to give you a brief history of her life.

 Elisabeth Marie Guyonnet was born to Marie Ange and George Guyonnet on 10th December 1959 in a town called Bone in Algeria, it was a French province at the time. She was their 4th child , and first daughter and was in fact destined to be one of 10 siblings by the end of that production run.

Young Babette

Young Babette 1965(ish)

However as the 20th century progressed, it became less and less fashionable to have an empire, and the French found themselves unwanted and unloved and were unceremoniously evicted a couple of years later, in 1962.

 Which to give you a little context, was the year that we, as a family, moved from Cobham to Reigate because I'd won a choral scholarship to Reigate St Marys Choir School which involved singing in the choir here in this very church twice every Sunday for the next 4 years. 

So Babette then found herself growing up in northern France where she lived with her parents and siblings. However, fast forward about 12 years and when her eldest brother committed suicide, she shortly after attempted to do the same.

The ten Guyonnet children

Fortunately for all of us, she didn't succeed and ended up going to live with her Aunt and Uncle Marie and Dominic Balmary in Paris.

Marie was, and in fact still is, a psychotherapist of some repute and helped Babette to understand herself and to cope with her favourite brother's death. Babette always said that Marie saved her. I'm so glad she did.

At the age of 19 having dropped out of university Babette came to stay for a few weeks with friends of Marie and Dominic, in Chiswick West London, and ended up staying for the best part of a year. During this time she applied for, and surprisingly got a job at Habitat. I say surprisingly because she spoke hardly a word of English. Its probably difficult for you to believe that she couldn't speak English but there was an incident just after she started at Habitat when a customer asked her where something was in the Kitchen department which also stocked Bedding. She replied that this "thing" was over there just behind the shits. The customer looked somewhat astonished and Babette realising her error in pronunciation, put on an even thicker French accent and said " joost over zere behind zeh SHEEETS."

 Anyway back to how we met.

I was a Habitat department manager at the time and we were opening a new shop in Hammersmith and I still recall meeting her.

 I was training the new people how to use the tills and we'd set up training facilities in a hotel not far from the shop as the shop itself wasn't ready.

On that first day I looked down at the sea of faces, most of whom were looking either very serious, or nervous and like fish out of water. But there was one face looking me right in the eye , smiling from ear to ear , one individual clearly bent on enjoying herself and yes this was of course a 19 year old Babette.

Babette and I in my parent's garden in 1981 (I think!)

Babette and I in my parent's garden in 1981 (I think!)

Babette, in the Paris gallery looking very glamorous, circa 1983

Babette, in the Paris gallery looking very glamorous, circa 1983

Despite this promising start, it was not love at first sight and in fact our real friendship only started, I'd say, a year or so later when she left for Paris but kept in touch with me by phone, a very expensive past time in the late 70's.

And the occasional visit, she'd fly over on a whim.....she earned far more money than me selling oil paintings in a posh gallery in Paris.

I recall the first time she came back to see me and her friends in Chiswick. I don't think my jaw actually dropped, but when she left for Paris she'd left a tomboy, when she returned she'd turned into a beautiful sophisticated woman....rather more interesting I thought!

Time passed and she moved from Paris and found a boyfriend who was a novice monk (she could be quite persuasive even then) but who was jealous of her "English" as I was referred to in her family, so gradually we lost touch.

By the late 80's she had decided to learn to be a teacher and ended up living in Italy in Bergamo studying to become a Montessori teacher. Montessori is perhaps a great example that typifies Babette's different approach to life. As some of you know, and may have experienced, she was a great teacher.

And one of the reasons for this, other than clarity of thought and a logical mind , was that she would always start from where her students were. I don't know , but I suspect that this approach was something she learnt when she did actually start teaching as a Montessori teacher in 1992. This she initially found very difficult because, as with many of us, she found she wanted to show how much she knew to her pupils, rather than finding out what they knew already. 

Babette Easter 1993, first visit for years!

Babette, when we met again in Easter 1993, first time for years!

Her head teacher , Ludmilla, a formidable woman, eventually knocked this out of her and so began the development of the great teacher that she eventually became.

She was intensely interested in people and specifically in you her pupil . She discouraged her pupils from putting themselves down and showed them how to achieve their aim. If it failed she would tell you not to feel bad or tell yourself off, and instead she asked you if you could see why it hadn't worked. Very often she got you thinking so that you provided the solution. That approach provides "buy in" if you could work out the solution for yourself . But If you couldn't work it out, she would patiently and clearly explain.

So whether learning how to make bread or trying to understand yourself better, her pupils I think invariably went away the richer for their experience with her.

 In 1992 Babette made contact with me again when her father died. We met again in the Easter of 1993 and at long last, fell head over heels in love.

Between March 1994 and Feb 1997 we managed to produce three children and even got married in their somewhere, but neither of us could ever remember the date, which was a relief because it meant I never disappointed her for not giving her flowers on our anniversary.

Babette and Jeanne August 1995

Babette and Jeanne August 1995

Babette and Jeanne 1996

Babette and Josie 1998

 We were pretty hopeless parents to begin with, but something that characterised us both, was a desire for change and to become better at what we did. And this we gradually did, but it's also true to say that it's been a bit of a long hard slog .......

Now, Babette was a great cook and so, when she moved over here, to live with a bloke who had not one but two cookshops to his name, that might well have boded well. However her opinion of shop owners was low and she thought all retailers would sell their grandmothers if it turned a profit, and when I suggested that we could do with some help in the shop she wasn't really that keen. In the end I showed her that there are good retailers and there were sales driven retailers and that we came into the former category.

 If you met her in the shop she was in fact a very good sales person, which surprised her a lot. But this wasn't because she was using standard sales techniques and Closing The Sale. No, for Babette, what she was interested in was the person behind the need (the customer). She wanted to find out what exactly he or she needed and then base her recommendations on that.

Not rocket science maybe but very Babette and still slightly unusual in retail. In other words what she was interested in was the relationship between her and the customer. Whether she ended up selling something or nothing wasn't the point of the exercise for her. Developing the relationship was. This may sound a bit wishy washy and rose tinted spectacle and uncommercial to you, but for those of you who have experienced this approach first hand, you'll know just how effective a weapon she was. And it's this conscious approach that we have used ever since in the business, so we have a lot to be grateful to her for.............

In January 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. She had a tiny lump removed and being Babette refused the suggested radio therapy treatment afterwards.

And for the next 6 years she was cancer free.

At that point she asked me if she could step back from her full time role in the business and went off to study She trained as a Transactional Analysis therapist. This she excelled at, and indeed she used her skills in the business regularly, to help us understand when things went wrong, which they do from time to time when you employ human beings. She was a great power for good!

 In case you're beginning to think that this was a whitewash on my behalf then let me disabuse you of that rose tinted image. She wasn't always easy to deal with!

She could be irascible and a pain in the neck. She could be an awful pedant and a bit of a control freak. I always used to send her a copy of my weekly email, that I send out to customers on Saturday mornings, and I'd dread it, if I got a reply that questioned my logic. That was a signal that significant chunks of it needed a complete rethink, and to add insult to injury, it obviously pained her to have to rethink it, and this she didn't bother hiding!!!

In 2018 the cancer returned and eventually turned into the Triple Negative form which even Babette couldn't deal with.

She eventually succumbed to its ravages on the 8th August 2021.

Babette's Funeral

The church getting pretty full on the day of Babette's funeral.

 So that's it... Almost. Whilst I was writing this, I received an email from my friend Tim who had just read one of my emails to our customers (about a month ago now I suppose) He wrote this to me "Your description of her as the person with whom I could discuss anything, however controversial, and without fear of judgement" rings so true. He continued "That was Babette to me. No platitudes. No small talk. Everything had a meaning that was worth further exploration, and that made for very interesting and stimulating conversations every single time I was in her company."

 What a compliment Tim and so succinctly put, "No small talk, No platitudes, Everything had meaning." That for me captures so well, some her strongest characteristics.

She was also just a lovely girl. Who I miss.

Andrew Bluett-Duncan
September 9th 2021

 

Words and Thoughts from Babette's Family and Friends

6 comments

  • KirstyOct 23, 2021

    I came looking for a Le Creuset butter dish, but I left with a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart for this exquisite business. What a beautiful thing I have stumbled upon and a rare gem of a business. There is such heart at the core of this business, you can feel it from the words. Thank you for bringing humanity back into business.

  • Julia BaxterOct 11, 2021

    Such lovely photographs giving a precious glimpse of BD family life. Babette’s zest for life shines through, combined with others where I recognise her pensive ‘concentrating’ face. I feel honoured to have been part of the Art of Living family for a while; and will always remember her kind advice and guidance and her great sense of humour….Julia

  • Helen WhiteOct 09, 2021

    Hello the B-D family
    The photos of Babette and you all are beautiful, thank you for posting them. I wish I’d known all those sweet versions of her too, from little “popette” to playful girlfriend and proud new mum, the twinkle was always there.
    Sending love x

  • Julia ChurchillOct 09, 2021

    Thank you for sharing the readings and music of Babette’s funeral, I’ve said it before; Be More Babette has become a standard to live up to. My very best wishes to you all, Julia.

  • Tim Glynne-JonesOct 09, 2021

    This is as impressive second time around as it was at the time, Andrew. And it’s great to see the photos. Thanks for sharing them. I hope you’re doing ok and that the “something good” that Jeanne alludes to will manifest very soon.

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