Monday 5 September 2011

Interview with Lynn Varcoe

Lynne Varcoe was the auxiliary nurse who cared for John Lennon's Aunt Mimi in her final years between 1991-1992. Ernie Sutton of the British Beatles Fan Club spoke to her about her time caring for Mimi.

How did you come to care for John Lennon's Aunt Mimi?
"My mother was the owner of the Varcoe Nursing Agency, located in Poole. She was approached by a representative of Yoko Ono to supply auxiliary nurses during the day to care for Mimi Smith. During the night, caregivers from the Cheshire Trust watched Mimi. I had worked for my mother on and off over the years. At that time, I was working as a mathematics teacher and I helped care for Mimi as a second income."

When did you realise she was the aunt who raised John Lennon?
"As soon as my mother received the 'phone call to assist with Mimi's care it was made clear to us who she was. I think we always knew that John Lennon's Aunt lived in Poole; we just did not where exactly."

How long did you look after Mimi?
"I looked after Mimi on and off for two years during 1991 and 1992. "

How did you feel when you realised who Mimi was?
"I did not start as a huge Beatles fan (not having been born until 1963). However, one of my closest friends at Grammar School loved all things Beatle so I was well educated! When I realized who Mimi was, it was interesting to hear her talk about John and the other Beatles; also to see the memorabilia that she had in her house. She had a picture that was painted by John (which she later gave to her doctor), a Radio Caroline bell that had been presented to the Beatles, a plaque that John had made for his Uncle that read "the guitar is all right as a hobby, John, but you'll never make a living at it", as well as many photographs and cards, etc."

What were her memories of George (her husband?)
"Mimi really did not talk about George. When asked she always changed the subject."

When she spoke about John, how do you think she felt (proud?)- or did it vary .
"When Mimi spoke about John she was occasionally proud but more often than not, she found fault! She was very upset at John when he returned his MBE. John gave it to Mimi after he got it and she thought of it as hers. She said that he came to see her one day and asked to borrow it. Then she heard on the news that he had returned it and she was very upset. She also said many times that John was not raised to speak with a Liverpudlian accent and that he 'put it on' so that he would 'sound like the other boys'. (I don't know if that was true or not!!). She was very upset that John had gone to live in America (understandably under the circumstances) - and she did not speak fondly of Yoko. I think she felt that if John had not met Yoko he would have stayed in England and would still be alive."

Did she speak to John while she was in your care?
"John, of course, was already dead when I cared for Mimi. However, she did have Paul's phone number and rang him occasionally."

Did she ever talk about Yoko & Sean, and what did she felt about them?
"I do not recall Mimi mentioning Sean except in passing. As I said before, she was not fond of Yoko. She did not like being beholden to her for her. Yoko owned her house and paid for all Mimi's needs. Mimi was a very strong person and liked to be in charge. Actually, she always referred to her as that 'Yoko Poko' person. However, Mimi's bark was always worse than her bite and I have a feeling that she may not have truly had as much animosity as she pretended."

What were her thoughts on the other Beatles?
"Mimi seemed to be very fond of the other Beatles. She was still in touch with them from time to time. She talked about when she went on tour with them. She also talked about how they used to come and see her."

Who came to visit Mimi in her last years and where were they spent?
"Yoko would visit Mimi when she was in England. The only other family member that I remember coming down was Jackie. She would visit Mimi on occasional weekends. She would spend time with Mimi and walk on the beach. Mimi, I think, would give her money for her fare."

Why do you think Julia Baird got her facts wrong in her books regarding her visiting Mimi during these final years?
"I do not know if Julia was there at any point during Mimi's last year (if she was, it was not often). However, she was definitely not there when Mimi died. Mimi never mentioned being afraid of anything. Also, Mimi's last words were actually 'Hello, John'. I never told Yoko that - being older and wiser now - I wish that I had! (and if you have any way of doing so, I feel that she should know - I know I would like to)"

Yoko came to the funeral as I recall, did you ever get the chance to meet her or Sean and if so how did they come across to you?
"Yoko and Sean were at the funeral and so was Cynthia. I remember Cynthia being very upset and crying throughout. During the funeral (a cremation), they played the music of Imagine. I still can't hear that song without thinking of Mimi and the funeral. There were flower arrangements sent from Paul, Ringo, and George. After the funeral, we all went to lunch at the Harbour Lights Hotel in Sandbanks. Yoko was very gracious and thanked all the people that helped care for Mimi. She thanked me for being there when Mimi died. Sean was also very polite and attentive to his mother."

Did Cynthia or Julian ever get in touch with Mimi as far as you know during this period and if so how did Mimi feel about it?
"I do not remember Cynthia or Julian getting in touch with Mimi during this period. Mimi always spoke well of Cynthia."

What were Mimi's interests in these last years?
"Mimi's main interests were the squirrels and the seagulls. She fed them both and watched them from her window. My mother (with permission) found Mimi a cat for company during the last year. He was a big black animal called Thomas and was good company for her - he came from a rescue shelter. Mimi was very fond of cats - I later found out that she had kept cats in Liverpool. After she died, I found Thomas a new home."

What happened to you after Mimi's passing?
"After Mimi's passing I decided that I would like to become a 'real' nurse. I got a degree in nursing, and have worked as a nurse ever since. Yoko gave some items to my mother and myself that had belonged to her (the plaque, the Radio Caroline Bell, some photographs, a duvet that was John's as a child). I sold these at Auction (Sothebys) and they paid for my nursing education. (I still have the duvet!)"

What are you doing now?
"I moved the USA in the 1990s. I now work for a Hospice, taking care of terminally ill patients in Western West Virginia and Southern Ohio."

British Beatles Fan Club would like to thank Lynne for speaking to us here.

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