90 Alumni stories: #20 Jackie Claxton (WGH 2010-11)

Jackie Claxton stayed at Goodenough with her partner while studying for an MA – a year that provided happy memories and strong friendships. Ten years later, when a family tragedy struck, Jackie knew she could call on staff and Members of the College to come to her aid.

In March 2009, I took early retirement from my senior executive position with the Canadian federal government after a 30-year career leading social development programs focused on gender equality. My partner, Mitchell Holder, was long retired from his community educator days.

Following the death of my father in September of that same year, I applied to do an MA Geography at Queen Mary University of London. My studies allowed me to explore the historical context of my parents’ personal correspondence related to their migration from St. Kitts and Nevis to London in 1955. Part of the Windrush generation, they were British subjects looking for a better life. Mitchell was also part of the Windrush, having migrated from Barbados to London as a young man in 1958. Both Mitchell and my parents moved once again, in 1975 and 1965 respectively, this time to Canada where we have lived ever since.

Looking back, we count ourselves very lucky to have been accepted into the Goodenough family after learning about the College from Barbadian Canadian Alumna, Donna St. Hill who is now based in South Africa. Having grown up in a flat on a garden square in Notting Hill, the College’s location on Mecklenburgh Square was fortuitous although the first sight of the little flat we were to spend a year in was disheartening having left behind our large home in Ottawa.

We soon came to understand that the College is much more than the physical as we met fellow members from around the world studying a vast array of disciplines. I also loved the music students who added so much to College life and Mitchell benefitted from the pianos in the music practice rooms. We were active in both the Canadian and the African Caribbean clubs. Mitchell also joined the Horse Riding club which led to many delightful trips on the Tube to the Trent Park Equestrian Centre at the end of the Piccadilly line.

At our Leaver’s dinner, Director Andrew Ritchie noted that Mitchell was almost as old as the College and it’s true we were both old enough to be parents or even grandparents of some of our fellow Members but this never posed a barrier to making connections.

Tricia, Antonio, Jackie and Mitchell
Tricia, Antonio, Jackie and Mitchell - Bermuda, 2014

One of the best things about life at WGH was the children of Members. We became close to Tricia Lares Warner (WGH 2010-11), a Bermuda-based Trinidadian member who left her husband at home and arrived in London to study law with her four-year-old son Antonio in tow. We babysat when she had exams or needed time to study and also took Antonio to the school by Coram Fields. We were delighted to be present in Bermuda when Tricia was called to the bar in 2014 and little Antonio is now a strapping, aspiring tennis player. We also count Ashraf Gango (LH 2010-13) as a friend and were fortunate to participate via Zoom in his wedding to fellow Goodenough Alumna, Anne Brockmeyer, which was mentioned in the December 2020 edition of the Alumni newsletter, The Goods.

Since our return to Canada in 2013, we regularly attend Alumni events hosted by the London Goodenough Association of Canada (LGAC) in Ottawa and Toronto and make financial contributions to help others enjoy the Goodenough experience. We make a point of visiting the College on what have become our annual fall trips to London. I have also called on the College’s former Chaplain Jennie Hogan and Registrar Caroline Persaud for advice on personal matters since our Willy G days so, when personal tragedy struck in 2020, Caroline was one of the people to whom I reached out.

Jackie Claxton with partner Mitchell and her brother Bryan (centre)ie
Jackie pictured with Bryan (centre) and Mitchell at Heathrow Airport in 2019

Having not heard from my London-based brother Bryan for an unusually long period, I filed a missing persons report with the Metropolitan Police in April 2020. It was not until the end of May that we finally learned that he had been found collapsed at Victoria train station in mid-March and died immediately. Even more traumatic than the long wait to learn of his fate was to find out that he had been cremated only four days before we were finally notified. We were told the delays were due to a COVID-19-related backlog in the Coroner’s office and difficulty in identifying next of kin.

After further delays in getting the necessary paperwork issued, I turned my attention to getting Bryan’s cremated remains back to Canada. Given the pandemic, no family member was able to travel to London so I contacted Caroline in September to see if there might be someone with travel plans in the Goodenough circle. She canvassed Canadian members and found a few possibilities so I agreed to get back to her closer to the holidays. When I got back in touch on 23 November, she informed me that one of the Members had contacted her that same weekend to see if there was still a need.

Malcolm Cavanagh
Malcolm Cavanagh arriving in Toronto

Canadian Member Malcolm Cavanagh, LH 2020-21, who is studying the Theory and History of International Relations at LSE ’21 was travelling home to St. Catherine’s, Ontario for Xmas. She put us in contact and Bryan’s remains were placed into Malcolm’s hands the very next day. On the morning of Friday 27 November, Malcolm texted to advise that Bryan was safely beside him on the plane. At 5:22 that evening, my niece texted me from Toronto’s Pearson airport to confirm that Malcolm had handed over the funeral director’s bag containing my brother’s remains. After more than six months of trauma, grief and agonizing delays, Goodenough had produced a Xmas miracle for which the Claxton family will forever be grateful.

Bryan Claxton
Bryan Claxton in the College's Churchill Room

People have asked me how we could have entrusted a complete stranger with a task of such significance? My answer is that, while I don’t know Malcolm personally, he is a member of the Goodenough family which gave me confidence and, of course, he came with Caroline’s recommendation. A decade after joining the Goodenough family, we to continue treasure our connections to that special place on the Square as well as the people we met there.

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