What can we say about Valerie Steger-Lewis? Browsing through old correspondence, a few words are repeated time and time again: clever; kind; helpful; affectionate; selfless; fun.
Her intelligence was spotted early in her life. At the age of six, a teacher commented that her mental age was two and a half years ahead of her actual age and that she ought to be put into senior school early to ensure that she didn't get bored.
She went on to be head girl at Hemsworth Grammar School (Yorkshire), a Queens Guide and a talented sportswoman (athletics & hockey). She completed her exams a year early but as a result was too young to go to university.
To fill in the Year before going to University, Valerie chose to go to the USA on an exchange programme. Based with a host family in San Francisco, she attended High School and threw herself into amateur dramatics and the American way of life. At Christmas she sent home a vinyl "Long Player" disc on which were messages for the family as well as musical pieces that she sang and played on the recorder. Her accent assured lots of attention and questions about life in England, including one enquirer who wanted to know how the English cut the grass on their (thatched) roofs: the answer being that we tied ourselves to the chimney and used a lawn mower! As if that wasn't enough, Valerie also visited many famous landmarks, including Washington, DC, and Yosemite, returning to England with a fine collection of photographs.
She studied medicine at King's College London; a choice that reflected her academic ability and her desire to help others. It was here that she met Beverley Steger-Lewis, an engineering student who she would later marry. And what were they both doing when they met? They were volunteers helping to prepare Donnington Hall for an influx of Hungarian refugees. Beverley would recount the story of how he fell in love, while sitting in a coal bucket, with the girl with an American accent and a rather odd white jumper, which he later learned was a "sweatshirt".
Having successfully completed her medical studies Valerie put her career on hold to start a family. Although she devoted herself to raising her children she was always looking for ways to make life easier, so she started a baby sitting club based on a token system, which grew to a significant size.
While remaining a devoted wife and mother, when the time was right Valerie returned to her vocation and quickly established a reputation as a talented, straight-talking, no-nonsense General Practitioner. Initially working in Hatfield and later in Southsea, she earned great respect from colleagues and patients alike. Her mischievous side would sometimes break through as, with a twinkle in her eye, she would regale stories of diagnosing people with illnesses like "Plumbums Agitans" - latin for "Swinging the lead"!
Neither vain nor egotistical but modest to the last, Valerie never talked about her humanitarian efforts. She does, however, have a track record of providing real, practical assistance to those in need. She provided shelter and succor on many occasions and over long periods of time, but never asked for any recognition or reward.
As life moved on and chicks flew from the nest, Valerie started to take a little time for herself. She developed an appreciation of Opera, regularly going to Glyndebourne as well as relaxing to the strains of Madam Butterfly whilst solving the Times crossword.
Despite a touch of arthritis in the knees she became a keen rambler. A frequent visitor to the Lake District for a week or fortnight of more strenuous walks, Valerie also spent many an afternoon on the gentler parts of the South Downs.
Few lives are easy and Valerie had her share of tragedy. She never dwelt on her problems, often listening to the comparatively minor complaints of others without revealing the far bigger difficulties she was facing.
Intelligent; athletic; talented & respected doctor; humanitarian; adventurous; fun-loving; mischievous; affectionate. Above all, wife & mother. A life lived well, though sadly curtailed.