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Remembering a

Most Remarkable Woman

  Uta Spitzenberger and Joanna

Uta Spitzenberger became a very special and intimate friend of Jo's; they supported each other in difficult times and shared their experiences, hopes and fears. Uta writes:

Uta: “I first met Joanna in 1965, when I was staying in Austria with my Great Grand Uncle, who was married with John Leach's Aunt. It was just after Jo and John`s baby had died and they took a holiday in Austria to aid Jo's recovery.

I was eleven years old and had only been learning English for half a year. Uncle Hans expected me to interpret, but this was difficult for me and I was very shy. Jo encouraged me and was so nice and friendly with me, that I admired her at once.

We became good friends, when a few years later, in 1972 when I was 18, Joanna invited me to stay with her in London, with the idea of improving my English. I knew very little about music, but she played the piano to me and we listened to records together and talked about music.

We often listened to a beautiful piece of music she had composed based on a Hungarian folk tune, which was published under John's pseudonym, Janos Lehar. But I soon realised that Jo´s marriage to John was not a happy one.

To improve my English we read books together. “Travels with my Aunt” by Graham Greene for instance, was a novel we both liked very much. And Joanna read books with me, which she loved as a child – like “The Wind on the Moon” (Linklater) and “The little White Horse” (Goudge). From then on we kept in touch by writing letters to each other and would meet up together every year, mostly in Austria (Eiglersdorf) where Jo and John had bought an old house. My husband helped in renovating it and did all the electrical installation. Jo and I loved to cook together. I learnt from her how to make fudge and Christmas Pudding and I showed her how to make Semmelknödels.

We spent lovely evenings with Herbert Pürchenfellner, a mutual friend of ours and drank excellent Austrian wines. Jo smoked John Players Special – things she gave up, when she became ill some years later. Herbert sang Schubert-Lieder and Jo accompanied him on the piano. At that time Jo`s favourite song was “Ich frage keine Blume” (Die schöne Müllerin). I enjoyed these “Hausmusik” evenings so much, I loved the Schubert-Lieder and learnt the texts by heart. Sometimes we were invited to dinner with other families in the village and Jo would play the piano.

In the meantime she had divorced John.

Sometimes we went on trips together: on one occasion we visited the castle-ruin of Dürnstein, where the singer Blondel found his captured King – Richard Lionheart.

Jo always came by car to Austria and when driving back she would stay-over for a couple of days in my house in Bavaria. We met nearly every year and so enjoyed each others company. Whenever we met we would immediately talk about our problems, delights, secrets and longings - language barriers never got in the way – I was learning English and Jo spoke good German – with a Bavarian accent.

I very often think of Jo. I remember our last telephone call a few days before she died. She was a very strong person, a very amiable person and I am grateful to have known her, to have learnt so much from her and to have been a close friend and confidant.”

Joanna Leach and

Uta Spitzenberger