Obituary from Daily Telegraph
His wife was no less remarkable, and among many distinctions collected for the Royal British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal for a record 89 years in a row. She began collecting at the creation of the Appeal in 1921, when she was 16, and was still busy on the Legion's behalf in Devon last November , when her efforts yielded the biggest "tin" returned to her local Legion office.
During her lifetime she collected not only in England, but also in North Borneo, Gambia, Fiji, Jamaica and Nigeria, where her husband served as governor. In her 100th year she was chosen as guest of honour at the Festival of Remembrance in Devon, the Lord Lieutenant presenting her with an award for her long service to the Poppy Appeal.
She was born Noelle Benda Whitehead on December 18 1904. Her father, Charles Basil Whitehead, came from a family of clergy and she also descended from Sir Thomas Delves-Broughton, Bt, of Doddington Park, Cheshire. Benda's mother, Ethel Maude Little, died in 1909 when Benda and her two brothers were under 10, and their father remarried, going on to have twin daughters. He was again widowed in 1920, by which time he was chief police officer at Butterworth, in Province Wellesley, Malaya, where his hot-headedness and eccentricities earned him the sobriquet "The Tiger of Malaya".
Benda grew up a considerable beauty, with long golden hair and sapphire blue eyes. She joined her father in Malaya in 1921, when his younger daughters went home, and found him fiercely protective of her: he drove off all potential suitors and placed her under the tutelage of Mrs Jean Cavendish, head of the Girl Guides and the wife of a senior Malayan civil servant. Accordingly, Benda lived in what she called "a state of suspended sophistication".
She did, however, succeed in catching the eye of Arthur Richards, head of the Federal Secretariat in Kuala Lumpur and, at 42, nearly 20 years her senior. At that time Richards was considered something of a misogynist, albeit with a fine future ahead of him.
Richards somehow managed to be present at every lunch party to which Benda was invited. On one occasion he found an excuse to accompany her on the funicular railway from the top of Penang Hill to the ferry for Butterworth. Rather than admiring the stunning views, he spent the entire journey gazing at her in rapt admiration.
In early 1927 Benda's dog showed symptoms of rabies, and she was warned that if she suffered even a tiny scratch she would have to go to Kuala Lumpur for a course of painful injections. Warming to this idea, she scratched herself with a pin and was promptly ordered to the capital, where she was invited to stay at Carcosa, the official residence of the Chief Secretary.
This brought her much into the company of Richards, who was frequently asked to take her out. But her father became suspicious and arrived to investigate. To his rage, an engagement was announced, and he set about doing everything he could to frustrate it.
He was delighted to discover that Richards was about to depart on leave, but disappointed when a typhoon prevented his voyage. With the wedding date set for September 7 1927, Whitehead then pleaded with Richards to delay the ceremony by a year until Whitehead had retired and could give his daughter away in England. When this failed, he wrote to Richards threatening to shoot him.
The threat was taken seriously. Whitehead was put under discreet surveillance and at the last moment Richards and Benda advanced their wedding at St Mary's Church, Kuala Lumpur, by a day. Even after the wedding, Whitehead refused to receive his son-in-law, and tried to persuade his daughter not to sail to England with him. Permanent estrangement followed.
Years later Richards jested that it had taken a mad dog and a typhoon to launch him into matrimony. Benda, who accompanied her husband on all his overseas postings, gave birth to a daughter and then two sons. She brought them up variously in Johore, North Borneo (between 1929 and 1933), Gambia (1933-36), Fiji (1936-38) and Jamaica (1938-43), though she missed them greatly when they were at school in England. While en poste in Gambia in 1934, Richards went down with yellow fever (in those days frequently fatal), which she then caught. At one point she cried out: "Is it possible to lose one's reason under this torment?"
The family left Jamaica in 1943, when Richards began a four-year appointment as Governor of Nigeria, one of the plum Colonial Service postings. He was elevated to the peerage as Lord Milverton in 1947, and he and his wife retired to Britain, settling at Cox Green, Maidenhead.
Benda's marriage to Richards cannot always have been easy, since he was considered to be ruthlessly ambitious and was known for his caustic tongue. He favoured intense conversations with his aides into the small hours of the night, and relished early rising.
In Nigeria he was known as "Old Sinister", partly for the scar on the side of his mouth and partly for his capacity to remain eerily motionless while an argument was being presented to him. He was a voracious reader and bibliophile, and formed an important collection of books. His wife once chided him: "I believe you worry more about the future of your books than you do about me." He replied: "Yes, of course I do. You can look after yourself." He used to say of his wife that she was "the embodiment of the seven deadly virtues".
Lord Milverton died in 1978, aged 93, after Benda had nursed him with great tenderness and care for several years. She continued to live a full and active life, taking up painting and resuming her study of the piano.
Her energy was prodigious. At the age of 90 she flew in from a holiday in Grand Cayman and went out to dinner the same night. In 1996 she wrote to a friend: "I am 91 now & that's considered a ripe old age -- not that I feel old -- far from it. I am off to South Africa at the end of this month for five weeks."
At 94 she was still driving her own car, and was said to be doing the rounds between three boyfriends, one of whom, at 65, was nearly 30 years her junior.
When she was 98 and planning an African cruise, six insurance companies refused her cover; she finally obtained satisfaction from Age Concern.
Lady Milverton spent her final years at Flete, a retirement community converted from a house formerly owned by the Mildmay family with sweeping views over Dartmoor. There she liked to entertain her friends to lunch in the Tudor dining hall or to tea in her private drawing room.
She was a much-loved presence at Flete, keeping her mind alert by tackling a succession of jigsaw puzzles and keeping fit by eschewing the lift, which she dismissed as being "for old people".
Lady Milverton, who died on September 11 aged 105, was the widow of Sir Arthur Richards, later the 1st Lord Milverton, who was a remarkable colonial governor and an important figure in the transition from Empire to Commonwealth.
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