Obituary: Lis Lee, poet and playwright with a lifelong passion for the world


Death: September 29, 2021.

WHEN Janet Elisabeth (‘Lis’) Lee began writing in earnest at the age of 50, with the advent of the Kelso Writers’ Workshop in 1998, she did so with distinction, becoming a published, fiction and non-fiction writer.

Her two small volumes of poetry, Vanilla Summer (2011) and Memory Horse (2018), both published by Edinburgh’s Dionysia Press, have received favorable reviews. Two of his plays have been performed at the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh.

She has been published in numerous Scottish literary journals and anthologies including New Writing Scotland, The Eildon Tree, Cutting Teeth and many more. Some of his poems have also been featured in the Herald’s Poem of the Day slot over the years.

She has supported other writers and was a founding member of the Borders Writers ‘Forum, Selkirk Poets and Kelso Writers’ Workshop, of which she later served as guest editor. She was also a member of the Scottish Society of Playwrights and attended the now famous Monday Lizard workshops at Traverse. Lis worked hard to improve her writing skills, which had been honed by her training as a journalist.

Lis was first diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2010, although most of her friends and family believed she may have had undiagnosed MS several years earlier.

Her second husband, writer Tom Bryan, cared for Lis during the many years of her illness, but it brought them even closer, even though she lost her ability to write and read poetry. He often read his own poetry to her.

Due to her illness, much of Lis’ written work, including, perhaps, her finest work, remains unpublished in manuscript form. This includes full-length plays, short stories, and a lot of miscellaneous writings. Currently, it is hoped that this material can be kept at the National Library of Scotland for future research.

Lis depended on a wheelchair and often remained bedridden. Yet she never lost interest in the rest of the world and really cared about the future of our planet.

Janet Elisabeth Bentley Beard was born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, to Peter Beard and his wife Joyce Riley, and raised in Warwick. Its ancestors went back several centuries to Yorkshire and Gloucestershire; his ancestors were farm workers, railway workers, foresters and farm workers. From 1959, she took the last name of her stepfather, Mansfield.

At King’s High School for Girls in Warwick, where she excelled at hockey, her best subjects were art, French and English. She loved music and singing. One of her friends and classmates was the great folk singer, June Tabor. They encouraged each other in their creative endeavors and Lis attended some of the first live singing performances in June.

After graduating, she became a trainee journalist for Rugby Advertiser, learning the basics of the trade and writing under the name of Elisabeth / Lis Mansfield. She then worked as a senior reporter for the Cambridge Evening News and as an editorial assistant for the British Tourist Authority (Overseas Press Office) in London, while living on a barge on the River Thames.

She married Roger Lee in 1973. Their son, Ben, was born in London two years later. After a plan to emigrate to Australia was unsuccessful, they lived near Ulva Ferry, on Mull, from 1976 to 1981. Their daughter, Gemma, was born on the island, and Lis worked as a part-time advertising consultant for the Old Byre. Museum.

The family moved to the Borders in 1981, living in the hamlet of Bonjedward, where they first ran a craft store. They then lived in Easter Wooden. Lis continued her journalistic career as a part-time writer and researcher at Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, and reported freelance for BBC Radio Tweed.

She arrived in Kelso in 1986. Her son Thomas was born in 1986 and Lis remained in Kelso the rest of her life, well known and loved.

A talented rider, she participated in common border horse riding, and also sailed and scuba diving. She continued with her drawing and painting, in which she was very skilled.

To support her family, she worked as a caregiver and nurse, showing her kind and patient nature. She has worked with young people with learning disabilities and was often chosen to work with people with dementia because of her patience and quiet strength. She was greatly appreciated by her colleagues and the people she cared for.

Lis, fluent in French and almost fluent in Spanish, introduced Tom to Spain, its cuisine and its culture. The highlights of their time together were trips to the mainland and to the Balearics.

Not content with traveling to America to visit her son Ben and his family, she flew to Australia twice to visit Gemma. She was a natural traveler, open to new experiences.

Using skills learned from country living, she raised chickens, made wonderful apple wine, once raised bees, and had a garden in Kelso where she loved to grow vegetables for her family. His love for nature and the future of our planet was therefore based on real experience. .

The Scottish writing culture has certainly benefited from his creativity. Although her writing career has been tragically cut short, her writing heritage is affirmative, as is Elisabeth Lee herself.


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