MP Lucy Frazer honours 'trailblazing' grandmother on International Women's Day

SE Cambs MP Lucy Frazer marks International Women's Day

SE Cambs MP Lucy Frazer has honoured her late grandmother to mark International Women's Day. - Credit: Lucy Frazer MP's Office

On International Women's Day today, I want to honour an incredible woman: my grandmother.  

Her parents came to this country with nothing, fleeing persecution in Russia, because they were Jewish.

And they came to England, which gave them a home.  

Because of this, she was never quite sure whether everything would be taken away from her at any moment meaning she would lose everything so she valued what she had, and never threw anything away. 

So, when her fridge broke, she didn't get rid of it, she kept it and used it as a cupboard.

When she died, she had five fridges, all acting as useful cupboards, in her kitchen. 

My grandmother didn’t really care for possessions. She valued one thing more than anything else, and that was education.  

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Most grandchildren will remember fond trips to see their grandparents where they were showered with chocolates, sweets and hugs.

But when I went to see grandma, we were showered with French proverbs.  

‘Il a les defauts de ses qualities’ would great me at the door.  

Other children left their grandparents house with handfuls of fluffy toys, Lego and games. We left with books.  

And these books were not any ordinary books: huge, hard backed, second-hand books, mainly research, never novels, all carefully covered with cellophane and always inscribed.  

Sitting on my shelves I still have her heirlooms - Chambers English Dictionary, Oxford Book of Quotations, Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 

My grandma changed lives through education. She changed mine.  

It wasn't just the books, or the obscure French proverb tuition. It wasn't the fact that she contributed financially to my school fees, although of course all that helped.  

It was because she had the most unbelievable attitude to life. Her favourite phrase was a quote from a poem of Robert Browning: 'a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for'.  

She taught all her family to reach beyond their dreams and not be afraid of failure.  

And it wasn't just her children and her grandchildren she touched; she reached out to others.  

Two young boys, also immigrants, helped her do the gardening on a Saturday in her house in Leicester and she taught them too, every week when they came.  

After she died, one of them wrote to my father saying that he was a banker in Hong Kong, and it was because of her that he had succeeded. 

And she also succeeded, albeit against the odds. She wanted to become a barrister.   

She chose a profession that was difficult for any man to enter, and she was a woman and the daughter of immigrants.   

She was the first female to practise at the Leicester Bar.  At this time, even among the bar as a whole, female pupils were rare.   

Whilst her pupil master was content to give her work, he was not very impressed at the idea that a female shared his room.

She was only allowed to pick up and return work when he was absent from his desk, typically in the evening when chambers had closed for the day.  

This became her life and she continued to work until she was 80.  

Although she had one leg amputated later in life, she hobbled into court with her prosthetic leg and Zimmer frame, no doubt instilling fear and wonder into judge and client alike. 

In fact, her artificial leg epitomised her and her outlook: her optimism and her resilience.   

Often people would look at her leg and sympathise and she would say 'no, I am lucky, some people don't have any legs.'

She was a trailblazer; she was an inspiration.   

To steal another of her favourite quotes from Robert Browning: 'What I aspired to be and was not, comforts me.'

I don't know what she aspired to, but she leaves a trail of inspiration.       

A blue plaque was unveiled at Yetta Frazer's former chambers on March 7 to mark International Women's Day.