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Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

POPE, MANDELA, LA LOLLO AND MUM DEAD AT 95 - a good age; BUT 27 is way too young
Sunday, January 1, 2023 @ 8:21 PM

Four very important people all died at the age of 95: Pope Benedikt XVI (1927-2022); Nelson Mandela (1918-2013); Gina Lollobrigida (1926-2023) and Pablo de Ronda’s dear old mum, Vera Valerie Whitelock (also 1918-2013).


These four deaths of 95-year-olds sound a bit like the27 Club”, an informal list consisting mostly of popular musicians, artists, actors, and other celebrities, who all died at the age of 27, when they were in their prime. These deaths were often as a result of drug and alcohol abuse or violent means such as homicide, suicide or transport-related accidents.

The "95 Club" members simply died of old age.


“The 27 Club”

The founder member of the “club” was Robert Johnson, back in 1938, followed by a spate between 1969 and 1971. Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison (The Doors) all died at the age of 27 between 1969 and 1971.

However, it was not until Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, at age 27, that the idea of a "27 Club" began to catch on in the public imagination.

An excerpt from a statement that Cobain's mother, Wendy Fradenburg Cobain O'Connor, made at the time, "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club." led to a "set of conspiracy theorists [to suggest] the absurd notion that Kurt Cobain intentionally timed his death so he could join the 27 Club", according to biographer Charles Cross.

In 2011, seventeen years after Cobain's death, Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27, prompting a renewed swell of media attention devoted to the “27 Club” once again. Three years earlier, she had expressed a fear of dying at that age.

An individual does not necessarily have to be a musician to qualify as a "member" of the “27 Club”. Painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988), television actor Jonathan Brandis, who committed suicide in 2003, and Anton Yelchin, who was primarily known as a film actor, in 2016, are also included.


The “95 Club”


Pope Benedikt XVI

Emeritus Pope Benedikt XVI died on 31 December 2022 aged 95.  He had stepped down nearly a decade earlier after being the Bishop of Rome and Head of the Roman Catholic Church for almost eight years. He was only the second Pope out of 265 to abdicate and the third German to hold the post

After the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was chosen by a conclave of fellow cardinals as the next pope on 19. April 2005.

I was in Metz in France at the time and I remember going with my staunch Roman Catholic friend Alan to Metz Cathedral to hear the news.

Pope Benedikt’s time as Pope was clouded in controversy because of his failure to tackle sexual abuse within the church. On stepping down he said he was old and tired.


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died on 5 December  2013 aged 95.

Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid activist who served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country's first black head of state and the first elected in a fully-representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by fostering racial reconciliation.

Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as the president of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.

He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and, following a trial he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state.

Mandela served 27 years in prison, split between Robben Island (1964–1982), Pollsmoor Prison (1982 -1988) and Victor Verster Prison (1988-1990).

Amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F W de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election, in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president until 1999.

He declined a second presidential term and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki.

Mandela became an elder statesman and focused on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the charitable Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Although critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the far left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid's supporters, he gained international acclaim for his activism.

Globally regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, he received more than 250 honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is described as the "Father of the Nation" and "the founding father of democracy". 

Outside of South Africa, he was a "global icon" and "one of the most revered figures of our time". One biographer considered him "a modern democratic hero". Some have portrayed Mandela in messianic terms, in contrast to his own statement that "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances." He is often cited, alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, as one of the 20th century's exemplary anti-racist and anti-colonial leaders. He has been described as "a totem of the totemic values of our age: toleration and liberal democracy" and "a universal symbol of social justice".


Vera Valerie Whitelock

Vera Valerie Whitelock, my mum, also died in December 2013, two weeks after Mandela. Vera was chuffed that she had outlived the great man.

I was due to fly to England two days later to spend Christmas with her, but she passed too soon. I still went and was able to register her death, apply for probate and tie up all the loose ends. Not what I had envisaged.

Vera Valerie Whitelock (nee Lemon), was born in Barnstaple, North Devon in 1918, the same year as Nelson Mandela.

Vera Valerie lost her father at a very young age and was raised along with two siblings by her widowed mother, Sarah, my gran.

Very bright, Vera Valerie won a scholarship to the local girls’ grammar school, but couldn´t take up the place because they couldn’t afford the uniform in those bleak and austere interwar years.

So she left school and trained as a clerk. She married quite young but was widowed within a year when her husband John died of tuberculosis.

She met my dad, also called John, who was lodging with his sister in the house next door to my mum’s, while he worked at RAF Chivenor. Dad was divorced with a young daughter, who was being looked after in South Wales by one of his brothers. (Dad’s wife had run off to the USA with an American GI, leaving Heather behind).

Vera Valerie and John Albert got married in 1948 and I came along two years later and my brother Simon three years after me in 1953.

At first we lived in a brand new council house before my mum and dad bought a two-up-two-down terraced house which they did up, sold for a profit and bought the rented house where my gran lived and where my mum grew up. Were they early property developers?

In 1964 we moved to Exeter, the county town of Devon, where I completed my education before going up north to Salford to university. My brother went away to uni in Bristol three years later.

After Simon got married to Norma and had a daughter, Nicki, our parents moved to be near them, to Yate near Bristol. They stayed there until Dad died in 1985. Mum stayed put and successfully built a new social life as a widow.

After my two kids, Amy and Tom, were born in 1983 and 1987 respectively, Vera Valerie surprised us all by moving to Thelwall near Warrington, where we were living, so that she could “enjoy my grandchildren growing up”.

After my marriage to Jeryl ended in divorce in 2005, and a subsequent failed relationship, I lived for a year or so with my mum in her bungalow in Thelwall. It worked well. I paid the bills, did the shopping and cooked dinner every night. Mum continued with her healthy social life and, she said, enjoyed not living alone again.

Despite that, I decided that living with my mum at the age of 58 was not a cool look, so I sold Casa Blanca, a house I owned in RondaAndalucía, and bought a Victorian pile in Latchford, WarringtonTunstall Villa was a project, a "doer-upper".

Then I met the “Lovely Rita“ in Ronda and the rest is history. I moved to be with Rita in Montejaque (Andalucía) at the end of 2008, we married in 2010, and I sold Tunstall Villa and bought Villa Indiana, where we now live, in 2011.

Despite her advancing age and increasing frailty, mum was very active around this time. She attended the graduation ceremonies of Amy at The Queen’s College, Oxford and Tom at Liverpool (LIPA) and Sidcup (Rose Bruford College), saw Tom perform on stage in his West End debut, attended mine and Rita’s wedding in Maulbronn Abbey in Germany and visited us in our new home, Villa Indiana in Ronda.

Mum had been a frequent visitor to Ronda over the years, and she managed it that one last time before she died. She was happy that I was married again and enjoyed her final visit to Spain, pottering around our garden, dead-heading the roses and plucking unwanted weeds out of the ground. She was in her element. I even think she made it into the pool!

Despite the early hardships as a child, early widowhood, the deprivations during and after the Second World War, being widowed a second time, she came through and made a good life for herself. She outlived her brother and sister – and Nelson Mandela, of course.



Gina Lollobrigida 

There is a new member of the '95 Club'. Gina Lollobrigida, the Italian filmstar, sadly left us on 16 January 2023. She was also 95. Hailed as the most beautiful woman in the world in her day, she starred in many Hollywood films alongside Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster and others.



Google Images

The Guardian

Whitelock family archive



©  Pablo de Ronda


Tags: 27 Club, 95 Club, African National Congress, Amy, Amy Winehouse, ANC, Anton Yelchin, Barnstaple, Benedikt XVI, Bishop of Rome, Brian Jones, Bristol, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Casa Blanca Ronda, Charles Cross, Emeritus Pope, Exeter, F W de Klerk, Gina Lollobrigida, Head of the Roman Catholic church, Hollywood, Janis Joplin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeryl, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Albert, John Paul II, Jonathan Brandis, Josef Ratzinger, Kurt Kobain, Latchford, LIPA, Liverpool, Lovely Rita, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Maulbronn Abbey, Nelson Mandela, Nicki, Norma, North Devon, Pablo de Ronda, Queen’s College Oxford, RAF Chivenor, Rita, Robert Johnson, Rolling Stones, Ronda, Rose Bruford College, Salford, Sidcup, Simon, South Africa, The Doors, Thelwall, Tom, Tunstall Villa, Vera Valerie Whitelock, Villa Indiana, Warrington, Wendy Fradenburg Cobain O'Connor, Whitelock, Yate 

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