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Jeffery and Miquette Roberts

My parents Jeffery and Miquette Roberts, who have both died aged 66, within 10 days of each other, shared passions for the arts and languages, and had broad-ranging, inquiring minds. In April 2009, Jeffery was diagnosed with cancer. He faced this with amazing fortitude, and the unending support of Miquette, who died of injuries resulting from a fall shortly after his death.

In my father's office were large maps of Russia and Finland, a piano and dictionaries covering various Nordic and Slavic languages. The effect was that of a musically gifted military dictator, combined with an eccentric taxi firm with an enormous catchment area. Jeffery had an avowedly internationalist focus, but his interest in the world was local as well, as shown by his time as a Liberal party councillor in Shoreditch, east London, from 1980 until 1987.

Born near Liverpool, of Anglo-Welsh parentage, he settled in London permanently in the early 1970s, having read geology at New College, Oxford, and then undertaken PhD research at Cardiff. He married Miquette in 1974. On his return from a period in Finland, working for Union Bank of Finland, in 1991 he formed Pomor Petroleum and Impivaara Securities, two companies that focused their attention on markets in Finland, Russia and the erstwhile Baltic states and beyond.

Jeffery spoke German, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Russian. In the last years of his life, he took up Welsh. In his own language, he liked nothing better than talking at length, launching into excitable, provocative disquisitions, ranging in topic from delegate democracy, the situation in the Middle East (particularly Palestine) and the books of Karen Armstrong to the rise and fall of world empires.

He was passionate about music – playing it and listening to it. Among his favoured composers were Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt. He was engaged and engaging, intellectual, energetic and funny, and by turns infuriating and generous (in every sense of the word). Jeffery found his counterpart in Miquette's quiet, determined character.

If Jeffery's room was his office, my mother's was the lounge. She had decorated it with a mix of African prints in sombre but not oppressive tones, and judiciously placed decorative objects. When a friend of mine visited, he stared as long as his manners allowed him to at Miquette's vibrant, shiny red shoes. He still talked about the shoes, and the contrasting tailored grey outfit, years later.

Such was the impact of my mum's individual style and her charismatic, yet unassuming nature. She had very definite ideas about style in fashion and art; and let it be known in gentle, but assertive terms that she disapproved wryly of my rainbow hair changes over the years.

Miquette was born in Glasgow, of mixed French and Scottish parentage. Her given name was Marie-Christine but she was universally known as Miquette, an affectionate name "usually given to cats in France" as she often remarked on meeting new people. Miquette will be remembered, among many other things, for her seemingly effortless ability to get on with others, and her talent as a writer (though she was far too modest to view herself in these glowing terms).

Having read History of Art, French and German at Glasgow University, she continued her studies at New Hall, Cambridge, graduating in 1966. She then worked in an educational capacity in various art galleries, ranging from those in Bristol and Aberdeen (in the 1960s and 70s) to Tate Britain (1992-2004).

On retirement, she took up the task of translating the wartime letters of her mother, Marie Touchard, from French into English. She also wrote an autobiographical work which she later doled out in tantalising snippets for the rest of the family to read. Her style was succinct and affecting. I remember her quiet but intense pride as she showed me the published letters of Marie Touchard in a bookshop in Paris in 2006.

Miquette is survived by her brother, Malcolm. Jeffery is survived by his sister, Joan. Both are survived by me and my brother Duncan. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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