Exmouth widow’s portrait was iconic

Tributes have been pouring in for Exmouth woman Teresa Tutt, who died aged 92 on June 28.

It was Observer photographer Jane Bowen who recognised the unique quality in Teresa when she featured her in a book, Women of Consequence – alongside images of Princess Margaret and Margaret Thatcher.

Many who passed Teresa on her daily walks around Exmouth, dressed in her trademark shiny black coat, her long hair hidden beneath a scarf, silver rings decorating every finger, pushing her checked shopping trolley, would have been unaware she was the second cousin of Irish painter Jack Yeats – brother of famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

With a sharp sense of humour, Teresa was quiet and unassuming if she liked you – but forthright and outspoken if she thought an injustice was being committed.

Grandson Giles White said: “My grandmother was a unique character and I enjoyed every minute of being with her.

“She made life rich and colourful, she was well travelled but always loved Exmouth, she would sit and talk to anyone, sometimes people would cross the street to speak to her, other times they would cross the street to escape. She would always laugh though.”

Exmouth historian and close friend Roy Richardson, 55, said: “She always had a remarkable amount of time for people. She listened to their troubles and was a marvellous listener.

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“She wasn’t frightened to say what she thought.”

Teresa made her presence felt in the late 1970s when she discovered war widows in commonwealth and European countries lost their pensions on remarriage.

Her determination to right the injustice stung her into non-stop action – with Margaret Thatcher and HRH Prince Charles both on the receiving end of her sharp tongue. A battle she won in 1995 after years of pressure.

Born in Rhodesia, Teresa travelled to the UK as a teenager with her parents.

They settled in Torquay, where Teresa attended a French convent school.

Later she met and married RAF Squadron Leader Blair White. The couple had two daughters, Nola and Rilba, and the family settled in Exmouth.

When Sqd Ldr White was killed in action in Malta during the invasion of Sicily in World War Two, the newly-widowed Teresa moved to London as an apprentice milliner to Pisso and Pavy, working alongside a young Mary Quant.

She later returned to Exmouth, living at The Beacon before moving to George Street, and finally to a rest home in Hull.

She was a member of the Royal Overseas League and helped the Exmouth Society and Exmouth Museum.

Her keen interest in nature and history meant she was often found collecting driftwood by the River Exe and she was an amateur archaeologist.

As tribute to her husband she made regular pilgrimages to London’s Cenotaph Remembrance Day parade. It was there she was photographed for the Observer – the striking black and white image of the medal-wearing war widow making the front page of the national newspaper.

In August 2005 she told the Journal she was ‘proud’ her husband had been recognised on Exmouth’s Strand war memorial after the town campaigned and raised funds for 10 years to engrave all the names of Exmouth’s fallen heroes.