Remembering Judith 1920-2008
Judith (Baklanova) Hatton was our son's godmother and our daughter's namesake. She was English and the widow of a KGB agent from the department known as SMERSH who defected to the UK after WWII.
And that's not even the most interesting thing about her.
I met Judith some years ago at a conference of the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) in a village called Swit (near Poprad which was the official venue) in then-Czechoslovakia.
I recall sitting and talking with this elderly, but very lively English lady and talking. I think I quoted a line of Kipling, she quoted one back, we got to reciting whole poems alternately and after a while we noticed we had an audience.
The first interesting thing I found out about her was that she remembered Kipling coming to visit her father when she was a girl. He was sometimes accompanied by his wife, who Judith would invariably refer to as "that dreadful American woman."
We met again at another conference in Tallinn, Estonia two years later. That's when my friend Linda asked, "How did you get involved in the Free Russia movement Judith?"
"Well you see, my late husband was a Russian. He worked for SMERSH."
I think my jaw dropped. "James Bond's old enemies?" I blurted out.
"Oh yes, those dreadful Bond books" she said.
We corresponded pretty regularly after that and in a letter, I mentioned that I was going to the ISIL conference in Rome on my way back to the States.
She wrote, "Oh yes, Rome. A perfectly dreadful city inhabited by utterly vile people. I have friends who live there. They're not vile, but their daughter is."
I replied, "Come on Judith, don't hold it inside. Come out and say what you think!"
I think the next time we met was after I returned from Saudi Arabia, bought an apartment in Warsaw, and met the woman who was to become my wife.
Judith was bitterly commenting on "Blair's bloody Britain" so I invited her to visit me in Warsaw.
She replied, "Oh I do hope you were serious about that, because I shall come anyway."
My then-girlfriend was apprehensive because of the age difference between us, "She's going to think I'm your bimbo," she said.
They got along like a house on fire. I remember when Judith said something typically Judith-like, Monika shaking with laughter and saying, "Come on Judith, don't hold it inside, just say what you think!"
After her return to England, Judith sent out an email circular announcing that Monika was her "official favorite young lady" and that anyone dissing Monika would have to deal with her.
After which she sent me an email saying, "Don't worry about the age thing. When I was eighteen the finest and best man I knew was my 80-year-old godfather and if I could have arranged a marriage, or at least an affair, I'm sure I'd have been a much better and happier woman."
When I founded the Liberty English Camps in Lithuania with my friend Virgis Daukas (http://www.languageofliberty.org/index.htm) she was a regular fixture at every camp and the most popular teacher among the young Eastern Europeans. If you could see the conditions of the former Young Pioneers camps you'd know what a good sport she was about it!
She used to show up prepared with a kind of hobo bundle she could carry in one hand as her only luggage. She'd learned to travel light when she was young, and had participated in disaster preparedness groups.
One of my favorite memories is of when a young Belarussian girl who fancied herself an Objectivist asked her, "Do you like Ayn Rand?"
"Oh heavens no, I think she's a cow," Judith replied.
I think Elena choked on something. She definitely had trouble breathing for a minute.
At one of the last camps she was able to attend, she told Virgis, "These have been the happiest days of my life. All my friends seem to want to do is get together and talk about their doctors' visits, and here I am meeting and talking to young active people."
And speaking of doctors, when she broke her wrist in a fall, she came under the tender care of Britain's National Health Service - something I actually would wish on my worst enemy.
At on point I advised her that she might want to consult my father, a retired orthopedic surgeon. She took me up on this and sent him X-rays, records etc.
For the next few years she delighted in telling how she presented my father's letter to an officious medical bureaucrat at the NHS. Apparently father wrote things like "Miss Hatton is NOT a pain-prone person" and referred to her wrist brace as "that rag."
So, she said this bureaucrat asked, "Do you know Dr. Browne well?"
She replied, "Well, I am godmother to his grandson, so we're practically related," and took an unholy delight in watching how white he turned.
I could go on and on. Judith was a member of a smokers rights group and co-authored a book called, 'Murder a Cigarette' and fondly recalled the days when "Got a light mate?" established a friendly camaraderie that reached across class boundaries in England.
I think I'm just going to give up trying to make this a coherent narrative and tell some of my favorite Judith stories.
- Judith mentioned having seen Neville Chamberlain around the time of his infamous "Peace in our time" proclamation. She said he was actually quite cynical about it, because England was in no way prepared for war.
- Once around a campfire in Lithuania we were trying to come up with provocative questions to spark discussion among the students. I suggested, "Does God have a sense of humor?" Judith sort of put an end to any further discussion, though sparking great laughter, when she said, "Of course. How else do you explain sex?"
- One of her favorite experiences in Warsaw was a Museum of Socialism exhibit in an art gallery near our apartment, where they had set up an old communist-era cafe with surly waitresses who served awful tea. Judith used to delight in trying to make them smile, the way tourists try to get a reaction from the Guards at Buckingham Palace. She said, "Oh how I long for the day when we'll have one of these in England."
- The best advice about diet I ever heard came to me from Judith, who learned to cook from a woman who cooked for a British battallion in WWI (yes, that's One.) The pearl she passed on was, "Pay no attention to what doctors are saying about diet, because in ten years they'll be saying something else."
- Judith and Boris had one son. They delayed having children until she was 40 because they didn't know who might be coming to call some day. Her advice about parenting was, "Pay no attention to the schedules (of child development) doctors give you. Babies do things in their own time."
She used to delight in telling us what a fine, handsome, gutsy boy we had. And how we'd never know a moments peace from now on.
Judith's was a life well-lived. We miss her and regret that our children won't get to know her as we did.
“The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.”
Judith is on the web here.