Hundreds pay their respects to much loved Northampton journalist and entrepreneur

Marie BoullemierMarie Boullemier
Marie Boullemier
‘She made people feel valued and important; she wanted everyone to succeed; she was unbelievably generous; she was easy to love’

More than 350 people attended the funeral of the much loved journalist and entrepreneur, Marie Boullemier, earlier this week.

Marie, who wrote the Pandora column in the Chronicle & Echo for many years, passed away last month aged 76.

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Her funeral was held at Boughton church on Monday where the service was also shown in a nearby marquee due to the large numbers attending.

Her husband, Tony, wrote the eulogy for the service, which he started by saying there had been “an absolute blizzard of cards through my letterbox expressing the most amazing and overwhelming love for Marie.”

Tony has given the Chron permission to publish the eulogy in full and it makes the perfect tribute to Marie.

"As Marie Pinkham, she had an idyllic childhood growing up in Chelmsford attending the Ursuline High School and happy to be the middle one of 5 children. Anne and John were older. Richard and Trish were younger.

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“Her family moved to Newcastle when she was 16 and my memories of her start on the night we met in 1967. It was at a journalists’ party in Newcastle. Marie was the editor’s secretary, and I was the reporter covering North West Durham from a branch office, so we’d never seen one another till that night.“But the moment our eyes met across the buffet table, it was love at first sight for both of us. I took home the girl I’d brought to the party and raced back to rescue Marie from the attentions of certain predatory journalists.“A head office colleague told me later that all the men in Editorial fancied her and why wouldn’t they? She was simply the most beautiful girl in the office.“But she was so much more than just a pretty face. She was very bright and impatient to move on from the typing pool to the newsroom. And when she got a reporting job on a local weekly paper, she made an immediate impact.“It was her unique personality that made her so special. She ticked every box. Very kind, very funny and very loyal. She was generous, determined, curious, and she absolutely loved other people.“When I set off for London and a job on the Daily Express, Marie came too. She became an outstanding reporter for weekly and evening papers in Hertfordshire as well as landing reporting shifts on the other side of Fleet Street from me - at The Sun.“We got married in 1970 and in 1975 we moved to Northampton and with partners, we set up our own newspaper, the Northants Post.“I was editor, Marie was a wonderful news editor. She pulled in stories from everywhere. I marvelled at how she could get into a lift, start a conversation with complete strangers and by the time we reached the top floor, she’d have a cracking story out of them.“Unfortunately we couldn’t sell enough papers to be competitive, so we turned the Post into a free title with a much bigger distribution. Advertising revenue was crucial so Marie left editorial and taught herself how to run the Classified Advertising department, selling property, motors and job ads.“And it was largely down to her inspirational selling skills that we were able to expand into 11 weekly newspapers circulating 400,000 copies a week, plus four monthly glossy magazines.“As a boss she led by example facing down some disgraceful sexist and misogynistic behaviour by allegedly respectable businessmen she had to sell the ads to.

“But Marie could look after herself. She rode above it all and instilled the same toughness in the girls who followed her into battle. Girls who remained close friends right to the end, which not many bosses can boast.“I’ve received piles of messages from Post staff, describing her as their role model and motivating them into achieving things they never imagined they could. One wrote, saying: “She was a true inspiration and spearheaded ‘girl power’ long before the Spice Girls” and in 1986 she won a national ‘Women Mean Business’ award.“Two years later we sold the Post and departed in 1989. Whereupon Marie embarked on her third or was it her fourth career? We had started Derngate Gym on the ground floor of our offices in 1986 and Marie went on to run it for 25 years, defying ever-increasing competition from national gym chains. Along the way she even trained as an aerobics instructor.“Throughout this time, she wrote a hard-hitting weekly newspaper column. It was called Pandora’s Box and it ran for 40 years. She started it in the Post and when the new owners started cutting it back, she was head-hunted by the Chronicle & Echo and switched it to them. She targeted all the topics that made her blood boil and only revealed her identity in her last column in 2017.“At its best, it was certainly Fleet Street standard and the current Chronicle editor wrote to me last week and said it could have been the most popular column in the paper’s history.“Marie was certainly never short of an anecdote whether in her column, at a dinner party or on a dog walk. She revelled in her brief encounters with celebrities.“At a lunch, Eric Morecambe asked her to give him a kiss ‘while the wife wasn’t looking’.“England footballer John Barnes fondly patted her bottom at a party. And even though she’s never smoked, she accepted a cigarette off Roy Orbison in his dressing room.“After encountering The Fonz, Henry Winkler, by the checkout at John Lewis in Milton Keynes, he sent her a photo of himself signed ‘To Lovely Marie with lots of hugs.’“When Marie told John Major she’d voted for him, he cried: “I’ve found my supporter” and he gave her a kiss too. And most famously, when England’s World Cup winner Geoff Hurst asked her out to dinner, she told him: “No. I am happily married.”“But Marie did love her football. I introduced her to it at St James’s Park, home of Newcastle United and she was hooked. I often heard her telling young girls that if they wanted their relationships and marriages to last, they had to get into football, understand it and watch it with their fellers.“Marie certainly did and she was over the moon with Newcastle’s tremendous revival in the last two years. She wasn’t quite so fond of cricket, but she did chalk up a record 25 years making cricket club teas when I was playing for Collingtree. And that village’s summer fetes have never been the same since Marie stopped appearing, dressed as a gypsy fortune teller, reading cards with what turned out to be remarkable accuracy.“Her favourite sport however, was tennis. She started playing while recovering from her first bout of breast cancer in 1998 and played every Tuesday right up to being taken into hospital two months ago.“She made friends for life along the way, despite the fact they could never fathom her crafty second serve.“So when we lay her to rest in Boughton’s Old Churchyard, there will be a tennis ball inside her coffin along with a copy of her last newspaper column; her favourite teacup; her union jack apron. And of course, her Waitrose card.

“We didn’t write many letters to one another, but I found one the other night which was quite poignant.Right after her first breast cancer treatment in 1998, she wrote to me saying how scared she was that her doctor was going to tell her the cancer had spread to her bones. Thankfully it hadn’t.“So Marie had 25 fabulous years left and her stay of execution enabled her to see our children Richard and Kerry emerge from university with very good degrees, train as journalists and move on into very satisfying jobs that they love, both contributing a great deal to society.“She’s hosted countless parties, many in fancy dress. Numerous dinner parties where the odd culinary disaster has everyone in fits. And her gym staged a lot of riotous children’s parties for NSPCC funds.“She stripped off for a Calendar Girls Calendar that raised £27,000 - ironically to support cancer care. Ironically, because not long afterwards she was having to shrug off two more cancer operations.“And these were followed by a big operation to cure something completely different - water on the brain.“To cap it all she was diagnosed just four months ago with mixed dementia.“But despite bad luck with her health, she dusted herself down and battled on.She still loved to play Bridge and always had lots of fun with the Boughton Book Club, where she’d become a kind of mother figure to some wonderful ladies in the village, all a good deal younger than herself, who would hang on her every word.“And of course she loved being with our four grandchildren, Jack, Freya, Lara and Cleo, who all adored her magical ways.In June they gave her a swing for her birthday. The seat is beautifully inscribed with the message ‘Higher, Grandma Pinky, Higher’. And I think we can safely assume that Marie will certainly be going higher.“She has been the most marvellous wife anyone could wish for and to sum her up, I would like to quote a few words from our daughter Kerry: “She made people feel valued and important; she wanted everyone to succeed; she was unbelievably generous; she was easy to love. And she was incredibly appreciative for everything that life gave her. She gave Ric and I unconditional love and unwavering support and she made us believe we could be anything we wanted to be. We were truly lucky to have been raised by such an incredible woman and we’re forever grateful that we got to be part of such a wonderful life.”

“We were all very lucky to have her. The impact she had on so many people is quite remarkable. She has clearly led the most extraordinary life and now it’s time for Marie to Rest in Peace.”

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