The following words written by Charles Haas on behalf of the TIS membership were read at the recent memorial service for Miss Millvina Dean. Thanks to David Hill of the British Titanic Society for conveying the sentiments of TIS and for arranging our memorial flowers. The photo taken by David Hill shown below is the arrangement sent to the church for the service, then on to Miss Dean’s nursing home after the service.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am profoundly saddened that I am unable to join you in celebrating the life of our dear friend Millvina Dean. I am deeply grateful to David Hill of the British Titanic Society for his willingness to read my words today.
Had fate not intervened, Millvina Dean likely would have lived a happy, productive life in the United States, where she, her parents and brother were bound aboard Titanic in April 1912. Her father’s tragic death canceled those optimistic plans. Though she would never know her father’s love, she, her brother Bertram, her mother Ettie and, later, her stepfather Leonard Burden were a loving family that moved on after the nightmare of that night.
What was Millvina like?
Sometimes, the simplest questions are among the most difficult to answer, especially when they touch upon both emotions and intellect.
Like so many other Titanic survivors, Millvina had a joie de vivre that somehow seemed a small compensation for the loss of her father when she was nine weeks old. She loved meeting people. Her ready smile made the most nervous child feel comfortable and, indeed, loved.
She had an amazing amount of patience, humbly explaining to press and public alike why she had no personal memories of that night in April 1912 – she was, after all, just an infant. I once watched her at a British Titanic Society convention’s “public” day, when she began an autographing session. The queue stretched across the room, out the door and down the hotel corridor. Some two hours later, she was still at it. Several times, convention staff, worried about her frailty, asked if she wanted to take a break. “Oh, no,” she said. “I can’t disappoint all these friends who’ve come to see me.”
She had a wonderful sense of humor. I was deeply honored several years ago to be asked to escort Millvina into the British Titanic Society convention’s gala dinner. As more than 150 watched our every step, Millvina grasped my right arm tightly for support, and whispered to me, “I do hope I’m not cutting off your circulation!”
Later that evening, a false fire alarm caused everyone to evacuate. We spent perhaps an hour in the chilly night air, as the fire brigade checked things out. Under a light in the hotel’s car park, Millvina, clad in the fire brigade’s thermal blanket, happily held court with all who approached – BTS members, fire brigade members, hotel staff — never minding the inconvenience or discomfort, and never missing a beat, nor an opportunity to converse with and learn more about others.
Millvina’s own personal optimism was one of her most endearing qualities. She brought happiness to every room. She spoke in bursts, her words bunched together, almost in a rush so she could offer another thought. Her sharpness and wit dazzled, right to the end.
Upon her return to England aboard the liner Adriatic in May 1912, she first experienced celebrity, although she didn’t know it. The Daily Mirror reported, “[She] was the pet of the liner during the voyage, and so keen was the rivalry between women to nurse this lovable mite of humanity that one of the officers decreed that first and second class passengers might hold her in turn for no more than ten minutes.” Yet somehow, nearly 70 years afterwards, she happily led a private life away from the spotlight. It was only in the 1970s that the world discovered Millvina.
She seemed surprised by the love and respect total strangers showed her and by the celebrity she enjoyed, but never sought. Millvina never seemed to mind the incessant intrusions on her privacy, from hucksters seeking to sell her autograph to insistent reporters worldwide who phoned at all hours.
As a Titanic historian, I had hoped to try to put Elizabeth Gladys “Millvina” Dean in some kind of historical perspective. “The end of an era” and other clichés came to mind. But in the end, all I know is this: The world was a better place while Millvina was among us. She is and will be deeply missed.
Her priceless lesson to all of us lives on: That even after experiencing the most profound tragedy— as she, her mother and brother did — a long life filled with love and friends, happiness and fulfillment, personal achievement and contentment, and even the admiration of a jaded world can be ours, if we wish it to be that way. That message of perseverance despite adversity is her final, most lasting gift to each of us.
“What was she like?” Each of us is privileged in life to meet truly unforgettable people whose love and spirit live on in our memories and our hearts. Millvina was one of those people. Rest well, Millvina, and thank you for 97 exceptional years, and for representing all of Titanic’s passengers and crew with wit, wisdom, compassion, selflessness, humor and hope. May God bless you. May you always be in our thoughts.
On behalf of the trustees and members of Titanic International Society, may I take this opportunity to express our sincere condolences to Millvina’s family, to her dearest friend Bruno Nordmannis, and to her many friends worldwide. Thank you.
Deborah Davies- Nursing home matron.