Celebrating my mum, Eve Branson
I’m sorry to share that, sadly like a lot of people’s relatives and friends right now, my mum Eve has also passed away from Covid. She held on for one last victory, managing to fight off the virus, but had expended all of her energy in the process. One of my wonderful sisters, Vanessa, and nephew Louis were with her until the end, as were the wonderful nurses who she entertained with tales from her life and much laughter over glasses of whisky. Rather than mourn her loss, I want to celebrate her wonderful life, her tremendous spirit, the joy she brought to so many, and the love she gave us all.
Mum was 96-years-old, but had the same enthusiasm and energy she had when I was a boy. As for so many of us in these days of Covid, it feels so strange that the person who has always been there for us, with such zest for life, is gone.
My sisters Lindy and Vanessa and I were so lucky to grow up with mum and dad as our parents, instilling values that have lasted a lifetime. They taught us the importance of hard work, of not taking yourself too seriously, of treating people how you wish to be treated, of entrepreneurship, and so much more. They showed us how family is the most important thing in the world, and surrounded us with love and encouragement.
My mum was a force of nature. She lived many remarkable lives. She took glider lessons disguised as a boy, enlisted in the WRENS during World War II, toured Germany as a ballet dancer after the war, acted on the West End stage and worked as a pioneering air hostess on the treacherous British South American Airways routes. When I was growing up she was always working a project; she was inventive, fearless, relentless - an entrepreneur before the word existed.
It is no exaggeration to say I owe my career to mum. One day in the late Sixties mum saw a necklace lying on the road near Shamley Green and took it to the police station. After three months nobody had claimed it so the police told her she could keep it. She came up to London, sold the necklace and gave me the money. Without that £100, I could never have started Virgin. We were so sad to lose dad back in 2011, but mum did exactly as he would have wished by continuing to grab life with both hands.
Honestly, it was always more difficult finding time in her diary than mine! Whether she was organising charity polo tournaments, firing the starting pistol to begin the Virgin Strive Challenge or looking after her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was always actively helping others.
One of mum’s most brilliant legacies is The Eve Branson Foundation, which she founded to improve the lives of women and young girls in the Atlas Mountains, and provide access to education and health care to those in need.
It all started when we were in Morocco preparing for my global hot-air balloon challenge. My mum and dad went exploring while we waited for the right weather conditions to launch. They found the beautiful Kasbah Tamadot in the Atlas Mountains and they sat me down and told me they would not talk to me again if I didn’t buy it there and then. I think they were joking, but it did the trick.
Mum founded the Eve Branson Foundation and set about teaching the local community creative skills that they can use to set up their own businesses, work the Foundation continues to do wonderfully today with Virgin Unite’s support. She’s always been a tireless advocate for social empowerment and child welfare and continued spending time in Morocco, inspiring and supporting the amazing community, right to the end of her life.
She sent me many wonderful notes that I have been rereading. One said: “Just been over to see my girls happy and hard at work, with smiles on their faces. We left them, content and productive to return to your Kasbah to find yet more contented smiles as we are served the most delicious lunch in the sunshine. Come the evening, candles flickering on the tables above the pool, have taken place of the day’s sunshine. The tuneless music is calling us to prayer but I think it’s time for a whisky! Little did I think as I sat on an old box 20 years ago, with only dreams for the Kasbah one day would lighten up the lives and be shared by so very many others.”
Mum was a delightful writer; her freewheeling autobiography, Mum’s The Word, tells the full story of her remarkable life. She often sent little notes to us, and composed mischievous, heartfelt poems. I love this one in particular, so simple but capturing her essence perfectly: “Rick, old darling! As the swans drift past on the lake beyond, I can but think of our beloved Ted! Isn’t life wonderful? Every hour, every minute, must be lived to the full. Only regret, you’re not both here with us to share.”
When we started Virgin Galactic, mum was so honoured that we named our mothership, VMS Eve. She will always be my mothership, but she is also the proud grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of 10, all of whom love her dearly and miss her greatly.
We’ve received so many touching notes and tributes from loved ones already. I wanted to include this beautiful song that my son Sam has shared today. He wrote "Colours Fade" in Eve’s living room after the last time he saw her.
I’m looking at another wonderful note from mum, which seems an apt way to end: "Everyone is precious and all loved. There's room in my heart for even more, so bless you all, looking forward to building sandcastles on the beach.”