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It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Iris Haller, a great friend to The Leeds International Piano Competition and a life-long friend to our Co-Founder Dame Fanny Waterman. Iris’s kind and charismatic presence will be greatly missed amongst the entire Leeds Piano family at this year’s Competition, and we would like to extend our deepest condolences to her friends and family at this time. 

The Leeds Artistic Director Adam Gatehouse looks back at his fond memories of Mrs Haller since meeting her in 2012 and shares some words written by her daughter Sue Baker, about her mother’s wonderful life and love for music and theatre.

The news that Iris has passed away just shortly before her 106th birthday is a reason for sadness, but a sadness tainted with huge gratitude and respect.

I first met Iris when I was invited by Dame Fanny to take part in the jury of the 2012 Competition. Fanny brought Iris into the jury room as a special guest, to introduce her to all the jury members, and it was soon obvious how special she was. She must have been 97 by then but didn’t look a day over 80, and had the mental fixings of someone less than half that age. Bright, alert, sparkling and with a mischievous sense of humour, we hit it off from the beginning. Partly because she had a talent to make you feel as if she had known you for a long time, and also because it was evident what a fantastic friend and support she was to Fanny.

Every time we met thereafter and I asked her how she was, she would inevitably answer “Still here!”, with that irrepressible twinkle in her eye. We also shared some memories of Nairobi and Kenya which I had just recently visited. She was always there at the Competition, usually sitting in the front row, but also at special functions at Fanny’s house, particularly birthdays. Her presence, and her warmth, humour and kindness will be much missed by us all.

Iris’ daughter Sue shares some heart-warming words about her mother:

Iris and Fanny had known each other since childhood, although their adult lives moved in very different directions; with Fanny’s involvement in her music and Mum meeting my father, Arthur, and moving to Nairobi in 1949 at a time when Kenya must have seemed almost like a different planet!

Their paths crossed again many years later when the competition was already established and Mum had moved back to Leeds. The families had kept up their friendship, but it was really after Geoffrey died that their companionship grew closer, especially over the last decade or so. I think they were the perfect foil for each other! Diminutive in stature but with big personalities! I’m not sure what to say about Mum’s life away from the Competition. She would say that her life was very ordinary. All her energies went into nurturing her growing family. Mum’s first love in her younger days was in theatre. She was involved in various local amateur dramatic groups: The Proscenium Players in Leeds, which she helped to found, and the Ilkley Players. Once she moved to Nairobi, she became involved in the famous Donovan Maule Theatre but my father persuaded her to give it up to devote herself to her young children!

She and Arthur moved back to Leeds not long after Kenya’s independence but sadly he died young shortly after their return. It was only really after we, her children, had reached adulthood and were settled did she go back to her interests in theatre and music, resuming her friendship with Fanny. She loved meeting everyone involved with the competition and found you all so interesting to talk to but she was a wonderful listener and I think that’s why people liked her.