She and her twin sister Christine were born on 21 March 1938 in the Suffolk village of Stowupland. In September 1939 the family moved to 46 Springfield Park Avenue in Chelmsford. Subsequently, they moved to 122 Kings Road, then to 59 Harewood Road. (Incidentally, after the twins got married and left home, their parents moved to 26 Hatfield Grove.)
She and Christine won scholarships to Chelmsford High School for Girls. Here are the twins in school uniforms, aged 15. She left school at 16 to help support the family, despite having an outstanding academic record, including 8 ‘O’-levels. She worked first in a bank and then as a laboratory assistant at the local technical college. While working at the college she took ‘A’-level Chemistry in her spare time, and passed with Distinction.
The head of the Balls Park Teachers’ Training College in Hertford, Miss Wingate, was a remarkable woman who was always striving to help girls who had not had a fair chance in life. Somehow, she heard about Delphine and wrote offering a place at her college, which Delphine accepted. Delphine graduated two years later as a fully qualified teacher, achieving distinctions in all her subjects.
It was at a party in Hertford in 1958 that she met her husband-to-be, David Kohler. Their marriage took place on 19 August 1961 in Widford Church, near Chelmsford. These are photos of her entering the church and greeting her brother Richard at the Reception.
Her main profession for most of her life was schoolteacher. She taught all ages, and she taught in England, Canada, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and California. She was a truly gifted and inspiring teacher. She personally felt that her greatest achievement occurred in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she not only taught but also helped set up the first British School in Riyadh; (her son Paul is on the left of the fourth row and her son Philip is third from the right in the second row.)
David and Delphine were determined to see as much of the world as they could. After their marriage they lived successively in –
- Montreal, Canada for 18 months where she taught in primary school;
- Berkeley, California (1962-70), where she was a computer programmer at Standard Oil for the first six years, when she left for the birth of her first son, Paul. In her final years at Standard Oil she designed and maintained the company’s data base of stockholder records, a very important system. (She could not teach because her British teaching credentials were not accepted in California.) Here she is the computer room, explaining how she wanted her job run, and fooling around with her fellow programmers on her last day with Standard Oil. She also worked part-time as a fashion model in San Francisco.
- Lancaster, England (1970-74) where her second son Philip was born. She hated Lancaster and couldn’t wait to leave. She thought it was synonymous with dreariness and rain. Here she is with her sons in Lancaster.
- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The chance to leave Lancaster occurred when David was offered a job in Saudi Arabia in 1974. They lived there for four years, during which time Delphine taught at and helped set up the British School in Riyadh.
- Nairobi, Kenya (1978-83). The family next moved to Nairobi, Kenya where they spent five blissful years. Delphine taught at the Banda School, a feeder school for British public schools. Because she taught at the school, Paul and Phil were allowed to attend it too. Here she is with her sons in Nairobi. She had a terrible car accident in 1982 which crushed her pancreas against her backbone. An “old-fashioned” Whipple procedure was performed in London which removed, 80% of her pancreas, half of her stomach, and all of her duodenum. She was never really well after that.
- Palo Alto, California (1983 until her death in 2012). She taught part-time briefly but her health steadily deteriorated. She began to paint, mainly with pastels of bouquets of flowers that well-wishers had given her. Initially, painting was a way of turning her attention from her almost-continual pain, but later it became a joy in itself. She was very talented and her paintings had great beauty. Here is one example of her work and here is the artist at work on her patio.
Her medical history after the car accident in Nairobi, Kenya on 7 December, 1981 was appalling:
- “Old-fashioned” Whipple Procedure which involved the removal of 80% of the pancreas, all of the duodenum, half of the stomach and two feet of the small intestine.
- 8 other major abdominal operations, three of which lasted over seven hours.
- Two attacks of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. In Intensive Care with intubation for five weeks and two weeks, respectively.
- 18 attacks of pneumonia, four of which involved hospitalization.
- A life-threatening hydro-haemothorax as a consequence of a doctor’s gross error.
- Four nerve blocks.
- Two years of explosive cholera-type diarrhaea.
- Two seizures.
- Pulmonary embolism.
- Oxygen starvation while unconscious (nurse’s error).
- For the last 20 years of her life she could not eat by mouth and was sustained by TPN and a feeder tube in her side.
- She was in constant pain since the accident.
She endured this with quite extraordinary courage and emotional strength. She always had an irrepressible optimism. Whenever she began to recover from a setback she put it behind her and looked to the future with anticipation and enthusiasm, as you can see in her eyes in this photo taken when she was beginning to recover from the first ARDS attack.
Throughout the years she never changed. She was always beautiful and graceful, as shown here (David’s favourite photo), and here (radiantly happy), and here (waiting for play to start at Wimbledon in 1968). She was always kind and loving. And she always had the joyous heart of a young girl.
This photo was taken when her son Phil married Hannah in 2008 – just four years before she died of a stroke on September 11th, 2012.