Accomplished illustrator Frances Mahon, who painted stars of stage and screen, is remembered

Frances Mahon, who died on September 5, and some of her artwork

Frances Mahon, who died on September 5, and some of her artwork - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk artist whose illustrations graced the pages of 15 children’s books, and whose work portrayed a long list of celebrated actors, has been remembered for her good humour and dedication to her craft.

Frances Mahon, who lived with her husband in Melton, near Woodbridge, where she recently finished work on her own picture book for children, died aged 73 on September 5, following a battle with cancer.

Born Frances Livens on April 24, 1942, in Gowerton, South Wales, the eldest of three siblings, she was brought up in Chelsea and studied at Hammersmith School of Art in London.

A meeting with Welsh comedy actor Victor Spinetti prompted an introduction to Olivia Hussey, star of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

The two women became friends, and it was while accompanying her on the set of David Lean’s romantic epic Ryan’s Daughter – starring Hussey’s then fiancé, Christopher Jones – that Mrs Mahon got to know a number of other noted actors, including Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles, both of whom she would later portray, along with a lineup stars like Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Sir Ian McKellen, Sheila Hancock, Bernard Hepton, Leonard Whiting and Hayley Mills.


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Following her father’s death, Mrs Mahon moved from Surrey to Suffolk with her mother, living in Bredfield, near Woodbridge.

In 1985 she met her husband of 26 years, USAF colonel John Mahon, at the Greyhound Inn, Pettistree. The retired airman, who was based at RAF Woodbridge, said his first advances had been unsuccessful, but added: “A couple of Americans got hold of one of her books and wanted her to autograph it. The landlord called Frances on the phone, and although she said no, her mother convinced her to come. That was the start of our love affair – she was my wife and my best friend.”

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The couple were married in Reigate on March 30, 1989.

During her career as an artist, Mrs Mahon exhibited in several London galleries and illustrated 15 children’s books.

She also wrote and illustrated her own books, including Oddball, an unpublished story tackling the subject of bullying, and Possessions, which the author described as a ‘parable that reaches out to young and older folk’, with the message: “Possessions can be fun, it’s true, but not if they’re possessing you”.

She illustrated a book called Follow the Year by American film actress turned children’s author Mala Powers, and supplied the artwork for a collection of fairy tales by Alison Probert.

Younger brother, Peter, said: “Her love of art goes back years. Ever since we were young, I can remember my sister drawing.

“Illustration came later. She enjoyed anything to do with books and worked with various publishing companies.

“She never had an agent, and instead always tried to find work herself. She didn’t want to change her style of very fine painting. I was always impressed with her dedication and hard work.”

Mrs Mahon is survived by husband John, brother Peter Livens, and by her brother Leslie and sister-in-law Carole Livens, and nephews and nieces.

A funeral mass will take place at St Thomas of Canterbury Church, Woodbridge, from noon on Tuesday, September 22, followed by cremation at Seven Hills Crematorium, Nacton, at 1.30pm.

Donations, in lieu of flowers, can be made to St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, c/o E B Button & Sons Ltd, 24 St Johns Street, Woodbridge IP12 1EB.

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