Virginia Cavalcanti obituary

Leo Parnes
·2-min read

My friend Virginia Cavalcanti, who has died aged 71 after suffering cardiac arrest, arrived in London in 1970 as an exile from the military dictatorship in Brazil and stayed until 1974, when the political situation there ameliorated and she returned home.

In London she was the correspondent for Jornal do Brasil and the magazine Manchete, and as such interviewed Glenda Jackson, Jack Lemmon, Lord (Tony) Snowdon and Barry Goldwater, among others.

She enjoyed all that London had to offer at that time: Notting Hill, Biba, Laura Ashley, flea markets and more. Her flat in north London was a welcoming salon for exiles and jazz musicians and her experiences were distilled into her last published book, an auto-fiction novel – although not translated into English as yet, its title is, loosely, Exile in First Class. She always retained an affection for London.

She was a great conversationalist, a creature of fertile imagination and intuition, someone from a different world, born in Rio and raised in what was generally known as the Cavalcanti mansion.

Her father, Pedro Cavalcanti d’Albuquerque, was a hero of the Italian campaign with the Brazilian expeditionary force during the second world war and served with UN peacekeeping forces in the Gaza Strip. Her mother, Maria Amelia Ribeiro, who was from the landed gentry, understood and charmed everyone with whom she came into contact. This characteristic applied to both mother and daughter.

After school in Rio and a period as a trainee journalist at Jornal do Brasil, Virginia kicked off her career as a cub reporter for the paper with a front page feature, Yesterday Was the Day of the Blind, published on the day following the proclamation of AI-5 (Institutional Act No 5) in December 1968, which strengthened the powers of the military, including strict censorship.

This marked her out as a courageous 20-year-old, with an acute sense of irony and a talent for flying under the radar. But her involvement in leftwing politics made her a person of interest to the military and soon she was forced to flee.

Back in Brazil after her time in London, she worked her way up in TV Globo throughout the late 1970s and 80s, wrote novels, poetry and self-help books, then changed careers when she went to study arts therapy at the New School for Social Research in New York. Thereafter she ran creative writing workshops in Rio.

Virginia never let go of her contact with the wider world, nor her always trenchant critique of the current political situation in Brazil.

She was married first to Rui dos Anjos, from 1973 to 1979, and then to Jairo da Matta, from 1980 to 1987; both marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by Diego, the son of her first marriage, and Pedro, her grandson.