Fitzgibbon, Theodora (1916–91), cookery expert and writer, was born Joan Eileen Rosling on 21 October 1916 in London, the only child of Adam Rosling, motor engineer with the Royal Naval Air Service, and Alice Winifred Rosling (née Hodgkins). Her parents were divorced soon after her birth and her father moved to India, where he probably worked as a veterinarian. From the age of ten she lived with her maternal grandmother in London. She attended a number of convents in England as well as the Sacré Coeur in Bruges, Belgium, spending holidays with her father's relatives in Ballymackay, Co. Tipperary, and in Co. Clare. It is difficult to sort Fitzgibbon's glamorised version of her life and origins from the facts.
Through a school friend, she was taken on by an acting company called the English Players and toured the French countryside; this gave her a taste for bohemian living and she spent the next fifteen years in Paris, London, Bermuda, and Capri, moving in artistic circles and living in poverty and instability. A classic Nordic-style beauty, she worked as a bit-part actress and a mannequin, modelling for the couturier Robert Traquduir in London (1939), and posing for the English photographer and artist, Peter Rose Pulham, with whom she lived from 1938 to 1943 in Paris and London. She spent most of the war years in London, working in the propaganda section of the Free French army, and married there (21 March 1944) the Irish-American writer Constantine Fitzgibbon (qv), then a major in the US army. He seems to have given her the name ‘Theodora’, which she always used afterwards. On his demobilisation in 1946 the couple moved first to Bermuda and two years later to Capri, where Constantine worked on his (unfinished) biography of the writer Norman Douglas, and Theodora spent time in Rome taking small parts in various films. Returning to England in 1950, she inherited some money, so the couple bought a house in Sacombe's Ash, Hertfordshire, and both began to establish reputations, Constantine as a novelist and translator and Theodora as a cookery writer. At the request of the publisher Derek Verschoyle, who admired her cooking, she wrote her first book, Cosmopolitan cookery in an English kitchen (1952), which won the bronze medal from the Hotel and Gastronomical Association in the Frankfurt food fair. She contributed articles and recipes to the Daily Telegraph and Harper's Bazaar and was part of the renaissance in cooking in England, spearheaded by Elizabeth David. However, her marriage was breaking down; the couple first separated and then divorced in 1959. The years 1938–59 are described in two volumes of autobiography, With love (1982) and Love lies a loss (1985); the first is an endearing, light-hearted account of her bohemian youth with guest appearances by Dylan and Caitlin Thomas (qv) and Donald Maclean, the British diplomat and soviet spy. The second is an altogether grimmer look at her marriage breakdown, although it is written with bravado and a total absence of self-pity.
On 19 July 1959, the only date mentioned in her memoirs, Fitzgibbon left England for Ireland where she married (17 September 1960) George Morrison, film archivist and maker of the documentary Mise Éire, and settled in Dalkey for the rest of her life. As ‘Theodora Fitzgibbon’ she built up an international reputation as a cookery writer, and from 1968 to 1984 was cookery correspondent for the Irish Times. She was author of thirty-one cookery books, including the celebrated ‘Taste of’ series, which dealt primarily with the regions of Britain and Ireland. Her Taste of Ireland (1959; reprinted 1968, 1994) was illustrated by old photographs of Irish towns, arranged by her husband, and contained simple recipes for such staples as champ, boxty, oysters, and spiced beef. Like Elizabeth David, she interspersed her recipes with crisp historical and literary references to food. The meticulousness and perfectionism that Maeve Binchy, in her capacity as women's editor of the Irish Times, noted as hallmarks of Fitzgibbon's cookery columns were much in evidence in her magnum opus, The food of the western world (1976). An encyclopedia from A to Z of the food of thirty-four countries, it contained over 6,000 entries and won the Glenfiddich medal. She was elected president of the Irish Guild of food writers shortly before her death in Dublin on 25 March 1991.