Thursday 5 April 2012

Auntie Margaret

My Auntie Margaret died two weeks ago, and we had the funeral on Tuesday. What a day! What a life!! She was 93, the last of her generation in our immediate family, and had spent the last 75 (seventy-five) years of her life deeply involved in local politics, trade union activity, and every international solidarity campaign you could donate a pound - or more importantly, an hour - to.

From support for the Republican Government during the Spanish Civil War as a teenager in the late 1930s, to trade union organisation in war-time factories; she was a Communist Party candidate in post-war elections, and met Paul Robeson in support of the American Civil Rights Movement before anyone knew it was a civil rights movement (1949). She organised for the Anti-Apartheid movement across several decades, for Justice for Zimbabwe against the white supremacists in the 1960s and 70s, against the Vietnam War, for the Chile Solidarity Campaign after the Pinochet coup in 1973, and more recently against the Iraq war. She played a leading role in defence of the Health Service in Birmingham and later Oxford, and was awarded the TUC Gold Medal in 1996 for a life-time of service to the trades union movement.

When we saw her a couple of years ago she apologised for no longer "being as active as I would like to be" - aged 91 - nevertheless every seat in the room was covered in the piles of loose papers and cuttings that had always served as her current filing cabinet. And throughout she was a wonderful, caring mother, and for this nephew at least, a lovely aunt. Apart from anything else, she gave me my first typewriter - a little portable, already hammered into the ground - and got me my first job.

David, Richard, Jenny, Katy and Rebecca conducted the service, as they had done for Uncle Mick 10 years ago. People said she was "an example to us all" and a "hard act to follow". We sang the Internationale, and Nkosi Sikelele Africa - well, we tried, I was too choked to get the words out. But I hope she heard us nevertheless.

Katy made a lovely little film with Margaret a few years back, called Lady in Red. It's on the BBC Oxford website, along with a radio interview with her.

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