Obituary: Dame Kathleen Raven

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"THIS FUNNY old thing," was how Dick Crossman described Kathleen Raven, when he was Secretary of State and she was Chief Nursing Officer at the Department of Health and Social Security in the 1960s, "with her golden hair and her blue eyes and her pink-and-white cheeks, this typical ex-matron".

Raven was in fact a very effective nurse at the ministry and elsewhere, although she could be difficult to work with and for. She saw to it that the voice of nursing was clearly heard. Building on the foundations laid by her predecessor, Dame Elizabeth Cockayne, she freed the nursing division from the medical, securing access to the minister through the permanent secretary for the chief nursing officer. Despite Crossman's description of her in his diaries, he seems to have had respect for her because, she considered, he felt she knew what she was talking about. She put forward the idea of the Briggs committee on the future of nursing when Asa Briggs gave her a lift one evening in the ministerial car.

She was a sound practical nurse as well as a nurse manager and a determined high flyer. While below average in height there was nothing of the "little woman" about her. She had authority and dignity, and always a trim appearance. Before becoming a nurse she enjoyed being a secretary in a firm of accountants. In retirement she had a strong influence on hospitals and nursing in the Middle East.

Kathleen Raven was born in Coniston in the Lake District in 1910. Her father was the director of a slate quarry, her mother came from the Mason family of ironstone ware manufacturers. She was brought up in a Plymouth Brethren household where her parents read a chapter of the Bible every night and were, as she said, "good Christian people". Being the only girl among three brothers may have made her the tomboy who climbed mountains, skated, fished and rowed. She had a lifelong close relationship with her elder brother Ronald, who became a surgeon.

Visiting her brother when he was a medical student at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, she decided to become a nurse and started her training there in 1933. She was 23. Nursing had not been her first career choice. On leaving Ulverston Grammar School she took a secretarial course and one in conversational French, and went to the School of Art at Barrow in Furness. She had been brought up in the atmosphere of the Lakeland painters; one grandmother was a friend of John Ruskin.

Coming from a big house where there was a busy social life it was a shock to Raven to find patients who did not want to go home because their homes were so miserable and - when doing her midwifery training in London - to see what poverty meant. She became a sister at Barts at a time when sisters slept and lived in rooms off their wards, and she rose to be assistant matron.

In 1949 she moved on to be matron of Leeds General Infirmary. Faced with a shortage of nurses she recruited from what were still "the colonies" as well as encouraging Yorkshire girls to take up nursing. Always a keen traveller, she came back from a tour of American and Canadian hospitals in 1953 with the idea of "beau parlours". She opened two of these at Leeds - "comfortable little rooms where a nurse may entertain her men friends".

Professionals from overseas also came to her for ideas. She established a rapport with the midwife to the Thai royal family who visited Leeds. But some of her own staff felt that she did not know her nurses as a manager should, and an assistant matron who was to become general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Katherine Mary Hall, was indignant when the matron was over an hour late for a student nurse and her mother's appointment.

From Leeds Raven moved to the Ministry of Health, to be first Deputy, then Chief Nursing Officer. She married late, although she had twice been engaged earlier. She met John Thornton Ingram, a hospital consultant and a widower, while she was matron at Leeds and they married when she was CNO and he Professor of Dermatology at Durham University. Having a husband and a brother who were prominent doctors facilitated her relations with the profession which she was determined nursing should be independent from.

On leaving government service Raven became chief nursing adviser to the Allied Medical Group, which involved her with hospitals in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She was awarded the fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing in 1986 "for advocacy of developments in nursing management and education".

In 1995 she endowed a professorship of clinical nursing studies at Leeds University. "I wanted to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to nurse education in a way that restored the practical and caring skills which, sadly, patients do not always enjoy today," she explained. She was also a member of the Central Area Advisory Board for Secondary Education while matron at Leeds, a foundation governor of Aylesbury Grammar School, and in 1992 became vice-president and member of the council of Epsom College, the "doctors' school" of which her brother Ronald was an old boy. She had been due to open a girls' day house named after her this September.

Kathleen Annie Raven, nurse: born Coniston, Westmorland 9 November 1910; Matron, General Infirmary, Leeds 1949-57; Deputy Chief Nursing Officer, Ministry of Health 1957-58, Chief Nursing Officer, Department of Health and Social Security 1958-72; DBE 1968; FRCN 1986; married 1959 Professor John Thornton Ingram (died 1972); died Oxford 19 April 1999.

She opened two `beau parlours' in Leeds - `comfortable little rooms where a nurse may entertain her men friends'