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Obituary: Dame Wendy Mitchell

IT WAS said of Wendy Mitchell that she was a person who gave public service a good name, while her determination in pursuing what she considered to be right - some called it obstinacy - was in reality maintenance of sound principles.

As chairman of various political and public bodies she had great skill in balancing a debate, summing up, drawing a conclusion and holding a vote where everybody was satisfied - if not with the outcome - that they had received a fair hearing.

She was born Wendy Dell in 1932 and educated at Heathfield House High School, Cardiff, then at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, where she qualified as a nurse, and at St David's Hospital and Queen's Institute, Cardiff, where she qualified as a midwife. She continued with her nursing career - to which she was devoted - along with all her other activities, until she retired. In 1963 she married Anthony Mitchell, who gave her unstinted support in her public and political career. They had two children, Simon and Judith.

Her public duties in the field of medicine included membership of the South East Thames Regional Health Authority (1986-94) and the South Thames Regional Health Authority (1994-96), where she used her professional nursing knowledge to inform the discussions; she chaired the Consultants Appointments Committee even after she left. She was also Deputy Chairman of the Women's Nationwide Cancer Control Campaign from 1986 to 1994. She chaired some committees for the Hospital Standards Association, and recently fought for their preservation before they were closed. It now appears that their work is to be resuscitated.

In her political activities she wielded considerable influence and at the same time earned the respect and affection of people on all sides. Early on as a Councillor in the London Borough of Greenwich (1974-94) she was part of the group which brought its accounting practice into line with modern standards, and it was her determination which created their first department of Social Services.

In addition she was Chairman (1974-77) and President (1988-91) of the West Woolwich (Eltham) Conservative Association; a member of the Greater London Area Conservative Womens' Committee (1983-86), then a member of the Womens' National Committee (1987-90) and Deputy Chairman of the Greater London Area Conservative Executive (1987).

As President of the National Union of the Conservative Party (1993-94, having been Vice-Chairman 1990-93) she bravely and efficiently chaired the annual party conference in 1993 with a combination of charm and great firmness, even though she was undergoing chemotherapy with all the side effects that entailed.

Wendy Mitchell had a tremendous influence on the lives of many people - particularly women with political aspirations. She was forever encouraging them to undertake activities to improve their chances for selection as candidates ("fattening their CVs" as she called it). She always gave help, support and advice as well as special encouragement when a good potential candidate was beginning to flag in the uphill struggle that women face in politics.

At Mitchell's funeral, Jacqui Lait MP spoke of the many women in both Houses of Parliament who would attest to how much they owed to her. So impressively did she champion the cause of women in the NHS that in 1993 she won the Sussex Business Award for opportunities for women - of which she was just as proud as of any honour she received.

In 1986 she was appointed OBE for her political services and in 1992 advanced DBE. It was therefore a disappointment to her many political friends that she was not given the ultimate reward of a place in the House of Lords, where she would have undoubtedly been an active, loyal and distinguished member. Possibly it was her cancer - which she fought long and courageously - which stood in her way.

Miller of Hendon

Wendy Dell, nurse, politician and public servant: born London 14 September 1932; OBE 1986, DBE 1992; married 1963 Anthony Mitchell (one son, one daughter); died London 3 July 1999.