She first trained as a nurse at Walton Hospital, Liverpool, became a theatre sister there and went to London as a sister at St Andrew's Hospital, Bow. Then, at the age of 36, she made a lateral career change, qualifying as what was then known as an industrial nurse.
As superintendent she pioneered the Slough Industrial Nursing Service, which eventually provided nursing cover for the workers in 300 factories, and then joined Unilever as principal nursing officer, with a sumptuous office on the directors' floor. Always kind to people, she was particularly good at selecting staff and brought on the careers of a number of nurses who became prominent in what came to be called occupational health nursing.
She was also good at networking, with contacts in high places, and active in professional affairs; on her retirement in 1972 she was made a life vice-president of the Royal College of Nursing "for her services to the college and the profession for many years". As a member of the RCN's Occupational Health Central Sectional Committee from 1957 to 1964 she had been successively vice-chairman and chairman. In 1962 she became the first occupational health nurse to be elected to the college council and from 1964 to 1966 was its chairman.
With an equitable temperament and very much a political animal, her chairmanship was adroit. Never forceful but always determined, she would let everyone have their say then sum up the way she wanted things to go. And she had good judgement. The RCN elected her its President in 1968, the first occupational health nurse to hold the post. She was a friend of Dame Katherine Hall, the college's general secretary.
On the international scene Blakeley was invited in 1958 to join the Permanent Commission and International Association of Occupational Health, where she she was responsible for creating a nurses' committee. It published a series of reports under the general title of "The Nurses' Contribution to the Health of the Worker". In her international work and in her Unilever post she travelled wherever in the world there were occupational health nurses at work.
Mary Blakeley was a very good-looking woman and a gracious host. She was a loyally practising Roman Catholic. Her idea of relaxing was to play golf - not highly competitively but for the pleasure of the game. She was a member of the oldest club on the west coast, Hall Road Golf Club, Blundellsands.
Mary Blakeley, nurse: born Liverpool 18 November 1910; OBE 1972; died Blundellsands, Merseyside 3 May 1999.Reuse content