Obituary: Mary Edwardes

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
MARY EDWARDES made herself the queen scourge of unethical professionals. Whether they were priests, psychotherapists or doctors and whether caught with zips undone or ethics in a twist, Edwardes was remorselessly effective both in supporting their victims and in demanding justice.

Her life closely paralleled the times in which she lived. Having filled the role of full-time executive wife during her marriage to the industrialist Sir Michael Edwardes and having raised three daughters, like so many women of her generation she returned to higher education, was divorced and began a career of her own.

Infuriated by social injustice and prepared to go to any length to right it (she was chucked out of her undergraduate degree course at the University of Cape Town for campaigning against discrimination against black students), after graduating as a psychodynamic psychotherapist at the Lincoln Institute in London, in 1991 she rapidly built up the first major support organisation for sexually and otherwise abused clients, the Prevention of Professional Abuse Network, with Jenny Fasal.

There followed a steady flow of newspaper articles and a BBC documentary publicising the problem. Eventually, the Department of Health was forced to confront it and last year Edwardes established a new charity, Survivors of Professional Abuse National Association (Spana), with a strong emphasis on obtaining legal redress against miscreants.

Edwardes was constantly amazed and outraged at the lengths to which priests, therapists, doctors and their training institutions (especially the Roman Catholic Church) would go in order to silence clients whom they had abused. In the process of proving that they were neither mad nor liars Edwardes employed the skills of a natural advocate, with a keen appreciation of the law, but she would also act as therapist, friend and even mental nurse. Her self- sacrifices would have been beyond the call of duty in a healthy person, which she was not: for the last 16 years she suffered from the exhaustion and depletion of multiple sclerosis.

She was born Mary Finlay in 1938, into a well-to-do family in Johannesburg. After a conventional education (she attended the South African Roedean School) she married young. For the next 20 years she followed her husband Michael from Zimbabwe to Worcester to London as he progressed to the job of running the British car industry which made him famous in the 1980s.

Intensely loyal, discreet and witty, she was a splendid hostess and had no difficulty in holding her own in the exalted company she was now required to keep. Whether it was a weekend at Windsor with the Queen, small talk with Margaret Thatcher or entertaining Jeffrey Archer (about whom she was extremely funny) for supper, she was more than equal to the task.

Had this been the only role she played in her life, it would have been a terrible waste of her quick mind and cunning, pragmatic capacity to make things happen, and in the mid-1980s she suffered two significant reverses: she developed multiple sclerosis and her marriage ended. In recovering from these adversities she carved out her role as a champion of the exploited.

As a person she was always looking for the comical or absurd in any circumstance, be it ever so grand or tragic. She was non-judgemental, so that you could say anything at all to her without shocking, yet she was conscientious and fiercely moral. She hated "bullshit" and prized the truth.

Above all, she was someone who enabled others. Two clients whom she treated as a therapist have told me that their lives were transformed by her; but her helpfulness extended to all her relationships. Few of her friends and family have not been profoundly aided by her in both the most practical and the most psychologically telling ways. Uncomplaining, unselfish but twinkle-eyed, full of fun and never the martyr: it is the small minority of people like her who keep the rest of us on the right track, morally and emotionally.

Mary Margaret Finlay, psychotherapist and campaigner: born Johannesburg 9 March 1938; married 1958 Michael Edwardes (Kt 1979; three daughters; marriage dissolved 1984); died London 13 February 1999.