Obituary: World's oldest columnist signs off

Passionate and inspirational campaigner for equality dies at 101

To me at nine, Rose Hacker, whose tenure as the world's oldest columnist came to an end with her death last week, was that sweet old lady across the road who cooked nice things and talked a lot. New to Camden, north London, where she lived, what did I know of Rose's education; mental health campaigning; relationship counselling; prison work; or the best-seller about sex she was writing for teenagers? Could I understand her lifelong commitment to equality for all?

I learnt later that her commitment to pacifism went back to the First World War. She saw the hunger marchers of the 1920s. She had known many of the 20th century's leading socialists.

At 71, when most people have retired, Rose was elected to the Greater London Council. She championed housing rights, chaired the Thames Waterways Board, battling to "bring the countryside to London", her election slogan.

By the age of 91 she had become an accomplished artist, persuading others to take up art too. One of her pieces was displayed in the British Museum. Active and vibrant, she swam almost daily, used tai-chi, the Alexander technique and belly dancing to keep fit enough to fight injustice everywhere, in between helping individuals.

To me at 56, Rose was an inspiration, a powerful, centenarian orator moving the crowds at CND's 40th Hiroshima Day commemoration, the 40th she attended. At the age of 100, she had a newspaper column that gave her a new voice to speak for others. Able to draw on experiences and extensive knowledge in almost any field, her razor-sharp mind, wit and humour allowed her to attack with charm and grace. To Rose, the column was a chance to restart the clock at year zero and she said so. Helping her write it reinvigorated me. Sympathetic organisations vied for her still remarkable speaking skills, and were stunned by her strength, insight and integrity at almost 102. The column was an unmitigated success.

To me at 58, just one of countless people whose lives Rose touched, there is now a Rose-shaped hole in my universe.

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