Hannelore Schmidt: Conservationist who worked to protect endangered plants

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The Independent Online

Hannelore Schmidt, known as "Loki", was an internationally known German conservationist and the wife of the country's former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

One of three children, Hannelore Glaser was born in 1919 in the port city of Hamburg in the old Social Democratic stronghold of Hammerbrook, which was later almost totally destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943. Hannelore grew up in modest surroundings. Her father was an electrician at the docks who lost his job in 1931; her mother, Gertrud, attempted to keep the family together by sewing.

Loki succeeded in getting to Hamburg's Lichtwarkschule, a co-educational grammar school, where she met her future husband, Helmut Schmidt, in 1929. On gaining her school matriculation certificate, or Abitur, she completed the Reichsarbeitsdienst (labour service) and then trained to be a school teacher. Ideally she would have gone to university, but her family were unable to provide the necessary financial support to do this.

In June 1942 she married Schmidt, who was by then lieutenant of artillery. After serving on the Russian front he was posted to the air ministry in Berlin, and it was in the Berlin suburb of Bernau that their first child, Helmut Walter, was born. He died in his first year.

After a number of miscarriages, three years later their daughter Susanne was born. In between Helmut had fought on the western front, been a prisoner of the British, and, after release in August 1945, had taken up the study of economics at Hamburg University. Working as a teacher, Loki supported her husband financially during this time. She remained in teaching until 1972. By that time, Helmut had served as Minister of Defence, from 1969 to 1972, and Minister of Economics and Finance from then until his appointment as Federal Chancellor in 1974.

Loki Schmidt had been increasingly drawn into her husband's work "on the red carpet" but she did not deliberately seek the limelight. However, she did tell a journalist that she was usually the first to read Helmut's speeches and had given him what she thought would be the ordinary German's reaction to them. Although Loki was a loyal Social Democrat, she was more interested in botany than politics.

She also loved travel and, paying her own expenses, went to Kenya, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Malaysia, North Borneo and Brazil, with scientists from the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science. In 1976, she founded a charity for the protection of endangered plants, one of a number of such ventures in this field. "I've been talking about conservation for 100 years, but who listened to a teacher from Hamburg?" she recalled recently, joking that she attracted support for her cause by "shamelessly taking advantage of my husband's name".

She was responsible for several books on botany and gardening, which brought her international recognition and numerous prizes. Loki Schmidt was the recipient of many awards, including the freedom of Hamburg and honours from several universities. A number of flowers and plants were named after her. In 2003, she published her first book of memoirs, Loki: Hannelore Schmidt erzählt aus ihrem Leben ("Loki: Hannelore Schmidt recounts from her life"). In 2008, she became a best-selling author with her second book of memoirs, Erzähl doch mal von früher ("Tell something from the past"). Her last contribution was Auf dem roten Teppich und fest auf der Erde (2010, "On the red carpet but firmly on the ground").

Even after Helmut Schmidt left politics, the couple remained very much in the public eye and were regular guests on talk shows. One indulgence they allowed themselves was that they continued to smoke in public, as they had been doing in private all their lives.

Loki Schmidt's continued popularity in Germany was reflected in the extraordinary outpouring of grief on news of her death. The Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "mourning like millions of Germans".

After a fall in September and an operation on her foot, Schmidt died at home in Hamburg-Langenhorn with her daughter at her side.

David Childs

Hannelore Glaser, teacher and botanist: born Hamburg 3 March 1919; married 1942 Helmut Schmidt (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Hamburg 21 October 2010.

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