Lives Remembered: Audrey Hunt

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The Independent Online

My cousin Audrey Hunt, who died on 24 September, was a remarkable woman. She was distinguished by her intellect and her zeal to create a fairer society, and she was loved for her good humour and wit.

She was especially respected for her meticulous analysis of social statistics for the Social Surveys Unit of the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys and other Government departments. Her work on the reports Families and their Needs (1973) and Women and Paid Work (1988) is still being quoted today.

Audrey was born in Plymouth on 16 August 1914, the daughter of Wynn (née Pullar) and Joseph Hosford. As a child she lived in Hong Kong, where her mother was head of the garrison school. She graduated, at the age of only 19, from Bedford College, London, with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics, a remarkable feat for a woman at that time. She joined the Civil Service, where she met her husband, Michael. They married unannounced in their lunch hour and she removed her ring and returned to work in the afternoon because female civil servants were not allowed to continue to work after marriage. Their colleagues did not know of their marriage for years (this bar remained in place until 1945).

During the war she worked for the Mass Observation Unit, observing the lives of ordinary people – an early example of evidence-based policy making. She worked throughout her life, even after retirement, latterly as a consultant for the Office of Fair Trading, until she was 80.

She had a lifelong interest in politics and a passion for social justice and for women's rights which led to her work as a trade unionist with ASTMS. In the 1930s, seeing the advance of fascism across Europe, she joined the Communist party. She retained her fearsome intellect throughout her life, even when she became very frail. She wrote letters regularly to The Independent and The Guardian and continued to enjoy Sudoku, even at 94, in her last weeks in hospital; the doctors and nurses of Whipps Cross Hospital NHS recognised a woman who knew her own mind and wanted to be treated in an NHS hospital and not in a private care home.

Audrey outlived her husband Michael, an historian, her sister Doreen and her niece Noreen, who died when aged only 19. Her family, neighbours, friends and colleagues from the Civil Service remembered her at a non-religious ceremony in London on Monday 6 October.

If I had to sum up her life in five words it would be: independent, brave, intelligent, witty and loving. She lived through many "interesting times" with courage and good humour. Ahead of her time – whether campaigning for women's rights, equal pay or social justice – and a natural nonconformist, she managed to make a significant contribution to making Britain a fairer society.

Her family and friends marked her death with contributions to two of the many charities she supported: Amnesty International and the Morning Star Fighting Fund.

Diana Stephenson

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