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Obituary: Anne Hewer

Anne Hewer was a Bristolian whose public life took place mostly in her native city, but who through her chairmanship of what became Scottish Ballet made an important contribution to classical dance in Britain.

Grand, even slightly daunting, in appearance (she was nearly 6ft tall, very straight, with a fine bone structure that preserved her early beauty) she was a person of great determination and warmth, certain of her values and, despite a hidden shyness, able to impose herself in any situation. A slightly old-fashioned manner concealed an independence of mind, which was original and personal; her openness greatly benefited the manifold enterprises with which she became involved. Once committed to a cause or a person she rarely let them go and this made her beloved by the wide range of people with and for whom she worked.

Her mother was Abigail Wey, from a county family; her father Hiatt Baker, a leading Bristol citizen, head of the city's chief department store and Pro-Chancellor of Bristol University. They bought a house at Almondsbury, outside the city, where he created a remarkable garden and it was from him, although he died when she was only 17, that Anne acquired the love of gardens and botany which were among the chief joys of her life.

Typically for the period, the Bakers' sons were sent to Eton, but Anne to Claremont, a Christian Science school where one may hazard the education was not of the best, since she did not, although there was a pioneering tradition of women's education in her family, go to university. Instead she was sent to Florence to be "finished" at Poggio Gherardo by Lina Waterfield, the daughter of the redoubtable Janet Ross, and her husband Aubrey Waterfield. He was a talented water-colourist and an inspired teacher, who took his students on regular visits to galleries and monuments, and from him Anne learnt not only to draw but to, look.

She had an exceptionally receptive "eye", and an amazing visual memory, and this gave her a hands-on knowledge of both botany and the visual arts, sometimes more exacting than that of the professionals she later encountered.

On returning home, she began at an exceptionally early age what can only be described, although she would have hated the phrase, as "a lifetime of service" in Bristol, working through the influence of her friend the art historian and social worker Rotha Clay, with the Bristol Settlement for the disadvantaged and with the Bristol Girls Clubs, of which she became Chairman in her early twenties.

From the beginning everything she planned was innovative - she had for example the then revolutionary idea that clubs for girls and boys could be combined - and her youth work, which continued through the Second World War, became in the Fifties the basis for her chairmanship of the Bristol Youth Committee, her appointment as JP and her chairmanship of the Juvenile Bench.

In 1941 she had married Tom Hewer, Professor of Pathology at Bristol University, whose character was as original and determined as her own, and together they set out to create a family and a garden. They bought the Vine House, Henbury, an unremarkable house with land spectacularly facing Blaize Woods, and began a process of planning and planting which resulted in a natural garden, perfectly complementing its setting. Indefatigable travellers, they collected trees and plants from all over Europe, and later Asia, and the garden was their joint achievement. But the sureness of placement and planning probably owe most to her.

As well as bringing up two daughters and two sons, she found time to start both the Friends of the Bristol Art Gallery and the Friends of the Bristol Botanic Gardens, but her most exciting challenge came when, in 1957, she was asked by Elizabeth West to become Chairman of the recently formed Western Theatre Ballet.

WTB was founded by West, with the choreographer Peter Darrell, as a Bristol- based company to bring theatrical values to classical ballet. Young and zestful, it brought a breath of fresh air to British dance, but it was far from secure and Anne Hewer's energy helped it to survive. By 1962, with Darrell at the height of his powers and Muriel Large as Administrator, it had begun to establish itself, when West, on her first holiday for years, was killed in the Alps.

The effect was devastating. Darrell, although he became Director, needed to work elsewhere and it was Hewer who held the company together. She had a great personal success with the doyen of American dance, Ted Shawn, when WTB visited his festival at Jacob's Pillow, and with new confidence began to plan for the company's future. Realising that it had no hope of finding a home in an indifferent Bristol, she first sought an alliance with Sadler's Wells Opera, which foundered, and then, hearing that the Scottish Arts Council were planning a dance company of their own, wrote to the Chairman, Colin Mackenzie, suggesting that it settle in Scotland.

Mackenzie was enthusiastic and, together with Robin Orr of Scottish Opera, they planned the move. After many alarums and excursions - Darrell was at first by no means certain he wanted to go - the company, with Darrell at its head, moved to Glasgow in 1969 to become Scottish Theatre Ballet; it became Scottish Ballet in 1974.

The connection with Scottish Opera did not work, but Hewer sought to broaden the base of the new national company by developing its educational arm and appointed Stuart Hopps for the purpose. She knew that she must retire but would not do so until she had found a Scottish administrator in Robin Anderson and, in Robin Duff, a worthy successor as Chairman. Hewer was appointed OBE in 1977 and awarded an honorary MA by Bristol University in 1980.

In later years her husband Tom required more and more attention and she looked after him with a devotion to which he touchingly responded. By the time he died in 1994, she was exhausted and a series of strokes induced a passivity which, in one who had been so positive, was especially disconcerting. She embraced it however with a doggedness typical of her character. To the end she was what she had always been: very much her own woman.

John Steer

Anne Dorothea Hiatt Baker, charity and arts worker: born Almondsbury, Gloucestershire 28 July 1916; OBE 1977; married 1941 Professor Tom Hewer (died 1994; two sons, two daughters); died Bristol 2 August 1997.