Obituary: Kay Baxter

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The Independent Online
Kathleen Mary Carver fforde, journalist, dramatist, teacher: born Bulandshahar, India 16 September 1904; Secretary, Cambridge University Women's Appointments Board 1944-66; Tutor and Director of Studies in Theology, Newnham College, Cambridge 1963- 66; married 1931 Frank Baxter (died 1943); died Soham, Cambridgeshire 3 January 1994.

KAY BAXTER moved in many different worlds: schools, journalism, the theatre, Cambridge University, government commissions, the religious affairs of the Church of England and of the BBC. She was not an aggressive feminist; but she quietly notched up a number of firsts for women. As Secretary of the Cambridge University Women's Appointments Board from 1944 until 1966, she was the first to work on the subject of women's employment after leaving the university. She was the first woman to be on the Council of Westcott House, the Cambridge theological college. And, in 1971, she was the first woman to conduct the Good Friday service in Westminster Abbey.

She was born Kathleen fforde in 1904, in India, the eldest daughter of an Indian Civil Service judge. The children's lives were peripatetic, anchored by their grandmother's home at 59 Gordon Square, in London. By the time Kay was accepted at St Albans High School she had been to at least six schools. She was an undergraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge, from 1923 to 1927, reading Medieval and Modern Languages.

There followed two years at RADA and two years with Birmingham Repertory. In 1931 her life's direction was changed by marriage to a fellow actor, Major Frank Baxter. For 12 years they enjoyed West End theatre, Glyndebourne and the Malvern Festival. He was killed in 1943, when his plane returning home crashed on the runway. She told an enchanting story of how they jointly dealt with his occasional outbursts of fury. They kept a stock of dilapidated plates. When Frank was tense with pent-up feeling, he would manage to say 'Fetch me a plate.' The plate was duly smashed and the fury with it.

From 1931 to 1941 Kay Baxter taught English by day at the Cone School, Regent Street, in London, and by night at the LCC Institute. She ran her own school for small children for some of the time, and taught for a short spell at Cheltenham Ladies' College. There followed two years (1942-43) with the Amalgamated Press as journalist and sub-editor; and another two (1942-44) as Secretary to the Joint Agency for Women Teachers. In 1944 she settled in Cambridge as Secretary of the Cambridge University Women's Appointments Board. Women were still struggling to enhance their status in the university and then to find employment which matched their intelligence and qualifications. Baxter's work in advancing this cause is recognised as one of her major achievements. During her period in Cambridge she served too as a member of the Royal Commission on Dentists' and Doctors' Remuneration (1957- 60), and she joined the Archbishop's Committee on Women in Holy Orders (1964) and the Central Religious Advisory Council of the BBC (1965-69).

At an age when most people were thinking of retirement, Baxter developed yet further interests. She returned to Newnham College in 1963 as Tutor and Director of Studies in Theology. Officially she retired in 1966 from all her Cambridge work, to fulfil a promise made to her parents that she would live with her sister Phyllis in Surrey, who had suffered much illness. Although she missed Cambridge, she characteristically concentrated on much that was to be enjoyed. From 1965 to 1974, she regularly toured the United States, lecturing on theatre and religion under the auspices of the Association of American Colleges.

Kay Baxter's favourite interest was religious drama. She wrote three successful plays of her own: Pull Devil, Pull Baker (1947), a verse mime with music; Gerald of Wales (1951); and the Southwark Cathedral Festival of Britain play Your Trumpets Angels (1951). Both the latter were commissioned by the Arts Council.

After her sister's death in 1987, she returned to her beloved East Anglia. By then her health prevented her from enjoying Cambridge to the full; but she retained to the very end her sharp insight, intelligence, and interest in her fellow human beings.

(Photograph omitted)

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