REBECCA WOLF joined the fledgling Consumers Association as 'market intelligence officer' in 1963 and founded its Market Intelligence Unit, which she then ran for 20 years. Hired to take charge of gathering market information for Which?, its monthly bulletin edited by Eirlys Roberts, she became the vital intermediary between the magazine's young Turks, seeking the pure truth about consumer products, and the startled manufacturers and retailers who were being asked to provide it. Her work did much to establish the new organisation's credibility and her systems survive to this day, 10 years after her retirement.
When this small but dynamic woman came to the post from a previous career of part-time research interviewing, the Consumers Association was only six years old. It had been set up by Michael Young (now Lord Young of Dartington) as a consumer co-operative, to provide consumers with accurate, unbiased information about goods and services. Wolf brought her energy and her tact to the task. She appeared to regard her new colleagues as amiable, clever, but quite mad and totally disorganised. The association's survival was clearly a matter of undeserved good luck. She therefore established new procedures and recruited and trained a group of dedicated and devoted young women, whom she both bossed and
Of Dutch Jewish origin, she was born Rebecca Wijnschenk in Amsterdam in 1918, and escaped to England with her parents, brothers and sisters on a trawler immediately after the Nazi invasion of Holland in 1940. Deaf to his advice, her father's brothers and sisters chose to stay behind. Seven uncles and aunts and some 30 cousins perished, a tragedy that affected her deeply, but of which she rarely spoke. In England, she immediately joined the service of the Dutch government-in-exile and worked as editorial secretary on its newspaper Vrij Nederland ('Free Netherlands'). In 1943 she married Edmund Wolf, a playwright of Austrian Jewish origin, recently returned from internment in Canada.
Her husband, her two sons and, subsequently, her six grandchildren were the core of her life. She created for them a place of comfort and beauty, furnished in part with her own beautiful embroideries. But she welcomed neighbours, friends, her children's friends, and colleagues, all of whom she supported with her practical generosity and aided with her advice. Among those children's friends was the writer and lobbyist Rosemary Delbridge, who worked at Which? and then the National Consumer Council, but whose brilliant young life ended in 1981 at the age of 31. It was Rebecca who made possible the organisation of the memorial trust for Rosemary, with its awards for outstanding achievements in lobbying. Winners included Maurice Frankel, of Campaign for Freedom of Information, David Hobman, of Age Concern, and Chrissie Maher, of the Plain English Campaign.
Rebecca Wolf's most striking quality was a Dutch one: she believed it was sensible for human beings to treat each other with mutual respect and generosity. It was the sheer stupidity of mean or hurtful behaviour that outraged her. 'Can't they see how ridiculous it is to behave like that?' she would say.
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