OBITUARY:Patricia Fisher

Portavo Point, a large white 1930s building, sits on a promontory on the north coast of Co Down, facing the Copeland Islands and the Atlantic. For over 25 years it was the fiefdom and home of Patricia Fisher, and, inadvertently, the reason for her becoming the first woman member of Parliament for a seat in Northern Ireland.

Portavo Point had been built by her father, Sir Walter Smiles, who for many years was MP for North Down, until, in 1953, he went down with 128 others in the Princess Victoria, the Larne-Stranraer car ferry which sank during a storm, within sight of Portavo. In those days the idea of a family seat still existed in the Ulster Unionist Party and Patsie Ford (she was married in 1941 to Neville Ford) was returned unopposed at a by- election in her father's place.

She remained in the Commons for only two years, retiring at the general election of 1955, and many people put this down to her rather unfortunate beginning. In an article for the Sunday Express she innocently described her first week in the House, including her first all-night sitting and a description of Bessie Braddock and Edith Summerskill snoring. Both women objected strongly to such an improper exposure of what happened in ''our own private apartments'', as the Speaker termed the Commons in his stern reprimand; and Patsie Ford's first speech in the Commons had to be an apology. ''It is sometimes difficult to see in the dark,'' she said.

Furthermore, when she appeared in a photograph attending a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass at the Brompton Oratory, her constituents took grave offence, and she was expelled from the women's branch of the Orange Order, membership of which was then virtually obligatory for any aspiring MP.

Politics for Patricia Ford became less and less congenial, and she stood down, although politics was to stay in her family. One of her two daughters with Neville Ford married the Conservative MP Sir Michael Grylls. And her second husband was her former colleague Nigel Fisher, then Tory MP for Surbiton, later a junior minister for the Commonwealth and Colonies under Harold Macmillan. Nigel and Patricia Fisher were kindred spirits: he, welcoming the "wind of change" and opposed to any form of racialism at home; she, open-minded and irreverent.

Patsie Fisher's boundless energy involved her in many voluntary organisations. She founded the Women Caring Trust and worked tirelessly for needy and deprived children in Northern Ireland, and had been the trust's Chairman or President for the past 23 years.

Also, as the great- granddaughter of Samuel Smiles, the Victorian apostle of "self-help'', and as the great-niece of Mrs Beeton of Household Management fame, she set up a company to market preserves and other foodstuffs under the Beeton banner.

During the Second World War she threw herself into the women's effort to find more food. Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the Londonderry family, remembers her mother arranging for Patsie Ford to learn how to plough on the estate at Mountstewart. They were close friends and used to go sailing together in River Class boats on Strangford Lough. Sailing, as well as politics, ran in the family. Her father was a keen helmsman and her son-in-law Michael Grylls is a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Patsie Fisher was a woman of irrepressible vivacity, and there was always something special about parties at Portavo Point, especially at Christmas when the tree, the focus of attention in the huge bay-window overlooking the sea, was each year decked out in an even more imaginative array of exotic baubles.

Roy Bradford

Patricia Smiles, politician and entrepreneur: born 5 April 1921; MP (Ulster Unionist) for North Down 1953-55; married 1941 Neville Ford (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1956), 1956 Nigel Fisher (Kt 1974); died 23 May 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence