JOYCE WAINWRIGHT, who has died aged 88, was a Yorkshire political wife, but one with a mind of her own. For more than half a century, she supported her husband Richard in desperately close battles to win and retain Colne Valley for the Liberals, while making a quieter name for herself within the party and other fields.
A devoted Methodist, she believed that faith required action, a principle which she took to the extent of visiting guerilla bases in Guinea Bissau, West Africa, on behalf of the Rowntree Reform Trust while the colonial Portuguese air force was carrying out bombing raids in 1971.
A large python skin, presented to her and her husband during the fact-finding mission which led to school and hospital grants, still decorates their former home in Adel, Leeds. Three prime milking goats, another gift, had to be left behind.
Mrs Wainwright was essential to her husband’s success, a role recognised in the Colne Valley where she was hugely popular. She chaired the local Women Liberals and sat on the WL national executive for a decade. After Richard Wainwright’s death in 2003, she became president of North West Leeds Liberal Democrats and was delighted when the seat was captured by the current incumbent, Greg Mulholland, two years later.
She was a feisty operator, excellent on the doorstep where her curiosity and pleasure at meeting people made her a renowned canvasser. Nationally, she promoted women’s issues and intervened when she felt that fundamental issues were at stake. During the Jeremy Thorpe affair, she placarded the Liberal Assembly in 1975 with home-made posters, demanding that members were told the truth.
Mrs Wainwright came from an Anglican and generally conservative family, the oldest of five children of Arthur and Emmeline Hollis of Roundhay, Leeds. Her father was a Leeds estate agent and principal warden at the Parish Church, but he had a twinkle which made him a sought-after conference speaker, and elements of radicalism forged by his capture as a Royal Flying Corps pilot in the First World War. Emmeline also never forgot the horrors caused by inept statesmanship which she witnessed as a nurse on the Western Front.
Mrs Wainwright took up nursing too, serving in Guy’s Hospital, London, during the Blitz. She was nearly broken by the experience, but it gave her instinctive comradeship with her future husband when they met after the Second World War.
Richard Wainwright was a conscientious objector who commanded columns of the Friends Ambulance Unit during the D-Day advance, and was later involved in regeneration work in Germany. His experience of concentration camps and the Nazi persecution of religious opponents – the German equivalent of his Quaker and Methodist friends – ran deep.
The Wainwrights’ partnership saw Joyce share Richard’s dedication to Gipton Methodist chapel, set up when the former central mission in Lady Lane moved out to the new estates to be with its congregation, rehoused from the Quarry Hill, Eastgate and Bank slums. Chapel members were among many people and groups who used the Wainwrights’ celebrated delphinium garden in Adel for fairs, parties and fund-raisers, over which Joyce merrily presided.
A member of Leeds Methodist Choir and Horsforth Choral Society, she also served on the Metcalf-Smith charitable trust, the board of Forest Hill elderly people’s home and the Single Woman and Her Dependent Relative charity. She was a voluntary waitress for a decade at the Meeting Point café run by churches in Harehills, where she became famous, as she grew older, for her eccentric (and for the customers, usually profitable) ways with the till.
Joyce Wainwright leaves her daughters Hilary and Tessa, son Martin and five grandchildren. Her younger son Andrew died in 1974. She died peacefully after an infection at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, with family members around her. Debating to the end, as she slipped into a deep sleep, she signified “Yes” to family questions about everything from her possible next meal to politics, by wriggling her toes.