OLIVE Messer, who has died aged 83, was Lord Mayor of Bradford in 1984-85. The first woman Jewish Lord Mayor, her term of office ended with the Bradford City fire disaster – and she was instrumental in creating a fund to help the victims and their families that was to become a model for other disasters.
She had been born in Leeds in July 1928 to Dolly and Sidney Dawson. In later years she preferred to be called Olivia. Her parents worked together for over 50 years in Dawsons, their well-known retail household goods business in Leeds.
She moved to Alwoodley when she was young and attended Leeds Girls’ High School until the age of 12. In 1940 with the threat of bombing to Leeds during the Second World War, she was initially moved to Lincoln and then to London, Ontario, Canada, where one of her aunts, Sara, had emigrated.
Olive stayed in Canada for four years, returning in 1944. On her return to Leeds, she attended Yorkshire Ladies’ Secretarial College and after completing her studies she worked as a secretary in the Registrar’s Department at the university until just before her marriage in 1948.
She first met Basil in 1947 at the age of 19, on a blind date, when she was in London for a weekend stay with another aunt, Ann. Basil was at the time a registrar at the Central Middlesex hospital practice.
They began married life at 1 Undercliffe Street in the centre of Bradford, at the inception of the National Health Service on July 5, 1948.
In common with most GPs’ wives in those days, she found that her full-time occupation was as his secretary, receptionist and personal assistant. Fortunately this way of life was not a great shock, as her aunt’s husband in Canada was a doctor and she had some knowledge of what it was like to live in a home which was also a surgery.
Their partnership was most successful despite a relatively short courtship by today’s standards of less than a year and lasted over 61 years until Basil’s death in February 2010.
The couple moved in 1956 from Undercliffe Street to their beloved Glenview Road in Nab Wood. Glenview Road was a true family home, where they regularly entertained their many friends and of which many have fond memories.
Mrs Messer became active in local politics in Shipley, although her entry into politics came by default as her husband was asked to stand for the council but did not consider it wise for a doctor to do so, and hiswork occupied too much of his time.
So his wife replaced him in being a candidate for ward councillor – first in Shipley Central in 1967 and later in Shipley South and West, sitting on Shipley Council and after local government reorganisation in 1974 Bradford Council.
Her efforts were recognised when she was Lord Mayor in 1984. She had a memorable year supporting many functions and always putting Bradford to the fore.
It was typical that she should inaugurate the City of Bradford Rose, as she felt the city should join Leeds, Manchester and other cities with a rose named in its honour – a multiflora with orange highlights on a vermilion base.
Council colleagues helped raise £7,000 to name the City of Bradford rose to mark her retirement present from the Mayoralty to the people of the City.
Her love of gardening and Bradford also intertwined when she was instrumental in the production of an orchid in honour of Bradford.
Her chosen charity during her Mayoral year was Outward Bound, with an emphasis on giving underprivileged children in Bradford an opportunity to gain confidence and expression through learning skills.
She raised £21,000 during her year and after it, she continued with her support for the organisation.
This was recognised when she was given a long service award in 2001 and in the following year her name was listed on the Association’s Diamond Jubilee Roll of Honour and she was made a Life Vice President.
Mrs Messer’s year ended with the tragedy of the Bradford City fire. In the days that followed she met Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. As she said at the time: “Of course it was interesting, but I would have much preferred not to have met them at all than have to meet them in such circumstances.”
She was instrumental in establishing the Bradford Fire Disaster Fund, which is acknowledged as a model for such funds.
Mrs Messer also found time to pursue her interest in education as a school governor at the local Nab Wood primary school. She was a member of the Shipley Conservative Association and a founder member of the Shipley Women’s Conservative Luncheon Club. There, she enjoyed the company of her fellow Conservatives and for a number of years she was the committee member responsible for arranging the guest speakers both political and non-political, many of whom she entertained at Glenview Road.
Throughout her life, Mrs Messer was very proud of her Jewish heritage. She enjoyed mixing with Jewish people as well as celebrating the festivals.
Anyone who met her never forgot her lively outgoing personality.
She was a doer and was never happier than getting out and try to help people, especially the underdog; even if the person concerned sometimes was unaware they needed help. Sitting still was not an option.
She was a loving mother to Ruth and Laurence and a welcoming mother-in-law to Edwina and Simon.
She was also a much-loved grandmother to Kate and Georgie and delighted in their company and achievements.