Patricia Cook JP

Patricia Cook

Patricia Cook

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PATRICIA Cook, who has died aged 87, was one of the first women to get a Cambridge degree. She flew with the RAF reserve, tested survival suits in the River Tay, and later became involved with numerous organisations and supported many good causes.

She served two periods on North Yorkshire County Council and, as a perfectionist, brought energy and enthusiasm to all that she did.

Mrs Cook was the eldest of the four children born to James and Christine Brooke. Their mother (née Hudson) was a direct descendant of George Hudson, the Railway King and a Lord Mayor of York – the entrepreneur who brought the railways to York.

Preston Brooke, the family business of clothiers and cloth makers, was based in Leeds, and it was to Leeds Girls’ High School that Mr and Mrs Brooke sent their eldest child.

She set her heart on going to Cambridge after her father took her there for a visit when she was 10, but her route might have been barred by an act of high spirits.

At her next school, Howells School in Denbigh, North Wales, she made an apple-pie bed for her housemistress, and then a lamp got broken, for which she was blamed, and she was asked to leave.

Her father took no notice, however, and at the start of the next term sent her back by train anyway. Uncertain of how she would be received, she found the incident had apparently been brushed away, and to Newnham, Cambridge – to read economics – she eventually went.

The year was 1944 when women were still not admitted to the university’s societies and activities. One of her lecturers always began with the words “Good morning gentlemen”, despite seven young women sitting in the front row. He was a poor lecturer and eventually the men drifted away, leaving only the women. He walked in, looked around, muttered “no one is here” and walked out.

In the spring of 1945, Mrs Cook was selected to row in the Women’s Boat Race against Oxford. No one except the participants took any interest in the event and it was not reported in any publication.

She returned to the family business following the death of her brother Warwick at 19, killed by the kidney disease which later claimed her youngest brother, Richard, then at Trinity College, Cambridge, and aged 21.

She took up flying at the weekends and, on the suggestion of a friend, applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve. She was to attend No. 7 Reserve Flying School at Linton-on-Ouse, but first had to qualify for a commission. This meant passing exams in navigation, aviation, meteorology and engineering, and for the would-be officer, engineering was the most problematical.

Luckily, at Sherburn Flying Club a young man called Roy Cook came to the rescue, teaching her the elements of the internal combustion engine.

They were to marry, and she was to pass all the exams; indeed, she passed them so well that she was asked to join the Intelligence section. But she wanted to fly, and taken up in a Tiger Moth – a plane she had never flown before – was soon attempting her first loop-the-loop.

Following the introduction of jet fighters, she tested survival suits at RAF Leuchars in Fife by being dropped into the Tay from a helicopter.

After a sharp-eyed MP noticed in the defence estimates that there was only one female volunteer reserve in the RAF, Mrs Cook was discharged, having spent 16 years in it.

In the early and late 1970s she had two spells on the North Yorkshire County Council, her areas of special interest being education and social services.

She played a significant role in the opening of the new Selby College; she was a magistrate on the Selby bench for 27 years; was involved with the English Speaking Union, the North Yorkshire Cambridge Society, the European Union of Women and was responsible for raising the funds for the new RSPCA animal home while she was chairman.

She was also a member of York race course for over 40 years, enjoyed gardening and liked to travel, visiting 87 countries. Aged 82, she flew her daughter in a small light plane across the mountains of South Island, New Zealand, from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Five years later she went dog sledding in Norway.

Mrs Cook is survived by her children Diana, Victoria and James, and six grandchildren.

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