Barbara Dodds, former Nato worker

Barbara Dodds, who has died at 81, was an international secretary and self-styled 'woman of mystery' whose career took her to Nato and the White House, where she dined with the First Lady, Barbara Bush, using cutlery made in her native Sheffield.

Barbara Dodds
Barbara Dodds

Born shortly before the war, she went to Notre Dame High School and then to Whiteley College, where she trained in book-keeping, shorthand and typing.

Having worked for four years for Williams Deacons Bank in Sheffield and Manchester, she moved to Lobitos Oilfields in London and then to the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, organising single-handedly a large conference at the Royal Albert Hall.

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A period at NATO in Brussels followed in the mid-1960s, in which she worked for the head of naval armaments in northern Europe, facing down the Soviet bloc. In her later years, she liked to give the impression that the work was shrouded in mystery and even espionage.

In 1969, she set off on a series of international travels, working in universities in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Settling in York in 1970, she took up a post at the newly developing campus of the university at Heslington, as personal secretary to Professor Jack Wiseman at the Institute of Social and Economic Research. She headed up and trained an increasing number of staff dealing with research proposals, while typing up the notes of civil servants preparing Cabinet briefings. Not always in tune with her boss, she famously threw her expensive IBM golf ball typewriter out of the window.

An invitation to take up two periods of secondment to Clark University in Massachusetts saw her organising international conferences and accepting an invitation from the First Lady, who inquired as to her home city. “Sheffield, where I see your cutlery comes from,” Ms Dodds replied.

From 1992, she ran her own secretarial business working for British Rail on railway accident investigations, for which she trained herself in signalling management. She also worked for the High Sheriff’s office and took over the computerisation of the inventory of the local RAF stations, working at Linton on Ouse.

In retirement, she volunteered for Age Concern and was secretary to York Research on Ageing.