Rosemary Murphy, who has died at 68, was a pioneer in early years learning, the founder of Huddersfield’s Portland Nurseries and the National Day Nurseries Association charity.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness to Amy Wright (nee Berry) and the late Frank Harrison Wright, a head foreman joiner at Vickers Shipbuilding, her childhood was spent on the beach at Walney Island and at Barrow Girls’ Grammar, where she excelled in art, ballet, tennis and swimming.
After sixth form, in 1968, she left home to train as an art teacher in Reading, with a year at East Michigan University in 1970.
She married Michael Murphy, an international rugby league prop forward from Liverpool, who was playing for Barrow at the time. The footballer Emlyn Hughes had introduced them at a party.
They spent their first year of married life in Carcassonne, France, where he was a player/coach. He went on to play for St. Helens, Bradford Northern and for clubs in Australia and France as his wife perused her training and career in teaching.
They settled in Huddersfield in 1989 when Michael rescued the local rugby league club from liquidation, becoming chairman and bringing it back up the leagues.
It was in Lindley, Huddersfield, in 1991, that Rosemary’s passion for education led her to open her own children’s nursery. The business acquired three other nurseries and cared for more than 7,000 children over a quarter of a century, in the process raising £100,000 for WaterAid, Children in Need, Candlelighters and other charities.
In 1998, having been the national chair for three years, she was appointed chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association. She fought hard for the early years sector to have a place in national debate and won charitable status for the organisation as it rolled out a programme of support, advice, training and quality improvement schemes across the country.
She believed that care should be universal, irrespective of social background, and, with government backing, helped to set up eight regional centres in areas of deprivation, offering day care to support parents who wanted to return to work.
She believed, said her friend and colleague, Mike Thompson, that the foundations for life were laid in the formative years. “She knew the providers couldn’t make the difference to which we were all committed unless we spoke together and louder,” he said.
Her work for the sector was recognised in 2001 by an OBE.
She retired from the organisation in 2005 to begin a programme of upgrading and developing her own nurseries. In 2014, after a cancer diagnosis, she handed over their running to of her children.
In the same year, she was named the Most Influential Person in Childcare at the Nursery Management Today awards.
She and Michael had four children, Michael, Anastasia, Léoncia and Francesca, and four grandchildren.