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LOIS HAINSWORTH (1927-2016)

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Journalist and campaigner, Lois Hainsworth was the first-ever woman President of the Chartered Institute of Journalists. Her 89 years were full of grace, style, adventure and activism.

Born between the World Wars into an entrepreneurial family from Nottinghamshire, Lois was of the generation that endured the blitz in London and the privations of war. When asked what she remembered of that time, she said simply “I was scared.”  Yet it steeled her character and among other things, gave her a high pain threshold.

After leaving school in her teens after her matriculation, she did a secretarial course at the same time as studying to sing and at 16 left home and at 19, with help from an inheritance, went to Vienna to study opera.  It was the time of post war partition and there are only glimpses of stories of her adventures at that time, perhaps best left to the imagination.

On her return to London she re-joined the chorus of Covent Garden opera but had to get a part-time job to augment the pay. At a job interview she was asked if she was temperamental. Lois said, “Depends what you mean by temperamental. If you threw a bottle of ink at me, I would pick it up and throw it back.” She got the job. It was as PA to a Director of Rank Films. She lived a life of expense accounts, cocktail parties, haute couture clothes and talent spotting trips for Max Factor. She met a Baha’i at work and investigated this faith. She said she loved Jesus but not “churchianity” and recognized in Baha’u’llah the return of Christ and a way of life that encouraged individual development twinned with service to humanity.

Soon after becoming a Baha’i in 1956, she met Philip, on one month’s R&R from Uganda. After a week they decided to get married, three weeks later they were married and after a month, Lois found herself walking down the steps of the plane at Entebbe airport, leaving behind a budding career singing at Glyndebourne. As Philip worked to eradicate malaria, sleeping sickness and other water borne diseases for the UK government, Lois was immediately involved with this work and spent her first nights in Uganda living in a newly-built hut in a village in the bush. While there she set up an opera company with expats and together they toured schools across Uganda sharing Mozart with students, many of whom had not met a white person before. All the time she was developing her interest in equality, and she joined the International Council of Women (ICW) in 1958.

In order to provide their children with better education without sending them away to boarding school, Lois returned to the UK in 1968, followed by Philip a year later. She began working with the Townswomen’s Guild and was an active member in Leeds. Lois moved to London with Philip in 1976, continuing to work for women and girls, joining the National Council of Women (NCW) in 1981. She was an active member, organizing resolutions at national conferences, and holding a variety of posts from 1982 until 2013 at local, regional and national levels. She developed the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee and editing the NCW national magazine. Her day job, as Public Relations Officer for the Royal Academy of Dancing, led her to join the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

Continuing to travel widely, attending international conferences such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – which she attended from the 1970s until 2005 – Lois joined UNFEEM UK, the UK branch of the then UN agency for women, in 1983, and was elected President in 2001. She raised its profile and ensured that the UK Government knew of its activities. Through these activities she was aware of the suffering of children and women through trafficking and became an active member of the Coalition Against Trafficking. Fired by her usual passion and desire for positive change, she was instrumental in helping Tony Colman MP to get the law changed on trafficking of persons (now incorporated in the Modern Slavery Bill) to ensure a higher penalty for those found guilty of trafficking.

Lois worked hard to develop the Women’s Advisory Council to the United Nations Association of which she was a member from 1982 to 2001, serving as Treasurer, Vice-Chair and Chair. She was chair of the Westminster branch of UNA, with a strong belief in the value of the UN, she encouraged others to be active in work for universal peace and equality. Despite working in PR, writing and editing, bringing up three children, and her voluntary work, she taught herself Russian to add to the French, Italian, German, Spanish and Swahili she already spoke. In 2005 Lois set up the Women of Faith network bringing together feminists of faith. The following year she was awarded the MBE for her work for women, equalities, women of faith, and was recognised as doing this as a Baha’i.

In 2007, Lois did a parachute jump for her 80th birthday. When asked how it was, she said, “Very refreshing, I think I will do another one for my 90th birthday.” In 2013 after organizing a successful conference on forced and early marriage, Lois fell and after a month in hospital was discharged into a care home, shortly moving to More Hall Convent. She gradually declined and whilst she kept her wicked sense of humour and feisty character, her body failed despite her regular drumming classes and hosting a monthly gathering of a devotional nature in the library.

Last October, in typical manner, she hosted a Baha’i gathering in her room, though she was too weak to be downstairs in a meeting room, in her new care home, Scarlet House. Two weeks later she passed away. She was popular with all the staff at the home, and renowned for her loving manner and thankfulness. She touched the hearts of many.

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