My mother, Mary Smith, who has died aged 88, was a social activist committed to justice and peace; she always wanted to help those in need.
Born in Southwark, south London, she was the daughter of Catherine (nee Maloney) and Albert Gates, a postman, who were active locally in Labour politics. They both served as mayor of Southwark and Mary, aged 17, was the official consort when her mother was mayor.
She attended Notre Dame school in Elephant and Castle and her father found her a job in a bank, but Mary hated it and left to become an organiser for the Young Christian Workers (YCW). This was a movement established by the worker priest Joseph Cardijn, and its focus was on social justice for working people. Mary travelled the UK to do this work and made a network of lifelong friends in doing so. She also met my father, Terry Smith, who shared her Catholic faith and was a volunteer with the YCW.
Following their marriage in 1961, they first lived in south London before moving to Waterlooville, near Portsmouth, Hampshire, for Terry’s work as an engineer. Mary focused on raising their three daughters. In the early 1970s they relocated to the Isle of Wight, where Mary stood as a Liberal councillor in an “unwinnable” seat, which she won. She worked hard for the people in her ward in Ryde, which was a deprived area.
A highly intelligent woman, like many of her generation from a working-class background she never attended university. However, when she moved back to London with the family in the 90s, she studied at the UCL Institute of Education. In 1995 she gained an advanced diploma in counselling and interpersonal skills, which she then used locally in Beckenham, south London, volunteering for the Samaritans and a bereavement counselling charity.
She was an active parishioner at her local catholic church of St Edmund’s and remained committed to the cause of social justice. During this period, she was appointed to the role of justice and peace co-ordinator for the Southwark diocese.
In retirement Mary continued to actively support her justice and peace group at St Edmund’s and with her volunteer bereavement work, as well as helping to care for her grandchildren. After Terry died in 2007, and with the onset of Alzheimer’s, Mary’s world seemed to shrink. She spent her last two years in a care home.
She is survived by her daughters, Susie, Claire and me, as well as four grandchildren.