My aunt, Mona Warren, who has died aged 94, recently recalled how, when she was the only female solicitor in Cornwall during the early 1960s, those addressing Cornwall Law Society meetings would begin: “Gentlemen and Miss Warren”.
After ill-health prevented her completing a chemistry degree at the University College of South West of England (now the University of Exeter) in the 40s, she learned shorthand working at the Methodist Missionary Society in London before becoming an articled clerk in St Buryan, Cornwall, where she lived, and subsequently a solicitor in Penzance.
Mona experienced severe epilepsy from young adulthood until late middle age. My parents had moved from Cornwall to Stevenage in 1957, and in 1973, when Mona was unable to live alone, she came to stay with us.
Despite adversity, Mona was active in many fields, volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau (now Citizens Advice) and the Samaritans, and becoming a Labour councillor for Broadwater ward in Stevenage in 1989, and vice-chair of Hertfordshire county council in the 1990s. She was re-elected as councillor for Broadwater in 1993, retiring at the 1997 election.
When I was a boy, Mona took me to a court hearing where she was the defence solicitor. Afterwards I asked her how she could defend people who were guilty. Her response stayed with me: “That is not for me to decide – their case should be heard.”
Justice was core to Mona’s outlook – but social justice, not just narrow legalism. She gave witness to this in many ways: as a Methodist lay preacher in the 1960s, a national director of CND (1998-2000), and a member of the executive committee of the Christian Socialist Movement in the 1990s.
Mona was born on the Isle of Man. Her parents, Lily (nee Radcliffe) and William Warren (known as Norman), were Methodist missionaries. They had to leave their home in China in 1927 when the country was experiencing increasing violence.
My mother, Mary, remembered the journey, recounting how, with their mother pregnant with Mona, their father hired a sampan, declining a naval boat proposed by the British consul, fearing this would make things worse.
An encounter with “bandits” at one point was resolved, although their luggage was lost. Perhaps learning of this episode contributed to Mona’s tremendous ability in advocacy and negotiation.
Mona attended Trinity Hall in Southport, a boarding school for girls provided by the Methodist church in order to avoid any disruption to their education. In the 20s and 30s, Methodist ministers, such as my grandfather, were required to move frequently.
After settling in Stevenage in the 70s, Mona remained there, living with a close friend, until moving back to Cornwall, to Saltash, where my parents were then living, in 2003.
Mona is survived by her nephews, Rod and me, five great-nephews and two great-great nieces.