Helen Cunningham obituary

Other lives: Dedicated occupational therapist who worked in West Africa and Britain

My mother, Helen Cunningham, who has died aged 85, was a dedicated occupational therapist in West Africa and Britain. She was also a fervent campaigner for social justice.

Helen believed that "just because life isn't fair doesn't mean that one shouldn't strive to make it fair". She did this through a lifetime of volunteering for centre-left political parties as well as active participation in both Amnesty International and Justice and Peace, including chairing its Cardiff group in 1995. She gave to charities working for refugees and the homeless, and those campaigning against animal cruelty and torture; the last cheque she wrote was for Crisis at Christmas.

This passion was, in part, formed by her father, Harold, a bank manager, who did voluntary work with underprivileged young adults; he was concerned that they were more likely to be arrested and treated more harshly than those from a privileged background. Her mother, Gertrude, taught her a love of animals and the importance of treating them humanely.

Born Helen Lewis in Hale, Manchester, she went to school in Seascale, Cumbria. After Manchester Art College, her caring and practical nature, patience and problem-solving skills led her to train as an occupational therapist at the Astley Ainslie hospital, Edinburgh, in 1945. She initially specialised in psychiatry at the Warneford hospital, Oxford, and then, in 1955, she pioneered occupational therapy at Aro psychiatric hospital in Abeokuta, Nigeria. After her return to Britain in 1962 and time in Devon, she specialised in geriatrics, retiring as head of occupational therapy at St David's hospital, Cardiff, in 1987.

Raised as a Methodist, Helen became an Anglican and later a Catholic. As befitting someone who, as a child, told her parents that men would walk on the moon in her lifetime, Helen celebrated the new and believed in progress.

She is survived by me and my sister, Ali.

Philip Cunningham

The GuardianTramp

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