Pat Finnon obituary

Other lives: Charity manager, counsellor and lifelong volunteer

In 1997, my wife, Pat Finnon, who has died of cancer aged 63, began managing a small Newcastle charity, ASCA (Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse), leading a counselling service for people coming to terms with abusive childhoods. She spoke passionately about this in local media and raised issues and funds to develop the charity’s work and quality of service. She later became northern UK manager of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), a charity supporting homeless and elderly people, and helping run bail hostels. Her first encounter with cancer ended this role, but she returned to work as a counsellor, dealing with many client groups, a notable example being train drivers who had witnessed suicides, helping them find the emotional strength to face work again.

Pat was born in Sunderland, the fourth of eight children in a poor and emotionally challenging environment. She knew from an early age that education was her only escape. A bright, determined child and avid reader, she passed her 11+ to go to the local grammar school, but her mother’s early death forced her to leave at 16.

She eventually left home to work for the Prudential insurance company in Newcastle, in time becoming a senior manager in the northern region. There she was part of a cohort of young female employees forging new roles and demanding equality in a male-dominated environment. In 1992, she left this secure career to realise her ambition to attend university, having passed A-levels at evening classes. Both during and after university, she worked for periods in Chile and Spain, teaching English, before joining ASCA.

Throughout her life, Pat was a keen runner (Great North runs, Blaydon race, etc), madly competitive at everything from badminton to Hungry Hippos, and a strong hill walker. In our 23 years together we walked the hills of the UK and Europe, especially in southern Spain and Majorca. Pat spoke Spanish well and we made new, great friends during two winters spent in Spain, before cancer struck again in late 2012.

Pat was a lifelong volunteer, leading weekend breaks for disadvantaged children, working in soup kitchens, delivering library books and helping promote the ¡VAMOS! festival in Newcastle. ¡Vamos! (“let’s go”) could have been a watchword for her life.

More than anything, though, Pat loved people, loved talking to them and seeking to understand the mad complexity of the human mind. She built a surrogate family of strong friendships wherever she lived. She often said: “If you survived my childhood, nothing frightened you afterwards.” Pat had survived with the great help of free education, the welfare state and the NHS. She was a socialist and humanist who knew that not everyone had the best start in life, but believed everyone deserved chances to develop and grow.

She is survived by me and by her seven siblings.

• This article was amended on 21 January 2016 to remove some childhood details.

Brendan Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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