My aunt, Mary Mitchell, who has died aged 96, was possibly the first woman to make the move from practical nursing on the hospital ward into the male-dominated world of hospital planning, first at the Ministry of Health and then as a consultant to architects designing hospitals around the world.
She was born in Malta, the daughter of Richard LeQuesne Mitchell, who worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company, and his wife, Mary Ann (nee Wyllie), a headteacher. Her mother died giving birth to Mary and her twin (Wendy, my mother). Her father died five years later of a cerebral haemorrhage, leaving his second wife, Gertrude, to raise the three small children from his first marriage. Mary attended St Katharine’s school, Wantage, and then became a Nightingale nurse (a graduate of the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas’ hospital, London).
After tending the wounded during the blitz, she held senior nursing posts at St Thomas’. In 1953, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to attend Columbia University, New York. From there, she went to the Peter Bent Brigham hospital in Boston. In 1958, she was appointed director of nursing at Ankara hospital – the first British matron in Turkey since Florence Nightingale.
She gave this all up when my mother became seriously ill in the late 50s and Mary came back to the UK to support our family. But her talents as a nursing planner were recognised and in the early 60s she became the first nursing officer appointed to the Department of Health and Social Security, where she ensured that the needs of nurses were met in the planning of the series of “best buy” hospitals built in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1971, Mary was appointed MBE. In the 1970s, she embarked on two more ventures, one as a consultant for a firm of international hospital planners and the other as tutor and lecturer at the Polytechnic of North London (now London Metropolitan University) on a course for postgraduate architects, administrators and nurses from around the world.
She loved meeting people from different countries and enjoyed introducing her students to the English countryside, entertaining them at her Cotswolds cottage, where she lived independently until her death.
She is survived by two nephews, me and Justin, and two nieces, Romilly and Dicke.