My mother, Una Freeston, who has died aged 93, was a child psychiatrist dedicated to helping families stay together, resolve their difficulties, and move on to happier times. She improved countless families’ lives with her kind but determined approach to family therapy.
Born in Pinner, Middlesex, Una was the daughter of Mabel (nee Cassells), a doctor, and Brian Freeston, a foreign office civil servant. When the second world war broke out, Brian requested and was given a position in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in order to keep his three daughters away from wartime Britain.
The school thought most suitable for the girls was a boarding establishment in Tuari, Kenya, and so from the age of 13 Una and her sisters travelled for five days on trains, buses and a boat across Lake Victoria to get to school each term. This experience, together with her parents’ encouragement to be independent and free-spirited, was seminal in developing my mother’s character.
After her time in Africa, at age 16 Una attended pre-med at McGill University in Canada, then in 1946 went on to medical school at St George’s hospital in London, where she met my father, Kit Pedler, a doctor and opthalmologist who turned to writing. He co-created the television series Doomwatch in the late 1960s and the Cybermen for Doctor Who, and wrote books such as The Quest for Gaia.
They married in 1949 and settled in London. After working as a doctor at Mary Datchelor school in Camberwell Green, south London, when we were all young children, Una studied to become a psychiatrist at the nearby Maudsley hospital, going on to work at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington until she was offered a consultant psychiatrist position at St Augustine’s hospital near Canterbury in 1975, which entailed a move to the village of Lower Hardres in Kent.
The NHS required her to retire at the age of 65 but mum did not want to stop work – she enjoyed it too much – so she carried on working on medico-legal cases until the age of 75.
A Quaker, she was extraordinarily generous (“I want to die penniless,” she always said) and believed in the power of love. She was fearless and saw no reason why, for example, at the age of 80, in 2008, she should not do a tandem parachute jump and travel around the world on her own – including through Afghanistan.
She came back intact and full of adventure stories, including of having a photo taken on the back of a motorbike with a Kalashnikov, despite her pacifist beliefs.
Kit died in 1981 and their son, Mark, died in 2012. She is survived by her three other children, Carol, me and Justin, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.