In 2020 and 2021, listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme were given regular updates on my mother Tricia Blakstad’s descent into dementia, exacerbated by the isolation imposed by lockdown. Though her husband, Michael, was regularly interviewed about her story, she had no idea she had become a national talking point.
When Tricia, who has died aged 81, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019, Michael already had Parkinson’s. The couple moved to a retirement village, but by the time the pandemic struck, her condition had worsened and she moved again, into a care home, in July 2020.
Michael accompanied her into the home, worried about the potential effects of isolation, but was unable to stay with her long because of the restrictions. Over the following year, she was isolated in her bedroom for 17 weeks in total, with no visitors beyond masked carers bringing meals and medication.
Unsurprisingly, her Alzheimer’s worsened at an unusually rapid rate, and she was moved to a nursing home more specialised in dementia care. Her health improved in these new surroundings, but her cognitive powers continued to decline until she finally lost the struggle.
Tricia was born in Chorley, Lancashire, to Robert Wotherspoon, the local county solicitor, and his wife, Beryl (nee Jackson). She went to Cheltenham Ladies’ college and then, after her parents vetoed the idea of a fine art degree, studied architecture at Sheffield University, where she met Michael Blakstad, who was then a trainee television director.
After Tricia switched to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, she took a holiday relief job at the BBC’s design department and was soon confirmed in a staff job, designing scenery for series including Doctor Who and Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
She married Michael in 1965. They had three children in quick succession, and given the BBC’s then less enlightened attitude to maternity leave, she was forced to step down from her job. Later, when the children were older, she retrained as a computer programmer and worked in that role for the London borough of Hammersmith.
In 1980 Michael became director of programmes for Television South and the family moved to East Meon in Hampshire, where for 40 years Tricia was a key figure in village life. Once there she was finally able to study for her fine arts degree, at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham, and she also became a director of the Beatrice Royal art gallery in nearby Eastleigh.
She is survived by Michael, by their children, Karen, Sofie and me, five grandchildren, Bjorn, Francesca, Sofia, Benedict and Matteo, and brother Ian.