Mary Sudbury obituary

Other lives: Female engineer who later became an energetic community worker

My mother, Mary Sudbury, who has died aged 84, was a trailblazing female engineer. In 1954, straight from university, she joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire, where she worked in the wind tunnels on the development of the supersonic airliner Concorde.

After several happy years there she became fed up when a new boss arrived and, as the only woman among the engineers, she was always asked to make coffee for visitors. She had married George Sudbury in 1959, and she left Farnborough when she had her first child. The family moved to Edinburgh in 1962 when George began work at the Royal Observatory. Later Mary became a maths teacher and subsequently set up a project supporting people with disabilities in accessing adult education.

Mary attended the Scottish Episcopal church in Edinburgh but walked out during a sermon that suggested nuclear weapons might bring some good to the world. She found the Society of Friends and became a Quaker. She believed we are all called to leave the world a better place than we found it and that God is the good in everyone.

Her community work included reading to a blind woman, visiting prisoners, setting up a rent guarantee scheme, housing refugees and taking part in the Quaker initiative Circles of Concern, which supports ex-offenders to re-enter society.

Raised in Eccles, Greater Manchester, Mary was the daughter of Thomas Johnson, who worked at Agecroft Colliery, and his wife, Winifred (nee Warrington), an elocution teacher also known for her talent at comedy. Mary’s childhood memories were of bombing raids, getting lost in the smog, fraternising with German PoWs, playing hockey at county level and ducking out of art lessons.

After leaving Pendleton high school, she took a maths degree at Westfield College, University of London, before joining RAE Farnborough. After having two children together, Mary and George adopted two mixed-race children, a step that led to Mary’s father cutting off contact with her. The long-term effect was to give a confidence to her children and grandchildren that families are about far more than blood.

Recently she struggled with dementia. The challenge of losing cognitive abilities never managed to take away her mischievous sense of humour, nor her concern for those on the margins. Even in her last years, Mary would find an appropriate moment in the conversation to declare, “We are all equal in the sight of God!” She would leave a pause before adding, “Whatever we mean by God.”

She is survived by me and my siblings, Peter, Mark and Chinyere, seven grandchildren and her brother, Peter.

Marian Sudbury

The GuardianTramp

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