My grandmother Mary West, who has died aged 103, was an independent spirit, a matriarch and an active community figure in Somerset.
Born two months after the end of the first world war at her maternal grandparents’ house on the Isle of Wight, Mary never knew her father, who was killed during the last weeks of the war. A few years later her mother, Alma (nee Haynes), a grocery shop worker, married Harold Singleton, with whom she had a son, John.
The family settled in Purfleet, Essex, and Mary went to Grays Convent high school, where she was quite a handful. On an exchange trip to a convent near Lille in France, she climbed out of a bedroom window and slipped away to a nightclub.
After leaving school Mary trained as a secretary. During the second world war she worked at the Bank of England as a confidential secretary to the governor, Montagu Norman, as the blitz raged around London. The core staff had sleeping quarters in the bank vaults, and despite a strict daytime dress code, she remembered having to deliver urgent telex messages to the governor in her nightclothes.
In 1942 Mary married Roger West, a captain in the airborne division of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and they had three children, Mark, Andrew and Crispin. In 1952 they all moved to Wraxall in Somerset, where Mary worked tirelessly to provide a loving, caring and warm home. This included rearing a variety of animals, including goats, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. Milk came from Clarabel, the much-loved house cow.
Mary contributed in many ways to the community around her, including through service as a youth counsellor and magistrate at Long Ashton, as chair of the local youth court, and as a founder member of, and fundraiser for, St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol.
She and Roger travelled widely across the Americas, Africa and Asia, and went on many trips to see Andrew, a doctor in Bermuda, where she was occasionally invited to sit as a visiting magistrate.
Mary had a love of cars, and was still was driving at 102; she detested being driven by anyone else. A few years ago when she was unwell, a doctor called an ambulance and she insisted to the crew that if she had to go with them, then she must do the driving, as she had driven ambulances in the war. Her offer was politely refused.
An insatiable reader, in particular of novels and biographies, Mary never missed the daily newspaper. She cared greatly for her donkeys and her dog, and ever curious about technology, was a regular email and social media user.
Roger died in 2001, Crispin in 2002, and her grandson Matthew in 2018. She is survived by Mark and Andrew, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.