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Tribute to Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: 17 July 1927 – 14 April 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Lord McColl of Dulwich

Lord McColl of Dulwich

3 min read

A former dentist and the first Australian woman peer, Trixie Gardner was one of life’s 'doers', still working at the age of 96. With her tremendous work ethic, determination and humour, she was conscientious to her core

Baroness Gardner of Parkes was the first Australian woman appointed to the House of Lords and, with determination and good cheer, gave over 40 years of dedicated service.

Still working at the age of 96, the House of Lords has lost one of its longest serving members. Usually known by her middle name of Trixie, Baroness Gardner of Parkes had, well into her 90s, remained one of most committed members of the Lords with an attendance record of which she was rightly proud.

Before coming to the United Kingdom, Trixie won a place to study dentistry at the University of Sydney in 1954, but it was a shortage of work for new dentists in Australia that prompted Trixie and her new husband Kevin (also a dentist) to move to Islington, where they established a successful practice. Her family had been active in Labor politics in New South Wales, and she and her husband soon entered the fray of London politics. Though Trixie joined the Conservative Party, she insisted that she had learnt from her father that politics was not about personal agendas and, perhaps remembering the Hippocratic oath, said: “I have always simply wanted to help people.”

Conscientious to her core, Trixie combined a generous sense of humour with a tremendous work ethic. Her approach to parliamentary business was not only sensible and well-informed, but sufficiently relentless to get things done. I’m certain it was her sense of determination and clarity of purpose that caught the attention of Mrs Thatcher when she sent Trixie to the House of Lords, seeking a new generation of political “doers”.

Retirement simply wasn’t an option for Trixie: 43 years after joining the Lords, she remained determined to carry on 'doing'

She had already served with distinction on Westminster City Council, first being elected in 1978 and serving as GLC member for Havering from 1970 to 1973 then for Southgate from 1977 to 1986. She ran twice as parliamentary candidate, first seeking to unseat Barbara Castle in 1970 before running against the Liberals in North Cornwall. After taking her seat in the Lords, she served as the UK representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 1982 to 1988, and as the voluntary chair of Plan International from 1990 to 2003.

Alongside all this, she continued to practice as a dentist and, fittingly, her last contribution to debate in the House was to call for better dental services for children. She never relented in her efforts to improve provision of dental care and she defied Mrs Thatcher in pressing the government to maintain free dental examinations. As fellow medical professionals, we found a common cause in advocating for better health services both at home and abroad and she provided endless cheer and support as we worked together over several decades.

Retirement simply wasn’t an option for Trixie. Forty-three years after joining the House of Lords, she remained determined to carry on “doing”. She published a memoir The Long Table in 2019, full of characteristic wit and wisdom from her time in the House and her life in politics and dentistry. But above all, she loved her work in the House of Lords and continued always to embrace it with same sense of duty and drive towards public service that she brought to the House in the 1980s.

She will be greatly missed by the House of Lords and our thoughts are with her three daughters and her whole family, both here and in Australia.

Lord McColl of Dulwich is a Conservative peer

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