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Tribute to Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Massey of Darwen: 5 September 1938 – 20 April 2024 | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Baroness Andrews

Baroness Andrews

4 min read

Former pre-school teacher, sexual health consultant and director of the Family Planning Association, Doreen Massey never deviated from her moral purpose. A life-long humanist, she championed the rights of young people and all those facing discrimination

“I realise that humans are not perfect and we sometimes let each other down. That is all the more reason to try to be trustworthy. I believe in political life, this is of fundamental importance.”

That was Doreen Massey, Baroness Massey of Darwen, in her own words. Doreen lived her values. In the words of her children, Lizzie, Ben and Owen, she was “our beloved, eccentric, unconventional Mum”. It is an image that her colleagues in the House of Lords recognise well.

She was made a Labour Life Peer in July 1999. In her soft voice, still carrying traces of her Lancashire accent, she worked tirelessly for those who were virtually silent. In the Chamber, as chair of the Children APPG, on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and in so many other ways inside and outside the House, she championed the rights of children and young people and those facing all forms of discrimination and exclusion.

She was educated as a linguist at the universities of Birmingham and London.  As a pre school educator for seven years she knew from first-hand how the early years fix the chances of people; as a teacher she fought to make Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) statutory in the curriculum. She became director of the Young People’s Programme at the Health and Education Council and later director of the Family Planning Association. Her career gave her the skills not only to confront the most difficult questions but indeed to resolve them.

She was never one to shirk saying or doing the difficult things

Those skills were particularly useful when she became a consultant in sexual health in Europe from 1995 to 2000. In many ways she relished the controversies embedded in her work. Her publication, now sadly out of print: The Lovers Guide Encyclopedia, was impounded in several countries. Never daunted, she astonished many Noble Lords in recent years by publishing a racy novel (Love and Death in Shanghai) under her pseudonym, Elizabeth J Hall. Between 2000 and 2010 she took on the leadership of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.

As a lifelong humanist (secretary and later vice-chair of the Humanist APPG, 2010-22) one ambition was to phase out religious schools and compulsory worship and she commended teachers for promoting “the shared values found in different religions and beliefs, building on the common ground of our humanity”.

She never deviated from her moral purpose or her profound interest in other people, and what they could contribute. The tributes from parliamentarians and friends in Westminster and Strasbourg show the impact she had on people and parliaments. She wanted an inclusive society where children and young people were equals, able to find their voice and participate, not least to enrich democracy itself. Both in Westminster and Strasbourg she found ways of bringing them into parliament and making themselves heard.

She was never one to shirk saying or doing the difficult things. She brought life, colour, and commitment, as well as a deep humanism to the House of Lords. That was only part of her life. Doreen had hinterland in spades. Music, theatre, languages – above all, her beloved cricket. (She once bowled out Rachael Heyhoe Flint – before she became captain of England’s Women Team). And she was a brilliant gardener. I have inherited a buddleia from her which thrives in my garden. Like her, it is vigorous, brilliant, and competitive. It is a haven for biodiversity, and even in the worst of times, never gives up. That was Doreen. We will miss her immensely.

Our thoughts are with Doreen’s husband, Dr Les Massey and all the family.

Baroness Andrews is a Labour peer

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