Obituary: Susan Taylor – Another great Liberal light goes out

susan taylorIn the early hours of Thursday 2nd October 2014, long term Liberal activist Susan Annemarie Taylor (née Annemarie Susanne Goldschmidt) quietly passed away at the grand old age of 95 in Newcastle.

Susan was known in South London as one half of a fearsome Liberal duo with husband Brian who passed away in August 2013. Along with Brian she joined the Liberal Party in 1955 (having previously voted Conservative if rumours are true).

They set about persuading the good voters of Bromley that Liberal was the way to go, played a role in several famous London by-elections including Orpington in 1962 and Bermondsey in 1983, and toured the country in their trusty caravan helping Liberals all over the place include son Michael in Yorkshire and daughter Wendy in Newcastle.

Susan ran a fearsome committee room on election day. Woe betide any activist who thought they could have more than a quick sit down and a cup of tea; Susan would soon send them out again with leaflets to deliver or doors to knock until the polls shut. Although she did once famously confess that “I can’t get excited if Brian isn’t the candidate”.

Despite the years advancing, Susan remained dedicated to the party. Up until her 80s until her eyesight failed, she volunteered once a week in LibDem HQ membership department. One year I received my membership card with a post-it note on it saying “fancy seeing your card, lots of love Grandma”. Even into her 90s she still helped out at election time, stuffing envelopes, attending Liberal Democrat events including party conference, and motivating other activists and giving them advice (whether they asked for it or not!).

Although not as socially Liberal as her husband (she wanted gay couples to have the legal rights marriage confers, but not call it marriage; Brian disagreed), she was a firm believer in equality and not afraid to speak out against those who offended her sense of equality. She did not hesitate to tell people off loudly on London buses in the 1950s and 60s when they refused to pay their fares to Black bus conductors.

Given her personal history, her vehement and unapologetic anti-racism was perhaps not surprising. Susan arrived in the UK aged 14 in 1934 as a Jewish schoolgirl from Aachen, Germany whose parents wanted her out of harm’s way. She attended the Quaker school in Saffron Walden and learnt English so well that few people realised it was not originally her native tongue.

Susan’s parents Otto and Greta Goldschmidt had moved to Belgium before the Second World War broke out although ended up they ended up separated during the war after fleeing Brussels in the wake of the Nazi advance. Her parents both survived although narrowly as they were put on a train to Auschwitz that was stopped by the Allies and returned to Brussels after the war. Most of her family were able to flee Germany before the Nazi killing machine caught up with them, primarily by emigrating to the UK or USA, except an aunt who died in Treblinka and a cousin in Izbecka.

Susan trained as a nurse during the war and it was during her medical training that she met Brian, then a student dentist, in the gas extraction room at Guy’s Hospital. They got engaged during the war and married afterwards in 1946. The newlyweds settled in Hayes in Kent where they opened a dental surgery and had three children. When Brian died in 2013, they had been married for 67 years and she missed him terribly during the last year of her life.

Susan (and Brian) lived long enough to see me, their granddaughter become an MEP in 2012, although they were by then too frail to travel to Brussels to see me in Parliament. However in the pecking order of the party, even as an MEP, I still got a less prominent seat than my grandparents at party conference; they had special reserved seats at the front of the hall as well as life passes to conference after many years as conference stewards.

Susan did however manage to take advantage of one perk of my role as an MEP by coming with me to one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace last year (Susan was a big fan of Her Majesty, while Brian was a Republican).

Susan remained alert to politics even over the last year when her health was failing, telling me in the summer that she didn’t want Scotland to leave the UK, her adopted country whose nationality she held with pride and perhaps meant more to her than many native born Brits.

Susan is survived by three children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

 

* Rebecca Taylor is a member of Islington LibDems and the former MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.

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9 Comments

  • A heartwarming read and an inspiring life, thanks for sharing.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Oct '14 - 1:16pm

    She sounds like an amazing, inspiring, interesting, tenacious lady. I feel for your pain today as you say goodbye to her. Thank you for telling her story.

  • Duncan Borrowman 20th Oct '14 - 3:22pm

    Celebrate a special woman today. Having run two Bickley by-election campaigns from the Taylor’s house, I got to know them fairly well beyond the normal Bromley circuit. She scared me at times, but it was never with any malice on her part, just a strong personality that was nearly always right.

  • Erlend Watson 20th Oct '14 - 7:45pm

    I first came across Susan and Brian (I saw them as a team) in a big way at the 1997 Beckenham byelelection. They were a significant part of team Bromley which ensured that the ignored election (Winchester was on the same day) held up so well.

    I last stopped to chat with them in a conference hotel I think in 2013 (maybe 2012). Susan’s eyesight might have gone but the mind was still brilliant. A sad loss.

  • Grace Goodlad 20th Oct '14 - 8:28pm

    Susan was much loved and shall be much missed by all of us in Bromley Borough. She was an inimitable force of nature, who as other have said above, could be a daunting, although never unkind lady.

    She carried on helping here and attending events even after her eyesight failed her. She was determined to carry on “fighting the good fight” for as long as she could.

    I hope she has re found her beloved Brian. He meant the world to her and they were a wonderful couple.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '14 - 8:52pm

    A heart-warming obituary. It also gives hope that society can change for the better. Try to stay positive.

  • Geoff Payne 21st Oct '14 - 7:49am

    Susan and Brian Taylor were wonderful people and they are much missed. When I was a candidate in Bromley in 2001, I used their house for campaign meetings and as a committee room. I met them again when I became involved in conference as they were some of the longest-serving stewards. Great liberals, tenacious activists and fantastic company.

  • Rebecca Taylor 29th Oct '14 - 1:36pm

    Thanks for all the kind comments & memories about Susan. She was indeed a formidable woman, as an activist and a grandmother. I can recall being rung up and told I was in the doghouse; she didn’t mince her words!

    Someone who saw my aunt Wendy Taylor at conference in Glasgow said that they imagined that Brian and Susan had been reunited and were now stuffing envelopes in heaven : )

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