FORMER Leys councillor Barbara Gatehouse, who has died aged 89, was a Labour stalwart and “living legend” with a fierce dedication to her family.
She was born Barbara May Whyte on August 21 1926, in the mining village of Pontycymer, South Wales. Mrs Gatehouse would later recall a childhood against a backdrop of industrial unrest.
She once said: “When I was born, my parents couldn’t afford the 4d (1.6p) to buy a birth certificate.”
Aged two, she moved with parents Thomas Whyte and Violet Irene (née Evans) and brother Bob to Stratford, London.
During the war, the family moved to Florence Park, Oxford, and from 1940 until 1942 she underwent secretarial training at what is now Oxford Brookes University.
After that she worked at the Bodleian Library for the rest of the Second World War, and then as a telegraphist at the post office in St Aldate’s and at the Oxford Housing Aid Centre in George Street.
Her first marriage was to toolmaker Ted Pinnegar in 1945. Their son Nigel was born in 1948.
After they broke up in 1954, she met Roy Gatehouse, a Cowley car plant worker and formidable trade unionist.
They were married in 1957. Daughter Kay Gatehouse, born in 1958, said of their early courting: “My dad always made sure he sat next to my mum on the bus.
“They really were a solid unit. They were both strong people and very proud of each other’s achievements.”
After moving to a council house in Blackbird Leys, Mrs Gatehouse first represented the estate as a councillor on Oxford City Council in 1979.
Reportedly she once related to her family that two key motives for her political work were the 1966 Aberfan disaster, when 112 children were killed in the collapse of a Welsh colliery spoil tip, and a comment she once heard on the radio that Blackbird Leys was an “inevitable slum”.
From 1979 until a self-imposed break from politics in 1996 she never lost an election, also serving as Sheriff of Oxford in 1990 and Lord Mayor in 1992.
Her own CV proudly related working with housing associations to help people on low incomes, building community relations and helping establish the Asian Cultural Centre in 1989.
She was also a key figure in the creation of the Oxford Ice Rink.
During her tenure as Lord Mayor she created the Lord Mayor’s Housing Guarantee, a charity aiming to help homeless people gather deposits for housing.
From 2001 to 2009 she would also represent the Leys on Oxfordshire County Council.
On her retirement the then-leader Keith Mitchell called her a “formidable campaigner”, while deputy city council leader Ed Turner described her as a “living legend”.
Throughout her political career, Mrs Gatehouse, a great-grandmother of four, also worked tirelessly to care for her family.
When her mother Violet, who had remarried, died in 1956, Mrs Gatehouse took on the role as “heart of the family”, taking step-siblings Gillian and John under her wing.
Tragically Mrs Gatehouse’s own son Nigel, from her first marriage, died on his 53rd birthday in a motorcycle accident on New Year’s Day, 2001.
- Barbara Gatehouse with Jim Hunt and the Milk Cup in 1986
The rest of the family remained close until Mrs Gatehouse’s death.
Daughter Kay, now a freelance photographer living in Headington, added: “You can’t underestimate how much she meant to her family.
“She was always there for everybody.”
Mrs Gatehouse died on January 12. Her husband Roy had passed away on the same day in 2013.
Mrs Gatehouse had endured a long illness and a fall last summer. She died in the company of her family after a final, happy Christmas.
Her funeral will be at Oxford Crematorium at 3pm on Wednesday.
* To make a donation to to Mrs Gatehouse’s project helping homeless people with deposits for rented accommodation, contact funeral directors at S&R Childs in London Road.