AT A time when men dominated public life, even more than they do today, Lady Townsend shone a beacon for women.

She was mayor of Oxford three times and spent 42 years involved in the cut-and-thrust of local politics as a member of the city council.

She had links with the University through her husband, Sir John Townsend, Wykeham Professor of Physics, but she also embraced the many facets of city life.

Her strong university and city attachments led to her being called ‘Lady Town-and-Gown Send’ by former city MP Monty Woodhouse.

Colleagues remembered the fair but fortnight manner in which she tackled often challenging issues.

One of her feats of diplomacy occurred in the 1930s when Oxford was threatened with a bus strike.

She called the bus company managers and trade union leaders to her husband’s room at New College one evening, read the riot act to them and settled the dispute there and then. The strike was called off.

Another triumph as leader of the Conservatives on the council was over plans to remove a gas holder from St Ebbe’s.

The Government rejected the proposal, but the council appealed to the House of Lords.

Lady Townsend led the council delegation to the Lords and wearing a new hat bought specially to impress their Lordships, she won the day.

Oxford Mail:

The Lord Mayor, Frank Pickstock, confers Oxford’s highest honour, the Honorary Freedom of the City, on Lady Townsend in 1967

She was born Mary Georgiana Lambert, the daughter of a country gentleman living in County Galway, Ireland, and arrived in Oxford in 1911 as the young wife of John Townsend, then a New College don.

It was her interest in social welfare that brought her to the attention of Conservative colleagues as a potential councillor.

She failed to win a seat in South Ward in 1920, but successfully fought North Ward in 1925, a seat she held continuously until she became an alderman in 1937.

She was elected mayor in 1935 and continued in office the following year after the death of Alderman Leonard Alden. She served as mayor again in 1958-9 after the death of Alderman H G L Gordon-Roberts.

She became Lady Townsend in 1941 when her husband retired after more than 40 years as Professor of Physics and was knighted.

She received the OBE in 1957 and when she retired from the council in 1967 after 42 years’ unbroken service, 700 people gathered at the Town Hall to see her become only the second woman to receive the honorary freedom of the city.

Warm tributes were paid at the ceremony to her for her “firm, fair and forthright manner”.

In reply, she said: “I have greatly liked working on the city council. I know one has to take the rough with the smooth, but I shall now only remember the smooth. I have nothing but good memories.”

Lady Townsend died in 1986 aged 96 at a home at Burcot, near Abingdon.