Rosemary Walker Obituary

My friend Rosemary Walker, who has died aged 71, worked variously as an environmental health officer, teacher and gardener, leading her to live in Saddleworth, a community east of Manchester, for more than forty years.

Her combination of scientific insight and gracious empathy made her a natural as an environmental health officer, whether dealing with unsanitary housing that often had to be condemned, measuring industrial pollution or monitoring standards in slaughterhouses.

She served on three councils – Ashton (1973-74) and Tameside (1974-78), both in Greater Manchester, and then Vale of Aylesbury (1978-80) – before moving into the corporate world at Debenhams, where she was an environmental consultant . health and safety advisor with responsibility for the North of England. When the company outsourced its health and safety functions in 1986, she became an independent consultant for a time, before taking up a position as a lecturer in environmental health at the University of Salford.

She was born in Liverpool to Douglas Walker, who worked for the Liverpool Docks and Harbor Board, and Freda (née Carter), a teacher. The family moved to Birmingham when Rosemary was little, and she attended the King Edward VI girls’ grammar school in the city.

She was fiercely independent and a strong feminist. She obtained a degree in environmental science from the University of Salford before becoming an environmental health officer at a time when the profession was male-dominated.

After her stint as an environmental health officer and then 17 years teaching at Salford University, she found she had gone as far as she wanted, and left university at the age of 50 to do practical work that would keep her fit and outdoors to hold. She became a dry stone waller, ran a cafe and worked for the Groundwork Trust which ran a community garden in Hattersley, near Manchester. This helped her discover a new passion for gardening, and she started a business planting and caring for small gardens in the often difficult conditions of the villages and hills in the Saddleworth area.

Rosemary also used her academic skills to conduct research for the Labrys Trust, a Leeds-based charity that aims to improve the lives of older lesbians. She also regularly visited Greece to help with the Sappho women’s festival on Lesbos. On one of her first trips there, refugees began landing on the island after dangerous boat journeys from Turkey; Rosemary helped transport them from the coast to a safer place and this made a deep impression on her.

She became disabled later in life due to complications from rectal cancer and multiple myeloma and was unable to continue gardening for others. She spent her last years campaigning for an assisted dying law in Britain. She embraced this cause with her usual passion and determination: lobbying, conducting media interviews, raising funds and inspiring her friends to help.

She is survived by her sister, Marilyn.