The embodiment of the philosophy of just getting on with it

Obituary: Audrey Dickson, born December 13th, 1934; died May 26th, 2017

Audrey Dickson was outspoken in her criticism of the treatment meted out to 25-year-old Joanna Hayes in the Kerry Babies scandal

Audrey Dickson was outspoken in her criticism of the treatment meted out to 25-year-old Joanna Hayes in the Kerry Babies scandal

 

Audrey Dickson, who died suddenly at the age of 82 shortly after enjoying a morning swim at Sutton dinghy club, was a fearless campaigner for women’s rights and former chairwoman of the Council for the Status of Women.

Outspoken in her criticism of the treatment meted out to 25-year-old Joanna Hayes, the central figure in the Judicial Tribunal set up by the Fine Gail-Labour government to examine what became known as the “Kerry babies” scandal, a case in which two dead infants featured, she complained in writing to the government of the day. There is a reference to this in the State papers published in 2015.

Following a meeting attended by 600 women from around the country, she wrote to then Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, on October 6, 1985, complaining of the grilling Hayes had received in the witness box, generally considered to be excessively abrasive, intrusive and reflecting a patriarchal society.

The cabinet papers reflect the public outcry at the treatment of Hayes, particularly under cross-examination by barrister Martin Kennedy, representing Garda superintendents. On one occasion, she became physically sick. Dickson sent copies of the highly critical letter to the then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and Minister for Women’s Affairs Nuala Fennell.

Born in Scotland of an Irish mother, Dickson (née Inglis) spent holidays in Ireland and was educated at Greenock Academy, Scotland and at Penrhos boarding school in Wales.

During an Irish holiday she met her first husband, Roy Dickson, who like herself was a keen sailor. A born organiser, she played a pivotal role in the life of Sutton Dinghy Club as committee member and sailing secretary. In a fitting tribute, the sailing magazine Afloat described her as “the embodiment of the philosophy of just getting on with it – and cheerfully at that – regardless of what obstacles and setbacks life might put in one’s way”.

For an octogenarian, she had a remarkable fitness regime. On the morning of her death, she had been to the gym, prepared documents for Howth community group, went for a swim in the sea before lunch, but sadly collapsed after leaving the water. As her son David remarked in his eulogy: “Some woman at 82 years of age”. Widely travelled, she lived life to the full. Asked a few weeks before she died, if she would be home on a particular day, the reply came back “I should be going to Iceland”.

Her input was largely responsible for spreading the popularity of the exciting Fireball Class (a high-performance dinghy sailed by a crew of two) and she was at the heart of the organisation of two Fireball world championships in Ireland, acting as PRO when it was held in Kinsale.

The couple separated in the mid-1970s. Some years later she married Cecil Jermyn and together they travelled the world. Her boundless appetite for voluntary work involved her in animal welfare, environmental matters and the women’s movement at local, national and international level. A founder of the women’s pressure group, Gingerbread, she was on the executive of the women’s Council for eight years and as chairwoman, represented Ireland at UN and other conferences held in South America, Africa, London and China.

Though interested in psychotherapy, she explained to an exponent of the therapy: “While the experience was really powerful, wonderful stuff, I don’t have time to learn anything new. I can’t take on anything more in my life.”

Predeceased by her husband, Cecil Jermyn, she is survived by her sons David, Alan, Gary and Ian, stepsons Gary and David Jermyn, and Roy Dickson.