Aristocrat who 'did something' with her life

Valerie Lady Goulding, who died on Monday aged 85, was best known in Ireland for her work with the Central Remedial Clinic, which…

Valerie Lady Goulding, who died on Monday aged 85, was best known in Ireland for her work with the Central Remedial Clinic, which she co-founded in 1951 to care for children stricken by a polio epidemic.

The clinic grew into a national institution, and her life's work for the marginalised has been honoured in Ireland and abroad.

She was an English aristocrat with "the common touch" who cut a dash in Irish society in the 1950s and 1960s, using her title and her connections with the rich and famous to help the sick and the underprivileged. She served as a nominated Fianna Fáil senator in the late 1970s.

As Valerie Hamilton Monckton, the 20-year-old daughter of a Tory minister, Viscount Monckton, she came to Ireland in 1939 for the Fairyhouse Races and met Sir Basil Goulding. The head of his family's fertiliser business, Sir Basil was then a prince of Irish industry.


They married quietly in the Downings, Co Donegal, three months later, but she never settled down to a life of conventional domesticity. A decisive and kind woman with a strong sense of duty, she needed a cause.

For several years in the 1940s she worked as a kitchen help at Marrowbone Lane health clinic. She met the late Kathleen O'Rourke, a fitness instructor who was giving what might now be called aerobic classes for young housewives in Bewley's cafe, Grafton Street.

They set up the Dublin Remedial Clinic to provide aftercare for polio victims. The first patients were carried up three flights of stairs to Kathleen O'Rourke's flat in Upper Pembroke Street.

It grew into the Central Remedial Clinic at Clontarf, largely because of Lady Goulding's genius for fund-raising. She famously asked Charles Haughey to head a fund-raising committee in the immediate aftermath of the arms trial. It was a quid pro quo: she needed funds; he needed political rehabilitation. "But for Charlie, we'd have no centre today," she said in 1987 of an operation that today caters for almost 3,000 children and 500 adults from all over the country.

With the disc jockey, Jimmy Savile, she introduced the sponsored walk to Ireland and persuaded celebrities such as Princess Grace of Monaco, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby to help the cause by coming to Dublin.

Sir Anthony O'Reilly has said she was "part Thatcher, part Florence Nightingale, and part sergeant-major", never failing to get people to do what she wanted.

Born on September 12th, 1918, in Kent, she was the only daughter of Sir W.J. Monckton of Brenchly. Educated at Downe House College, Berkshire, she later studied in Paris, followed by a tour of Europe and Africa.

Instead of studying medicine, she became secretary to her father, who was acting as legal adviser to Edward VIII during the 1936 abdication crisis. "I couldn't understand the attraction," of Wallis Simpson, she said later. Driving a pink Morris Minor convertible (called George), she carried messages between the king and the prime minister and was present when a tearful Stanley Baldwin begged a lovelorn, implacable king not to give up the throne.

Following the crisis, she joined the War Office and was a sergeant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service when she first came to Ireland.

After almost a year "of doing absolutely nothing all day" as a wife at Sir Basil's Castleknock home, the couple left for England with their four-week-old son, Lingard, to "do their bit" for the war effort, he to join the RAF and Valerie to serve in the army. She became a first lieutenant in the Artillery Training Unit. The family returned to Ireland in 1946 and settled at Dargle Cottage, near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

Her father, whom she adored, had believed that everyone was put into the world to work and now Valerie looked for the chance to "do something" with her life.

The poverty of Dublin in the 1940s shocked her: "The slums, malnutrition, unemployment, abysmal social conditions. Tuberculosis was rife. There were barefoot children, and that really got me."

First she studied physiotherapy, at the suggestion of Kathleen O'Rourke, then gave it up as her eyes were opened to a glaring gap in the health services. With O'Rourke and the enthusiastic help of Dr Boyd Dunlop, a young orthopaedic surgeon, she founded the first clinic providing an aftercare, remedial and rehabilitation service for those with polio, of which there were epidemics in 1948 and 1950.

Lady Goulding spent much of her time driving her expensive car to collect and deliver children, often from slums, for treatment in O'Rourke's flat. Her head was full of fund-raising ideas, which took her to the United States, to create a new clinic. By 1954 a large house had been acquired in Goatstown, where a hydrotherapy pool and a training workshop were later added.

This also became too small, and in 1968 the Central Remedial Clinic moved to Vernon Avenue, Clontarf, which was opened by President de Valera. Today it is a national centre for treatment of children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and arthrogryposis. It includes a school. Until 1977, when it began to receive State funding, the CRC depended entirely on voluntary funding.

She said of the clinic's work: "Our biggest victory perhaps has been teaching the able-bodied not to condescend to the handicapped. They should condescend to us. They have to show courage 24 hours a day."

In the 1980s, Lady Goulding visited Lebanon, leading a working group to help handicapped children. She advised on the building of a national sports and social centre for the handicapped in Jordan.

But several other visits to Lebanon were for "personal therapy" after her husband died in 1982, which left a "vast" gap in her life. At this time, too, she was bowing out of the CRC, though there were tensions over her criticisms of the board's approach to fund-raising.

Her father's influence was crucial in several ways. In 1962, she converted to Catholicism, as had he years before. Her attraction to politics had much to do with the excitement of helping her father campaigning to be an MP. He was a workaholic and when he divorced her mother, Polly, her loyalty to him was undimmed.

But as a politician she was less clear or successful than as an activist for the disadvantaged. She was nominated to the Seanad in 1977 by Jack Lynch after failing to be elected. She failed to win a Dáil seat in Dún Laoghaire in 1982. She was a Haughey supporter in the heave against Lynch. In 1987, after another defeat for the Seanad, Haughey failed to nominate her.

On the feminist issues of the day she was a conservative, though she had a keen interest in the North, believing there was a future for a united Ireland within the Commonwealth.

Her honours and roles included: founder member of the National Rehabilitation Board; of the Union of Voluntary Organisations for the Handicapped; first woman member of the board of governors of St Patrick's Hospital; Dame of Honour and Devotion in the Irish Association of the Sovereign Military Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (1966); honorary degree of doctor of laws, NUI (1968); director of Ansbacher merchant bank; founder member of Peace Point and of the advisory committee of the American-Ireland Fund. She played squash for Ireland.

After Sir Basil's death - his companies had been taken over by the Fitzwilton group in 1972 - Lady Goulding was forced financially in 1984 to sell Dargle Cottage, a restaurant built over the river and most of the famous gardens which he started to develop in 1947. It seemed to underline a feeling that Valerie Goulding had sacrificed much for her work.

She is predeceased by her husband (in 1982) and survived by her sons, Sir Lingard, Tim and Hamilton.

Valerie Goulding: born September 12th, 1918; died July 28th, 2003