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Fighter against apartheid ‘had a terrific life’

Drama teacher who loved Shakespeare has died aged 95

11 March, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

Pat at her 95th birthday


She had fought apartheid and injustice in South Africa as a founding member of the Progressive Party and part of Black Sash, a group of white women who demonstrated for human rights outside the country’s parliament.

But when Pat Gardner, who has died aged 95, moved back to London in 1975 it was for domestic rather than political reasons. She had found out her husband had been seeing another woman, divorced him and moved in with her mother in Thurlow Road, Hampstead.

Her son, David Gardner, 64, lost his leg in the Edgware Road tube bombing in July 2005. He had lived in South Africa until he was 21. “People would always talk about South Africa as a violent place, but I was on my way to work here in London and look what happened to me,” he said.

Pat, qualified in speech and drama, taught from her home in South Africa. She was the producer of plays staged at the town hall in Ladysmith, where the family lived. Her production of Peter Pan was the first in the country.

In north London, she became involved with the Hampstead Players at Hampstead Parish Church. In 1980, she played Mrs van Daan in the Diary of Anne Frank and in 1982 directed The Crucible.

David said: “My mother inspired in me a love of literature and drama. I was on stage performing poetry at the age of six. She loved Shakespeare.”

Pat developed Alzheimer’s in later years but, having written memoirs of the first six decades of her life, she found she could recall her life’s journey. “She would read them back and say: ‘I can’t believe I did that,’” said David.

“She had been planning her funeral for 20 years. She had a drawer full of hymns. When she attend- ed other people’s funerals she kept the order of service and would write next to the hymns in the margins ‘a strong contender’.”

David added: “She died with my sister by her bedside at home. It was just before Christmas, which was sad in a way, but we were able to celebrate her life. She had a terrific life. She was a great friend, looked after people and kept up with her family all around the world.”

She is survived by her children David, Robert, Charles and Penny, ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

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