Maureen Cox (nee Smith): 1935-2016
A woman of faith with a passion for practical social justice
Maureen was born in Mitcham in south London in 1935 to Frank Smith, a Metropolitan Police officer, and Ethel Smith (nee Dawson), a former shop assistant. She was the second of the couple’s three children – a sister to Michael and Jen. She attended ten schools before the age of 11 due to the disruption of the Second World War.
She attended Mitcham Grammar School for Girls and that was where, as a sixth form student, she attended a recruitment talk given by someone from the Royal London Hospital. It must have been a good one because, up to that point, she had planned to become a shorthand typist: instead, she and two friends, Shirley Neal (nee Webb) and Pam Hartmann, all decided they would apply. Their friendship had developed at school but also at the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church. Maureen completed her training in 1956 and worked as a night sister at the RLH.
She then trained as a midwife and was based at the Mothers’ Hospital in Hackney. She had great stories from that time: from cycling between her appointments around Hackney, Stepney and the surrounding areas, to delivering a baby by the light of her bike lamp when the gas meter had run out of coins, to asking neighbours to fetch water for the birth from the communal tap in a tenement stairwell. She watched the BBC’s Call The Midwife with some pleasure, albeit with a keen eye on inaccuracies! One element was very close to show’s script, however: she married a dashing young minister, Allan Cox.
In 1960, Maureen and Allan moved to Bracknell in Berkshire where they had been asked to establish a new Baptist church in the new suburb of Easthampstead. They had two daughters there (Alison, b1962; and Gillian, b1965). Soon after I was born in 1970, they moved to a new church in Southend, Belle Vue Baptist, where Maureen led the youth group for many years. She began training as a health visitor and her mother moved in with us to care for the family while both our parents were working. In 1978 Maureen completed a Diploma in Health Education at the Polytechnic of the South Bank in London – a degree-level qualification today. This was her gateway to several promotions and she soon became a district health education officer and a later a manager within Southend health authority.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she spearheaded a number of successful - and very challenging - public health initiatives, many under the ‘Health for All 2000’ banner. Maureen adopted a broad interpretation of the brief - not always to the delight of her bosses. Pulling in her church and other local networks, she rolled up her sleeves, banged heads, conjured budgets and, as a result and to her enormous credit, succeeded in setting up - among other things - a night shelter for the homeless, a needle exchange for young drug users, a local Sure Start centre, some of the first HIV awareness initiatives in the UK, and a discreet drop-in health centre for sex workers. She was a familiar face in the local press and a familiar voice on local radio, speaking on health and social issues.
After her ‘retirement' in 1997, she was very active in establishing CART - Churches and Refugees Together - a local organisation providing practical assistance and a clear-eyed welcome to refugees in Southend - at that time mainly comprising those fleeing conflict in the former Yugoslavia as well as turmoil in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Maureen died in September 2016, and Allan in February 2019. They are survived by their daughters, Alison, Gillian and Pamela, six grandchildren, and one great grandson.
Prof Pamela Cox