Tribute to charity queen

PUBLISHED: 17:53 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 25 August 2010

Comment on the life of Ennis Smith, by Mary Barber.

I WAS sorting through a big bag of press cuttings and letters when I received the very sad news that Ennis Smith had died, writes Mary Barber.

What made the news particularly poignant was the papers that surrounded me were a record of her life's work. Several months earlier, during a visit to her home in Crayford, I had offered to help her put them all in order.

Now, as I glanced down, I spotted the headline, 'Lovely Ennis is a friend indeed to those in need'. And that, to me, summed her up perfectly. For over 70 years she raised thousands of pounds for charity, and helped the needy, visited the elderly, sick and lonely. There were countless cuttings of coffee mornings, jumble sales, raffles, day trips and street parties. Some of them I had written myself while working as a reporter then news editor at the Kentish Times. We remained friends after I left to work on the nationals five years ago. She once told me she inherited her devotion to civic duty from her mother who, despite having 18 children, organised community events. As Ennis said: "If we weren't helping each other we were helping others." Her charity work began at the age of seven with a tin foil collection for the Red Cross, and she continued to do good work until shortly before she died at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford on September 11. Ennis had been planning her annual Christmas parcel appeal for troops serving overseas, which she had organised for many years. Among the many thank you letters I found among her papers, was one from a soldier in Bosnia. He wrote: "Gift packages like this remind us we are not forgotten."

She had been a loyal supporter of Britain's armed forces ever since the Second World War when, at just 16, she became the youngest auxiliary ambulance driver in London.

She later became a fundraiser for The Royal Hospital in Chelsea - I joined her on several of her visits to see the Chelsea pensioners - and the Royal Star and Garter Home for disabled ex-service personnel in Richmond.

Ennis had also worked as a Conservative councillor in Bexley, a school governor, a police community group member and a founder member of a mental health charity.

But she will also be remembered for her love of the Royal Family. When I interviewed her after the Queen Mother died in 2002, she told me the Royal Family represented a symbol of stability and unity during the Second World War. A highlight for Ennis was meeting the Queen at a Buckingham Palace Garden party in 2002. Among her papers, I found many thank you letters written on behalf of the Royal Family and other dignitaries, including the former Prime Minister, the late Sir Edward Heath.

In recent years, despite ill health and other set backs, Ennis battled on and she was rewarded for her devoted service to the community with a Civic Award from Bexley council in 2005. She was also nominated for a Woman of the Year award. As I look at her smiling face in the many press cuttings in front of me, it is hard to believe she is no longer with us. But her legacy and spirit will live on forever in all her good works and deeds.

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