Pat Wainwright, the face of Lib Dem by-election campaigns, passes away

Pat Wainwright MBE passed away peacefully earlier this month in a nursing home in Eastbourne, aged 85. For years, she had been the face of Liberal Democrat Parliamentary by-election campaigns, such as the history-making victory in Christchurch. She was the indefatigable front of house maestro who would welcome you with charm, occasional impatience and always with a steely determination to make the most of your time.

That determination was not just reflected in her desire to hustle you out the door again as quickly as possible. It was also reflected in a real concern that the whole campaign made good use of your time. I had the good fortune to learn much of my campaigning from working alongside her in a series of 1990s by-elections, and it was from her that I learnt just how important it was that every round of target letters was bundled correctly, every delivery round sensibly put together and every piece of feedback from a returning baffled deliverer who just could not find no.94 anywhere had to be properly followed up.

She was in a way a computer coder before computers. By which I mean always worrying about systems, always finding a detail to improve (and woe betide anyone who used the wrong colour highlighter, mucking up her delivery card management system), and always worrying about how to make her systems robust against error.

As I wrote about her a few years back,

She was brilliant at meeting you like a long lost friend (even if you’d only met once before, half-hidden behind a pile of leaflets) and shepherding you out of the door with something useful to do as quickly as possible.

She achieved many other things in life, both inside and outside politics, including being an agent in Richmond, London. Always apparently with a cigarette in hand.

But for me, I’ll always remember dawn breaking in a Parliamentary by-election as Pat and I sat surrounded by piles of leaflets and elastic bands and her only half-cross that she’d not noticed how late we were working. Only half-cross, because she was also proud that the job had been done properly, in time – and so that all the work that had gone into the leaflets, and all the work that would go into getting them out, would not be let down by bundles being wrong, missing or late. It was a care for the job, and for the humans behind the job. She taught me, and many others, so much.

Thank you, Pat.

6 responses to “Pat Wainwright, the face of Lib Dem by-election campaigns, passes away”

  1. Thank you for that heartfelt and very appropriate tribute. Pat was a constant feature in so many of the by-election triumphs that put the Liberals, Liberal/SDP Alliance and the Lib Dems on the political map. She will be much missed but very fondly remembered by so many of us that had the pleasure of working with her.

  2. Pat was a ‘one-off’, an absolute treasure. She ran the front office at most of the by-elections I was Agent for in the 70s & 80s including the 1st Liberal-SDP victory at Croydon NW, also many of the successful by-elections that Chris Rennard masterminded later in the 80s & 90s. Formidable yes but with a heart of gold, loved & respected by all who knew her. It’s an old saying I know but they really don’t make them like Pat anymore and for that we and our Party are all the poorer.

  3. Very sad news, and a lovely tribute Mark.
    Pat was a stalwart of by-elections for decades, including the Edge Hill by-election, but I got to know her as a volunteer when she came back to Liverpool to organise the local campaign in 98, which saw us take 10 seats and win control, and she returned in 99, helping us win another 10 seats, including mine.
    I would have to describe her as a thoroughly endearing slave driver, with the ability to make you feel welcome whilst simultaneously throwing you back out of the door with a stack of leaflets! And she was always full of wonderful stories of elections and characters from the 70s and 80’s.
    I’ve never met anyone who could organise people the way she did. As Peter Chegwyn said, formidable but with a heart of gold.

  4. Politics is a collective activity but individuals can make a difference and Pat was one of those people. I got to know her during the Croydon NW by-election and witnessed her formidable organisational skill at first hand.

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