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.