Our founder – Pat Wilson

Obituary – Mrs Pat Wilson – our late President (written by our past Chairman Ken Dare)Pat cut out 2 It was with profound sadness that we received the news of Pat’s death which occurred on Friday, 4 April 2014. Having achieved her 97th birthday earlier in the year in good form we had set our sights on Pat being with us for some years to come. Pat started walking the paths of Meopham in about 1950 and her effective energy and infectious enthusiasm regarding public rights of way continued unabated throughout her life. These attributes have not been confined to Meopham. A ‘difficult’ landowner in 1961, who was denying access to public footpath 38 (now NS 232), sparked Pat into entering into a legal action. (Please see our 30th anniversary booklet for detailed information) As a consequence this situation led to Pat forming three footpath groups – later to be merged into one – hence the formation of our Group. With what wonderful foresight that was! That case proved not to be one in isolation and other legal battles were fought in subsequent years to protect and to enhance our local public rights of way network. Our 50th anniversary booklet provides a chronological list of the cases in which the group was involved with Pat at the helm. Pat was instrumental in creating vital liaison with the Parish Council, Gravesham Borough Council and Kent County Council. The personalities have changed over the years and the role of the Borough Council has diminished but we continue to enjoy the relationships she established. Prospective Acts of Parliament and legislation in general were by no means no-go areas to Pat. From the 1968 Countryside Act to the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act and so much more she offered her comments and encouraged the Group to add theirs. Our association with the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society were at Pat’s instigation. She has worked closely with them on a number of issues and gained their high respect. President's badge Pat was the rock on which our Group was founded and has remained a pillar of strength and a source of enthusiasm for all that has been achieved since those earlier days. Her ability to work with and encourage others has been a key factor. We have a unique cause to celebrate Pat’s life and she would surely have expected us to build on the legacy she has left us. Without any question she will be sadly missed by all who knew her – especially by her family. Without question a truly remarkable lady. ‘Pathfinder Pat’ dies aged 97 – still fighting for rights of way in Kent (taken from a press release compiled by Pat’s daughter Hilary and Kate Ashbrook from the Open Spaces Society) Pat Wilson fought for paths and open spaces throughout Kent and Medway for more than 50 years. She was the Open Spaces Society’s first. Vice President and was local correspondent for Medway for 20 years. Before that she served as The Ramblers’ footpath secretary for Kent. She was the president and founder of the Meopham and District Footpaths Group. She died peacefully on 4 April 2014 while still in the midst of her campaigning work. Pat saved countless paths and open spaces in Kent and Medway. In 2012 she claimed more than 120 urban alleyways in Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham for the official path map. Her name is inextricably linked to legal cases which have clarified path law in the public interest – she instigated two far-reaching Ramblers’ cases which not only saved paths in Kent but set crucial precedents for other paths. When Pat and her late husband Peter returned from British Honduras in 1949 Pat knew little about the law of public paths, but a blocked path close to her home at Harvel in 1961 made her furious and she fought to get it reopened. After that she launched the Meopham and District Footpaths Group and lobbied to get the paths in order. In the early sixties, more than half the 80 paths on the official (definitive) map for Meopham were impassable. Pat believed that the best way to get them open was to encourage people to walk them and consequently the Meopham Group had a regular programme of local walks. Born in Bristol in 1917, Pat went to school at Redland High School and graduated from Bristol University in 1938 with a BA in commerce. She grew up in the inter-war years. She danced in the Pump Rooms the night before the Luftwaffe blitzed Bath; she potholed in the Mendips and she danced, sheet-clad, on Stonehenge at midsummer. She and friends hitchhiked through Europe; she was in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics and heard the roars as Jesse Owens won the 100-metres sprint. In 1942 she married Peter Wilson and four years later, pregnant, sailed to British Honduras where they lived for three years in a timber camp in the jungle, with two small children born there.A principled belief in what is ‘right’ underpinned her lifetime of activism, ranging from anti-apartheid marches to wanting wire-cutters as a Christmas present for clearing footpath obstructions. Her first major campaign was to lobby parliament to legislate for safety-glass to be mandatory in windscreens after her elder daughter almost died in a car accident. She was mentioned in Hansard; it took her three years. Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, who worked with Pat for more than 30 years: ‘Pat was a legend but also a reality. She was feisty and determined and tirelessly hard-working to the very end. She was motivated to challenge authority and was rewarded with many fine victories for paths and spaces in Kent and Medway. And she was so up to date – I know no other 97 year-old who works and communicates with the world by email. ‘As we walk through Pat’s country-and the towns too-we can feel certain that, were it not for her persistence, determination and hard work, path-users would be much the poorer.’ Pat is survived by her daughters Hilary and Jo and granddaughters Emma and Laura. For even more information about Pat’s tireless work please visit Kate Ashbrook’s blog.