Claire Rayner (1931–2010)

A personal tribute from Terry Sanderson, NSS President.

Claire Rayner — who has died at the age of 79 — was a great supporter and honorary associate of the National Secular Society and will be greatly missed.

Claire Rayner — who has died at the age of 79 — was a great supporter and honorary associate of the National Secular Society and will be greatly missed.

But I came across Claire long before I got involved in the NSS.

Back in the eighties, I somehow got a job at Woman’s Own magazine on the team of agony aunts answering some of the 200 letters that came in each week to the problem page. The team was headed by Claire, a woman of enormous warmth, energy and generosity. If I was given a letter to answer that simply stumped me (people can get themselves into amazing tangles from which there seems absolutely no escape) she always had some sort of advice, even to the most convoluted of the readers’ dilemmas.

I had bought into this image of her as the warm, cuddly Jewish mum figure (which was not inaccurate), but I also discovered that there was a radical edge to Claire. She was not only a supporter of the NSS, but also of the anti-Monarchy group Republic.

She was always politically involved and was respected by politicians of all stripes. Tony Blair famously caused her to change her party allegiance from Labour to the LibDems.

She was a great defender of the National Health Service and, according to reports, her final words were: "Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him." She presided over the Patients’ Association for many years.

Because of her bubbling approachability, Claire was a natural for broadcasting and made hundreds of TV and radio appearances. She became a mother to the nation and a regular on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image.

She was a woman who enjoyed life immensely and made the most of every opportunity, and really was as pleasant and compassionate as her public image portrayed. She’ll be sorely missed.

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