Baroness Gardner of Parkes, Dentist And Peer, Dies Aged 96

Baroness Gardner of Parkes, Dentist And Peer, Dies Aged 96

Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a retired dentist and the first Australian woman to be elevated to the peerage, has died. She was 96. 

Her long life was characterised by public service, firstly via her work as a dentist and secondly in politics, where she served as a Conservative councillor on the Greater London Council from 1970 until its abolition in 1986. She was a member of the House of Lords from 1981.

Better known as Trixie, her middle name, Baroness Gardner was born in Parkes, New South Wales. She earned her BDS at the University of Sydney in 1954 at a time when few women entered the profession.  It was at university that  she met her husband, Kevin Gardner, also a dental student who won the Arnott Prize for Oral Surgery in 1954.

The couple married in Paris in 1956 where Trixie was studying Cordon Bleu cookery and moved to London in 1957 where they established their practice in Clerkenwell, North London.  .

Of dentistry, she famously remarked "Australians improved the standard of dentistry in the UK.  We introduced local anaesthetic for fillings. Until then people just used to grin and bear it, or the dentist stopped when it got too painful."

But Trixie had more to offer the community than dentistry alone and her desire to contribute was clear from her early years of her career. 

Her obituary in The Times discloses that in the early sixties she applied to join the NHS Board for Dentistry only to find out that the board had rejected her application because it was “frightened to take on a woman”.

Margaert Thatcher had no such reservations.  Responding to pressure to appoint more working peers to the House of Lords - and especially women who were "doers" - Thatcher elevated Gardner to the Upper Chamber where, in a sign of the times, she was variously referred to as "that Australian woman" and "the floral lady".

But ’that Australian woman’ was to prove one of the hardest working peers with an exceptional attendance record. 

Her political achievements are many, including a stint as the UK’s representative at the UN Status of Women Commission.  

Her campaigning persuaded the UK government to impose the burden of proof in discrimination on employers, not women, and she also saw to it that the law was changed so that married women, who gave up their jobs to look after a family member, were treated like single women in the same position.

And it was Trixie Gardner who, in 1988 moved the amendment to enshrine the principle of free dental examinations at a time when NHS benefits were being tightened.  Plus ca change.

Rachel Trixie Anne McGirr was born on July 17th 1927 and died on 14th April 2024 aged 96.


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