‘Pathfinder Pat’ dies aged 97, still fighting for rights of way in Kent

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We are sad to report that Pat Wilson, our vice-president and local correspondent, who fought for paths and open spaces throughout Kent and Medway for more than 50 years, has died aged 97 at her home in Kent.

Pat in 2013

Pat in 2013

Pat was our local correspondent for Medway for 20 years. Before that she served as Ramblers’ footpath secretary for Kent. She was the president and founder of the Meopham and District Footpaths Group in north Kent. She died peacefully on Friday (4 April) 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.

Pat, wearing her President's badge of office, at the 50th anniversary of the Meopham & District Footpaths Group

Pat, wearing her President’s badge of office, at the 50th anniversary of the Meopham & District Footpaths Group

In 1984 Pat played an important part in saving the magnificent countryside at Luddesdown, north Kent, from military occupation.

Born in Bristol on 5 February 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 our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, 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.

See also the story on Kate’s blog.

Donations in memory of Pat

We are most grateful that Pat wanted donations in her memory to be made to the Open Spaces Society to enable us to continue the work she supported so tirelessly for many years. Please donate here in memory of Pat.

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