Highgate Cemetery 'stalwart' quits
PUBLISHED: 16:31 21 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:13 07 September 2010
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Tan Parsons THE woman at the helm of Highgate Cemetery has stood down after a 35-year reign – after a turbulent period which has seen her investigated by the Charity Commission. Jean Pateman, chairwoman for more than three decades, is at the heart of a c
THE woman at the helm of Highgate Cemetery has stood down after a 35-year reign - after a turbulent period which has seen her investigated by the Charity Commission.
Jean Pateman, chairwoman for more than three decades, is at the heart of a commission probe centring on allegations of rude handling of visitors to the cemetery in Swain's Lane, the constant threat of expulsion for members who show dissent and concerns over the board's election process.
A joint statement from the Friends of Highgate Cemetery's board of directors said: "The trustees have elected a new chairman, Tom Richardson, to replace Jean Pateman MBE, who did not offer herself for re-election.
"Mr Richardson intends to improve the public image from one of perceived hostility to visitors as reported in the local press recently, to one of a friendly welcome.
"The atmosphere in which the volunteers and staff work will be one of encouragement and positive recognition."
The board recognised Mrs Pateman's contribution to the "salvation and preservation" of the cemetery and paid tribute to her "energy, self-motivation, directness of purpose and courage".
Mrs Pateman, who remains a board member, told the Ham&High that it was her decision to stand down and said it was only with great reluctance that she had taken on the role initially.
She said: "Changes always happen. What's best for the cemetery has always been my concern.
"I've made my decision. I've made my decision from the very start when I took this on. I have asked at least four jolly nice people to take over from me but until recently there's been great reluctance to take on the top job."
But Friend Sue Berdy did not believe Mrs Pateman had chosen to step down.
She said: "It's clear that she's been ousted by a boardroom coup. I think they thought enough is enough because now she's bringing the cemetery into disrepute.
"The policy at the cemetery has been extremely neglectful and I think it's a big challenge that now faces Tom Richardson but one that he is capable of meeting. I wish him well."
Mrs Pateman recently criticised Boris Johnson for listing the Grade II-listed site as a key tourist attraction - but the mayor will now be invited on a tour of the cemetery whose residents include Karl Marx, George Eliot, Douglas Adams and Alexander Litvinenko.
A Friend for 25 years, Caroline Coombes, has been one of Mrs Pateman's most vocal critics. But even she described the news as desperately sad.
She said: "Jean Pateman has more guts than the rest of the trustees put together and they should be hanging their heads in shame that they have allowed an elderly person to shoulder the heavy burden of the day-to-day running of the cemetery for so long.
"I remember visiting Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s and the dreadful state it was in.
"Everyone who cares about the cemetery owes Jean and her late husband and all the other self-sacrificing Highgate residents who formed the Friends of Highgate Cemetery an enormous debt."
New chairman Mr Richardson was born in New York and has spent most of the past 42 years living in Highgate.
He and his wife have been grave owners and friends of the cemetery since 1990.
He has been a volunteer for five years and was elected as a trustee in 2008.
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