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Thank you Peggy, for keeping Hampstead such a special place

PUBLISHED: 15:22 24 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:42 07 September 2010

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THE uncrowned queen of Hampstead Dame Peggy Jay died in the early hours of Monday morning

Marc Mullen

THE "uncrowned queen of Hampstead" Peggy Jay died in the early hours of Monday morning.

Ms Jay, who was just one week short of her 95th birthday, was chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society for 22 years and a Labour member of the London County Council and then the Greater London Council.

The tireless campaigner for health, children and education, the arts, the environment and Hampstead, died peacefully at her home in Gayton Crescent.

Her daughter, Catherine Boyd, was by her side when she died.

She said: "She moved mountains by sheer determination, guts, energy and a really strong sense of what she believed to be right.

"She was an amazing lady and much loved. I do feel strongly that women like my mother won't exist in the future.

"I'm unbelievably proud to have been her daughter. I have been inspired by her all my life and daunted by her achievements.

"Her death was peaceful in her bed, in Hampstead where she lived most of her life. It was how she would have wanted it."

Born Peggy Garnett, on January 28 1913, her family moved to Hampstead when she was seven. And so began a life-long love affair with the area.

At the age of 17, she fell in love with the boy next door, Douglas Jay, and he successfully coached her for her Oxford entrance exam.

The couple married at Hampstead Parish Church on September 30 1933, and their first son Peter was born on February 7 1937.

In 1939 son Martin was born, followed in 1945 by twins Catherine and Helen.

Mr Jay was elected to Parliament in 1946, but the relationship was strained by his refusal to commit to monogamy - something Ms Jay painfully revealed in 1990 in her book Loves & Labours.

A large, strong, loving and fiercely loyal family was immensely important to her. Her love of Hampstead and the Heath was never summed up better than by her son Peter at her 90th birthday party in Burgh House in 2003.

"Her lifelong fight for the preservation and character of Hampstead Heath and its Kenwood enclave, including saving it from the baneful embrace of the London Borough of Camden after the abolition of the GLC, or her fight, with key allies, to preserve Burgh House, where we stand now, as an asset and amenity of the Hampstead community, saved from some commercial fate worse than death.

"In each of these things Peggy left behind solid, real changes which have since become part of the fabric of life in those fields."

She fought tirelessly to protect the Heath and Hampstead's beloved leafiness, once even tying herself to a tree in her dressing gown to stop the council chopping it down.

Ms Jay had an on-off relationship with the Labour party and in the 1980s she resigned because of her feelings about the far-left policies.

Last summer she came back to the fold, because of Gordon Brown's ascendancy. She said she had disliked Tony Blair because "he smiled too much."

Mike Katz, chairman of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party, said: "I was saddened by the news of Peggy Jay's death. She truly believed in the importance of public service, and felt her mission was to make the world a better place."

In 1973 Ms Jay featured on the first That's Life, which her daughter Catherine worked on, highlighting the plight of children institutionalised at Friern Barnet Hospital.

She combined her love of the Heath with her love of children when she started the One O'clock Club at Parliament Hill.

Her health had deteriorated since last August when she dislocated her shoulder.

But she had a delightful Christmas at her daughter's house in Dorset with most of her family visiting her there.

Her family was planning a birthday party for her next week when they received the sad news.

Her funeral will be held at Hampstead Parish Church on Church Row at 1pm on Monday, the day she would have turned 95.

She will be cremated and her ashes taken to the Isle of Wight, which was the backdrop for many a family holiday and the retirement home of her parents.

Burgh House, which she campaigned to save in the late 1970s, will open specially on Monday after the funeral and all are welcome through the doors.

Ms Jay is survived by her four children, 17 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

Her niece, Virginia Bottomley, former Tory minister, said: "She was a phenomenal force for good. She was articulate, determined and a constant champion for change.

"She was a massive presence within the extended family. She was the most influential person in my life, influencing many of my career decisions and my move into politics, even if it was with 'the wrong party'.

"She was a rock, someone always to turn to. During some of my toughest days in government I would come home to find the most tremendously comforting answer phone message. She was a truly modern woman in the priorities she gave to nurturing successive generations."

TV presenter Esther Rantzen, a friend of the Jays, said: "When I moved to Hampstead to East Heath Road it was wonderful how Peggy and her daughter Catherine held a dinner party for me and Peggy was absolutely charming.

"I hugely admired Peggy's stalwart defence of Hampstead and its ecology and its architecture and its social mix.

"She was very practical, enjoyed life and had a very fine mind. She was a fantastic matriarch in the best sense of the word - her sense of family was remarkable.

"I had the greatest admiration for her and greatly enjoyed her company - she was lively, funny, generous and stimulating. A great lady - a great loss."

Shirley Williams, SDP founder, said: "She was very active in the SDP and set up the London branch of the party. She was a remarkable lady."

Bob Hall, chairman of Hampstead Heath management committee at the City of London Corporation, said: "We remain immensely grateful for all she did to help make the Heath what it is today, not least her support in the difficult transition from ownership under the GLC to the City of London Corporation.

"Her leadership was crucially important in achieving a successful outcome for the new arrangements.

"Her spirit will live on, not only with the One O'clock Club and the children's playground at Vale of Health, but across Hampstead Heath and beyond."

Helen Marcus, vice president of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: "With her energy, commitment and immense knowledge over a wide range of subjects, she steered the Society successfully through one of the most difficult and anxious periods in its history, when the Heath was left in limbo by the abolition of the GLC.

"Behind Peggy's formidable public image was a warm and compassionate woman with a deep concern for others and a great sense of fun."

Lord Bill Rodgers, SDP founder, said: "She was strong, outspoken and committed. She was a leading figure in a talented generation."

Her daughter Catherine Boyd explained Peggy Jay's more fearsome side: "She could be a stroppy cow. She was a nightmare driver. I would hide when she would shake her fist at lorry drivers on the north circular when she was in her little Skoda.

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