Human rights campaigner, author, and founder of the ASHA Centre
Frances was a woman of great inspiration. Those that have that rare gift of inspiring others exude something that is difficult to pin down intellectually, yet you know it when you are in their presence.
Frances inspired a generation of aspiring women politicians such as myself for which I shall be eternally grateful. She also had that rare quality of inspiring herself. She was willing to act on her own inner impulses to do the good and courageous things so that she did not die like so many women of her generation and throughout history who experience the pain of wondering …WHAT IF?
Frances changed the landscape in real terms. She was a pioneer in empowering and encouraging women to take up the mantle of political leadership. She started an international women’s NGO that pioneered bringing women together across nations. She created an environmental centre to help us connect kindly and intelligently to nature. Frances was before her time.
I love and admire her and am proud to treasure our friendship. Frances was a great soul.
Founder, 300 Group
Frances Alexander was a kind friend and always encouraging and supportive. We shared a number of goals – Liberalism, women’s equality, peace and environment. She invited me to speak at an amazing conference she organised in High Wycombe in November 2015, ‘Can Women Cool it? Communities tackling Climate Change’. Local Steps to Global Action.
She was a stalwart supporter of the all party 300 GROUP campaign I founded in the 1980s to get more women elected to parliament and local council. Sometimes bringing her much loved daughter Louise with her to 300 GROUP events. Frances later founded ‘Women for Women’ to promote friendships among women across the world.
I last saw Frances in April 2019. She suggested we meet for an evening in London. We had supper and went to a Radix meeting titled, ‘Revitalising British Politics.’ Stephen Kinnock MP was one of the speakers. Frances’ granddaughter Nonie was with us. We spent a highly enjoyable evening together.
In our exchange of e-mails saying how much we enjoyed the evening Frances wrote: ‘You’ll be pleased to hear that Nonie was quite inspired by the evening, I am sure she is taking her politics very seriously, I think she understood more of where you and I are coming from, as well as the discussions of central politics.’ Self proclaimed ‘proud grandma’ was proud of Nonie’s research work. Frances wrote to me a few months later saying ‘Nonie has just presented her research findings to a conference in Los Angeles. she has sorted 60,000 medical notes of Alzheimers into clusters for starters … but it means there are several sorts of Alzheimers and treatments will vary. I think this was understood before, but not sorted out to this extent.’
I know she missed Eric. I hope they are now united. Frances will be missed by many.
I met Frances at the Environment Centre. The very first time we spoke, I remember thinking I really like this lady’s style! From there on we became good friends. I would often pop down the centre just to catch her for a few minutes and hear many of her wonderful stories and interesting facts about life.
I loved being around her, there were times when she would amaze me, inspire me, challenge me, and help me feel stronger. She always believed I can do better in life and wanted to see me do better than ever before. Her words of wisdom gave me courage, her good intentions gave me confidence. Her sincerity, loyalty and loving patience gave her a special place in my heart forever.
Love you always, dear Frances. May you rest in peace now. Shaida
Frances – always working, always positive, always looking to improve things environmentally. So much achieved, so many lives touched and inspired. Having known her primarily through her environmental work and the Environment Centre in High Wycombe, I witnessed her helping young people add to their CVs through their volunteer services, offering guidance, confidence and encouragement – and she always did so, cheerfully.
I visited her several times in her flat at The Galleries and at Hughenden Gardens Village. She helped me with my High Wycombe town and Hughenden Park trails and I’ve told my children that if I ever lose motivation, just shout ‘Frances Alexander’ at me!! A rare person.
Ian Sutherland, BSc. C.Eng.
Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers
I first met Frances at a Discussion Group formed in Hughenden Gardens Village. We sat next to each other and started a friendship which grew and flourished in the relatively short time Frances was with us here in the Extra Care Gardens Village.
We were both on the same wavelength as regards work in the community, and of a kindred spirit. I met some family and special friends over “Cups of Tea”. My recent lunch with Frances and her very dear friend, Doctor Elsa Woodward was very rewarding from the discussions on Community Service in the High Wycombe Area.
I shall miss Frances very much.
Member, Pulse of Europe
Frances was always disarmingly good humoured – while being no stranger to a political scrap – saying to me, with a smile, “If your campaign manager hasn’t slammed the phone down on you during an election campaign then you’ve never been a proper candidate”.
Frances was always practical. She had a way of making you want to do things for her. I remember helping her move trolley loads of buckets, nets and books for learning about the wildlife in the river. She gave me copies of her tree walk guide to the Rye park, which was printed when the Environment Centre was in the Rye.
Frances truly believed in a peaceful, tolerant, united and democratic Europe. She was always encouraging, supporting Pulse of Europe in High Wycombe town centre. Doesn’t everybody have a complete collection of all the European Union flags!
Just as the European treaties speak of building a solidarity among the peoples of Europe, so Frances set up Women Welcome Women to build such a solidarity.
Just as the European treaties speak of deepening the solidarity that binds Europe and the overseas nations, and “call upon the overseas nations to join in these efforts”, so Frances added World Wide to Women Welcome Women.
Surely this is an example of what Robert Schuman meant in his famous Declaration on the 9th of May 1950, that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”. Frances made practical steps to overcome the fear of Europeans of each other.
Friend & neighbour
In 1969 when Eric, Frances, Louise and Philip moved into 3 Mayhew Crescent, High Wycombe as our new next door neighbours, they were an extension of our family. Frances was always there as support when I needed it, help when I asked and more. When I had children a few years later she was there often in her kitchen across the dividing fence and would take our daughter over and have her sitting with her showing her how to bake.
We were active in National Housewives Register, did WEA courses in her lounge and when there were keep fit classes up at the church where she organised some of her students to come along and learn about looking after children by running a crèche in the crypt while we exercised upstairs. Saving the nurseries was a major thing with marches and visits to council offices. Om International Women’s Year in 1975, our NHR branch raised money and commissioned portraits of famous women which were hung in The Alder Valley Bus Station, High Wycombe (editor: drawn by Judy Kemp, Frances’ sister).
There was her love of politics and somehow she managed to get me involved with leaflet distribution. I moved and they moved and in 1984 Women Welcome Women came about which was run from their lovely house where I was often asked to pop along to help collate and staple, write envelopes or just make some tea.
As member numbers grew and her wonderful volunteer left for pastures new, Elizabeth and I were asked to job share in the bedroom/office which we did for quite a while. Eric kindly bringing refreshments at times. We eventually moved into the attic office in Easton Street where we enjoyed greeting visiting members and many came to help with newsletters.
In December 1998 I moved to Havant in Hampshire so had to leave and Caroline was there and still is looking after us all. I was so honoured when invited to be a Trustee and so enjoyed still being involved until I retired 5 years ago.
I did attend the anniversary in High Wycombe last year and had planned a visit in April this year to celebrate my 80th with friends, unfortunately lock down did not allow so plans were to visit next April which I still hope to do but Frances will not be there. I will always miss her as she has been a big part of my life. My daughter still refers to her as Auntie Frances which says a lot.
Writer & friend
Frances was one of those people who pop up everywhere. I can’t quite remember when we actually first encountered one another, but it was sometime in the early 1980s, before the inauguration of what was then WWW (Women Welcome Women). Wherever I went in my role as a writer on our local newspaper, it seemed she was there, too. This short lady with a commanding presence, upswept strawberry blonde hairdo and a carrying voice!
As the months went by, I came to realise just how deeply Frances was involved in local matters and beyond – politics, history, the role of women, the environment, the arts and many more.
My main interest was in the arts and reporting on local events and activities for the newspaper, which is how I came to know Eric, husband of Frances. Eric was part of Wycombe District Arts Association (WDAA) and invited me to join the committee. Through him, I came to know Frances better as she would appear, of course, at events connected with the association’s activities. The main aim of WDAA was to persuade the powers-that-be that what High Wycombe desperately needed was an arts centre and theatre. The association had been founded by two ex-servicemen on their return to civilian life in the late 1940s. The Wycombe Swan Theatre was the eventual outcome, though it took many decades and constant pressure to achieve it.
Meanwhile, Frances’s “I’ve had an idea” moment had become a reality and Women Welcome Women was formed, becoming “official” in 1984. Just a few years later, Frances had another idea – to hold a gathering of WWW members in Iceland and I was invited to form the “press corps”. How could a girl resist?!
It was a sizeable gathering with women from widespread places attending – New Zealand, United States and several European countries including the UK. We were based at a girls’ boarding school in the countryside not far from Reykjavik, the capital.
Of course, we visited geysers, glaciers, roaring waterfalls, climbed up the inside of the cone of, I am pleased to say, an extinct volcano, had face-to-face encounters with fulmars, who, for once, refrained from spitting, 4×4 excursions over the rocky water courses of the remote interior, and so on. We were awed by the use of natural power to heat buildings. Even the delightfully warm school swimming pool was heated by geyser energy. All a convincing force to Frances’s drive to make use of the environment in a positive way. The highlight was meeting the lady President of Iceland in her modest official residence and the MPs from the ruling Kvennalisten or Women’s Party. The trip was such a great combination of some of Frances’s major concerns.
Naturally, I couldn’t wait to become a full member of WWW and enjoy and encourage the making of international friendships through visiting and welcoming other members. A world of travel, hosts of guests in our home and several long lasting friendships have been the awesome result.
It wasn’t long before Frances asked me to join the organisation as an employee and work in her “office in the trees”. This was a bedroom of the Alexander home in High Wycombe. Sitting in the window area to work and overlooking the mature trees all around us, it really did feel as though we were sitting in the branches.
Jacqui Downie, a longtime friend of Frances, was there, too, and we all became Trustees of the WWW Board as well as managing the ever busier office. It was an exciting time, being part of the action as the organisation grew.
Frances being Frances, she also took an interest in my other work as a journalist, inviting me to talk to students at the American High School in High Wycombe, where she was host nation teacher. That was a lovely afternoon and opened up the mystery of the long term US military base that had been on the periphery of local life since the 1940s.
Frances also nominated me for a regional press award and we went off to London to the ceremony, overnighting in a grand Kensington hotel. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, someone else won the award. She was a young lady from a Yorkshire newspaper, and by coincidence an acquaintance of my son, who was at Sheffield University at the time, so it seemed a bit as though the award was in the family! A bonus was that Jenni Murray, the doyenne of BBC Radio 4’s much loved and respected Woman’s Hour, was at our table and I also met Kate Adie, one of Britain’s indefatigable war reporters and a great personal heroine.
Frances and I had many adventures together and lots of fun, a few ups and downs, plus much hard work keeping WWW, by now 5W, going and growing. When the time came for us to leave the daily work of the office, we stayed in touch and carried on “putting the world to rights”!
My abiding memory of Frances is seated in her new apartment, same hairdo but silver now, smiling broadly, being positive, and most of all hearing that chuckle when something amused her.