Obituary: The Right Honourable Betty, Baroness Boothroyd, OM, (Hon.) LL.D.
Baroness Boothroyd OM PC
The College was very saddened to hear of the death on 26th February 2023 of one of the Honorary Fellows, Baroness Betty Boothroyd OM PC. Betty Boothroyd was a Labour Parliamentarian and the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons. She was first elected to parliament in 1973 and the House of Commons became her life; the Times obituary (see 28 February 2023 and below) recalls that she was normally ‘in complete control of the House’.
Born in 1929 she grew up in the milltown of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire where she went to the St Paulinus RC School, the same school as her mother and sister, but failed the 11-plus exam and moved to Dewsbury’s commercial college. Leaving Dewsbury at age 17 she became a dancer, worked in London as a secretary at Labour’s headquarters, and then took a sabbatical in the USA which included campaigning for John F Kennedy at the 1960 Presidential election ending up on Capitol Hill, Washington DC where she earned ‘more than a British MP at that time’. Her election as Speaker in the House of Commons and at her retirement in July 2000 were both occasions greeted by applause from MPs – ‘breaches of Commons procedure [that] summed up her popularity’. In 2005 she was appointed to the select group of distinguished people awarded the Order of Merit (OM), a personal gift of the Queen.
When the College Tower was nearing completion the then Master, Dr Richard Laws, approached Downing Street as to whether the Prime Minister, John Major, a Cambridgeshire MP, would be prepared to open the tower. Failing that enquiry, the College approached Betty Boothroyd who lived in Cambridgeshire. A letter of acceptance was received almost by return of post from the Speaker’s office. The plaque giving details of her visit in April 1993 is on the wall of the College’s entrance opposite the Porters’ window. On that occasion the Speaker drove herself to the College without any officials, indicating that her car was full of security equipment. She gave a delightful address thanking the Teikyo Foundation of Japan for their generosity and was pleased that the tower has its foundations in good Cambridgeshire soil.
Betty Boothroyd received an Honorary Fellowship of the College in 1997 and was a welcome and colourful guest on several occasions. At the first of two Norfolk Commemoration dinners she said a few words about being Speaker. Once, when she was dealing with an MP and the rest of the House was getting rather noisy, another MP was emboldened to shout out “Order, Order”, the Speaker replied “Oi, there is not a vacancy sign over this chair” and calm was restored!