Obituary: Jean Dorothy Parkin, 1921-2018

Brian Parkin looks back at the life of his mother, Jean Dorothy Parkin, who passed away on 20th November.

Jean Dorothy Parkin, 19th March 1921 – 20th November 2018

Jean Parkin – my mother – died peacefully in her sleep on the morning of 20th November. For the purpose of this tribute I shall refer to her as Jean – the name by which her many friends and comrades knew her.

Her upbringing as the daughter to an impoverished dockers family on Merseyside is explained most eloquently in an article by her (under her pre-married name of Jean Edmond), first published in the rs21 Leeds publication Northern Star in May 2015, and later reproduced in issue 3 of the rs21 magazine. (The article is available here.)

A life-long socialist, Jean, along with her husband Bill, was a dedicated enemy of all things Tory, racist and nuclear and of danger to the environment. Having joined the army in 1940 and consigned to an ATS anti-aircraft battery Jean came to realise that although ostensibly fighting Hitler and the Nazis, all wars in the end were bloody contests in which the innocent paid for the rich and powerful with their lives. Consequently, she became a fervent peace campaigner and member of the CND – and later the Stop the War campaign.

Jean during the war years

But it was probably racism – and its bloody off-spring- fascism – that Jean detested most. Her rage and tears over the horrors of South African apartheid and her admiration for the US civil rights movement were corner-stones of her political consciousness. So it was with a great sense of pride that she could recall meeting her life-long hero Paul Robeson at the Leeds Odeon during a tour of the UK in the early 1960’s; a time I can remember of a home reverberating to the music of Robeson, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Her politics however, were by no means confined to passive sentiment. In 1971 she became a member of the International Socialists – which by 1977 had become the Socialist Workers Party – which in turn drew her into activities with the (Irish) Troops Out Movement, the Anti-Nazi League and later, solidarity with the miners’ strike of 1984-85. And despite personal threats as well as attacks on her home in Beeston, Leeds from the fascist rump of Column 88, she never once stinted in her opposition to racism.

Jean Parkin – my mother – and the mother of my five surviving siblings – Heather, Sylvia, Stephen and Glen – was a brave, inspiring, loving and strikingly beautiful woman. Solidarity, the love for humanity and socialism coursed through her very veins. She put her life to the service of socialism and the future of humanity. Her death is a great loss to that movement and a source of great sorrow to her family.

Time to organise the angels Mum.

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