Finalist in the People’s book Prize Winter Collection for Non-Fiction.
There are numerous Sue Ryder charity shops throughout the UK, but few shoppers know much about their founder. Miss Ryder was a determined and philanthropic woman who created homes for those who were damaged by trauma and injury experienced during the Second World War.
She was born into a privileged family and, when only 16, left school to join the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. This led to Special Operations Executive work where she met Polish airmen. Thus began her admiration of Poles and Poland.
In the chaos of the post-war period she provided food, medicine and clothing to those who were abandoned and had nothing. In 1953 she established the Sue Ryder Foundation as “a living memorial to the victims and opponents of tyranny”. Its specific aim was to relieve suffering. This required her physical and psychological strength in addition to her strong Catholic faith. In 1959 she married the famous Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, and the couple co-operated on more projects.
Sue Ryder made a huge and positive difference to many thousands, despite – or perhaps because of – having a character which could be as downright difficult as it could be inspiring. Over the years she was awarded civic, military and academic honours, including several from Poland. When made a life peer in 1979, she took the title Lady Ryder of Warsaw.
Sue Ryder was brought up to help others and she committed her life to doing so. Unfortunately, after decades of charitable work, there was a bitter, fundamental disagreement between her and her trustees, which ended in them separating. She died soon after this, in 2000. This book is written so that Sue Ryder’s name, work and life are not forgotten.
Tessa West, after attending a Quaker school, trained to be a teacher, though soon found herself working in prisons rather than in schools. A Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship enabled her to study prisons in Scandinavia. This was followed by a Cropwood Fellowship at Cambridge University. She also spent a term at the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Department at the United Nations in Vienna and later served as an Independent Member of the Parole Board. Since her retirement she has focused on writing, both fiction and non-fiction. While writing her first biography, The Curious Mr Howard, she was awarded an Arthur Welton grant. Lady Sue Ryder of Warsaw: Single-minded philanthropist is her second biography.
On 9 Feb Tessa introduced her biography on Woman’s Hour. Listen to the interview here.
“She was obviously quite a feisty young woman, she lied about her age to join the FANYs … She did seem to leave her own foundation under a bit of a cloud .. that was a very sad end for her and all the work that she had done … when you look back at her whole life what drove that ferocious energy that she had?”
Jenni Murray, BBC Woman’s Hour Presenter
“This book tells you all you need to know about a great lady with a great vision.”
“Sue Ryder was one of the best-known women of the second half of the 20th century, rivalled only by Mother Teresa for Catholic compassion and Diana, Princess of Wales, for personal charisma. She was also one of the least well-known, such was her skill in covering her tracks and hiding her true self … This biography offers a tantalising portrait.”
“A dervish-cum-dynamo. Stubborn. Hands-on. Driven. Feisty. Caring. Intensely private. Saintly. A nightmare. That’s a lot of labels .. . for a woman who lived by a simple motto: Do what you can for the person in front of you … Needless to say, the volume itself has so much wonderful detail!”
Steven Russell, East Anglian Daily Times
Tessa said “It’s a fascinating story. I feel the richer for spending a couple of years writing and researching it and definitely … my opinion of her has gone up when I’ve seen the stuff she has done …people think very warmly of her … and want to ensure the legend remains.” Lesley responded “You’ve done your bit for making sure the legend remains”.
Listen to Tessa’s interview on BBC Radio Suffolk with Lesley Dolphin here.
“… what is palpably clear, for both herself and her husband, is that they were motivated by a Christ-like compassion, especially when confronted with human suffering. But it was a compassion that required responsive action. Feeling sorry was never enough in itself.
This book will be of particular interest to all who are involved in the ministry of care in response to human suffering.”
The Rev Paul Hulme, The Methodist Recorder