It was with great sadness by all at the Priestley Society that we learned recently of the passing of Kathleen Conway of Birstall. Kath was a lifelong champion of Birstall’s Priestley heritage, and founder member of the Priestley Society. Kath died peacefully at Kirkwood Residential Home, Ilkley on 18th June 2009, aged 88.
Kathleen Conway was born on 6th September 1921 in Windhill, Shipley, West Yorkshire, where she spent her childhood. On leaving her local school Kath undertook training in nursing and nursed in hospitals in the north of England during the Second World War. Kathleen made a career of nursing, highlighted by her achievement of the Queen’s Nursing Award. She was chosen as a representative for her region to attend the International Congress of Nursing in Tokyo, 1977. Specializing in midwifery and then district nursing, for many years Kath served the people of Birstall, Batley and environs as a district nursing sister. She was known to many in her community as ‘Sister Conway’.
Kath had many interests and skilled hobbies. She learned to make hand knotted lace and collected antique lace making implements. She became involved in promoting a form of tatting originating in America called ‘Jiffy tatting’. In 1985 she was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship travel award to visit the U.S.A to share her interest in tatting as a handicraft accessible to the disabled.
Kath had a keen interest in local history. She was a founding member of the Batley Museum Society and became involved in the developments at Oakwell Hall, as an active, committee serving ‘Friend of Oakwell’.
Kathleen developed an enduring interest in the life of Joseph Priestley. She researched his life and works and was a founder member of the Priestley Society, contributing to our events and meetings well into her retirement years; whilst she had the strength to walk, she never missed a meeting.
Kath will be remembered by her family and friends not only for her kindness but also for her enthusiasm and commitment to the local community as a respected nursing sister, expert in handicrafts and local historian.
One of the most prized possessions of Kath was a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, London W1, confirming the whereabouts of the famous “Leeds Portrait”. Thanks to Kath’s tenacity in locating the painting’s whereabouts, we now know the painting was selected by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, herself both scientist political reformer, when she became Prime Minister in 1979.
Kath Conway leading a Priestley Celebration
Kath (3rd from left) led celebration of 250th Anniversary of Priestley’s Birth
Kath was the organiser of the walk that took place in historic costume during the 1983 celebrations of the 250th Anniversary of Priestley’s birth. She kept a collection of memorabilia and clippings that she has donated to the Priestley Society, and for which we are deeply thankful.
Tributes and warm condolences from both local people, and from the USA, have been received by the Priestley Society.
Jenny Graham, of Birstall, longstanding friend of Kath told us: “Sister Conway, as I knew her, was the District Nurse in Birstall and she tended my mother for many years, becoming more of a family friend than a nurse. Her care and dedication to her job was second to none. I lost touch with Sister Conway after my mum died, therefore it was a pleasure to meet up with her again at the Priestley Society meetings. I had always known Mrs. Conway had an interest in history, particularly of the local area so it was really no surprise to find her an active member of the society. Over the years Sister Conway inspired me in lots of ways, she was keen on handicrafts and collecting interesting artifacts. One evening, when invited to supper at her house, she gave me a glass perfume bottle, which I have treasured every since. This is a great loss to both the Society and to everyone who knew this caring lady”.
From Virginia USA, great great great great grandson of Joseph Priestley, Pete Toulmin, said “Kath was wonderfully kind to me and my wife when we visited Birstall many years ago, and we kept up a sporadic correspondence for years. Condolences and sympathy to family and friends”
We all loved and respected Kath and will miss her dearly.