Obituary: Patricia Cox CB, civil servant, needlewoman and painter

Patricia Ann Cox CB, civil servant. Born: 25 May 1931. Died: 30 August 2018, aged 87 .
Patricia CoxPatricia Cox
Patricia Cox

Patricia Ann Cox (always “Pat” to her friends) was a devoted and punctilious civil servant. Her whole career was spent in the Scottish departments, apart from a three-year secondment to the Treasury. She came from a distinguished academic family, both her father and her brother being Fellows of the Royal Society of London.

When she was nine, Pat had to face a challenge which she would remember all her life. With the horrors of war becoming more apparent, her parents decided in 1940 to send their children to Canada for safety. The evacuation schemes at the time left the responsibility for finding suitable homes to the Canadian authorities.

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Pat had vivid memories of her parents, themselves distraught, at the quayside but urging her to take care of her young brother. In the event Pat and Keith were very well looked after and were able to return to Britain in 1944. Pat made many friends in Canada and was glad to keep in touch with most of them throughout her life. She was deeply upset at Keith’s death in 1998 in a sailing accident off Mull.

She was educated at Leeds Girls’ High School and Newnham College Cambridge, from which she graduated in 1953. In the same year she entered the Department of Health for Scotland as an Assistant Principal, becoming a Principal in the Scottish Home and Health Department (SHHD) in 1959. The rest of her career, apart from three years in HM Treasury and nine as an Under Secretary in the Scottish Education Department, was in SHHD. At its conclusion she was appointed a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB). Women had only been eligible to enter this Order of Chivalry since 1971.

She contributed much to the improvement of legislation of mental health in Scotland. The United Kingdom, and particularly Scotland, was afflicted by the Aids outbreak in the 1980s.

At that time Aids was primarily related to the misuse of drugs and spread by the reuse of contaminated needles but later its spread was greatly increased through sexual contact. There was great public concern about the arrival of the infection and the health departments had a crisis to cope with. Miss Cox had public health as one of her chief responsibilities and was instrumental in tackling the crisis, along with Dr IS McDonald, then Chief Medical Officer – not least by persuading the Scottish Law Officers to let health override criminal charges. In that way depositories used for “sharps” – that is, the needles which had been used for injecting illegal drugs – were provided to stop their reuse, which would have spread the disease.

The need to confer with the other health departments in London meant she had to travel down by overnight sleeper train. Unfortunately that travel caused her severe migraines that laid her low for a day after travelling. In all her work Pat set high standards for herself and expected similar standards from colleagues.

In her private life she was devoted to the arts. In her early years in Edinburgh she regularly attended concerts at St Cecilia’s Hall and in later years sometimes went to hear the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. But opera, especially Wagner, was her main interest throughout.

She developed a distinctive dress sense with many striking colours, and was a fine needlewoman. In retirement she was very successful in developing her skills for painting exquisite and accurate botanical watercolours. Sadly, she had to give this up because of the tremors in her hands as a consequence of Parkinson’s disease – the condition caused double vision.

It was typical of her that she came to have a lively interest in the Parkinson’s Society of Edinburgh. In the first place she was grateful for the advice and support the Society provided. She greatly enjoyed and benefited from a computer course for beginners. She actively supported the exercise programme and social events such as swimming, and was prominent whenever there was a quiz. But before long she was contributing, very successfully, on the basis of her civil service knowledge and her personal experience of Parkinson’s, to the development of the society’s work. Colleagues sometimes found her a rather forbidding character at first, but soon came to recognise how helpful she could be. She worked hard to make the case for the Parkinson’s information cards and played a leading part in their drafting and design.

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As her difficulties increased, she became increasingly dependent on a team of carers coming to her flat. She always had a personal interest in their welfare. It is to their credit that it was only at the end of May this year that it finally became necessary for her to move into a care home.

She was a staunch member of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, where her funeral took place. She was devoted to the language of the 1662 Prayer Book and chose to go to the services at which it was in use. She took a lively interest in the choir and always looked forward to the annual service of nine lessons and carols.