Monday, May 07, 2012

Phyllis Bowman

Phyllis Bowman, the UK's leading Pro Life campaigner has died. She was 85.

I had the privilege of knowing her in recent years.

Much has already been written about her irreplaceable contribution to the Pro Life cause which I do not propose to replicate here; mere words, after all, cannot record the totality of her work and the scale of her commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable.

I will say, however, that though she stood just 5 foot tall, she was the only Pro Life campaigner of distinction in this country. The reason for this, I think, was that Phyllis did not come from the kind of background you would expect a Pro Lifer to come from. She wasn't born a Catholic - she came from a Sephardi Jewish family, was intensely proud of her roots and had a rich appreciation for the religion of her ancestors - and went on to become a Fleet Street journalist in the heady years of the postwar boom. An anti-war activist, she was in many ways the archetypal left-leaning 60s liberal who was enthusiastic about the social reform causes of that time. She had a tolerant attitude to people's private lives, never had any patience with homophobia and was a lifelong genuine anti-racist.

Her Pro Life values were a continuation of her 60s left-liberalism, not a departure from them. Accordingly they were suffused with her innate humanitarianism. Not for Phyllis any sanctimonious moralising or bland feel-good platitudes. Phyllis's language reflected her vivacity and could when the occasion required be deliciously pungent. "I can see around corners," she once told me with a bewitching smile, adding naughtily "it's the Jew in me."

There was nothing of the marble figurine about Phyllis Bowman. She was, rather, a magnificent, beguiling diva. When Phyllis spoke you listened, when Phyllis commanded you obeyed, for she spoke with authority; when Phyllis upbraided you, you were aware of the fact that she, no respecter of the false divisions of class and social status, had upbraided many a high and mighty politician too and that you damned well deserved her censure.

She was wise, she could be infuriating, she was always charming but most of all Phyllis Bowman was tender-hearted. I recall with affection her many personal kindnesses to me. There is a Hebrew word which describes her: Chesed. It means loving-kindness. That was what she was.