Obituary: Patricia Newton, groundbreaking female journalist

Patricia O’Brien (nee Newton), the first woman reporter in the parliamentary press gallery working for the Press Association, recently passed away. The obituary below is written by her children Francesca and Tom O’Brien.

Pat O'Brien (courtesy of Francesca and Tom O'Brien)

As children it didn’t seem odd that our mother Pat worked in the House of Commons where the policeman tipped his hat to us as our father (who stayed at home to look after us) drove her in and out.

But for the early sixties our parents were trail blazers and as we grew older our mother’s quiet determination was a source of inspiration and great pride.

Born Patricia Newton in 1924, the daughter of a royal marine bandmaster, Pat left school at 14. Her mother paid for Pat, who was selling chocolate in the Weymouth Pier bandstand, to go to secretarial school.

Pat went from there in 1939 to the Southern Times. It was wartime and there were opportunities for energetic, organised and hard working young women, and at 16 she was a reporter. She had found her metier. At 18 she moved to London to work on South London papers, narrowly escaping being bombed out herself.

In the forties she had the two great breaks of her life. She met our father Joe O’Brien from Cork at a police ball in 1943. He had spotted her walking by as he worked on a building site and had admired from afar. She went on to marry him in 1950 and they remained married for 59 years. A remarkable and devoted couple. He survives her.

Her second break was also another step in the great march of women in the 20th century. In 1946, she became the first woman reporter in the parliamentary press gallery working for the Press Association.

Equality advances come with a price: when she became pregnant with her daughter Francesca in 1956 she was fired on the basis she should be at home looking after her child and husband.

Dame Irene Ward (Conservative) and Barbara Castle (Labour) brought it up in Question Time and the Married Woman’s Association and the NUJ took up her case. Soon Pat had her job back again – only to lose it a second time when she became pregnant with her son Tom born in 1961.

Pat crossed the journalistic Rubicon in 1964. For the next 20 years she worked as a civil service press officer for Arts Ministers and for the Department of Education and Science.

She enjoyed a long retirement battling and baffling officialdom armed with her pre-war typewriter and her mobile phone and devoting herself to her family – particularly her grandchildren Ben and Beth.

(Francesca and Tom O’Brien)

1 thought on “Obituary: Patricia Newton, groundbreaking female journalist

  1. Andrea Maclean

    I received a Christmas card from a former colleague and friend in the UK ( I now live in Spain) telling me about Pat O´Brien´s death. It was a shock -as usual, I had sent her and Joe a Christmas card and I was saddened to hear the news. I was a young press officer working at DES from 1979 to 85 and Pat was my immediate boss. I learned a lot from her – her eye for detail, her calmness while all hell was breaking loose and her sheer professionalism. I was very fond of her and remember much that was fun about the time we worked together. After I moved on to other departments and Pat retired we kept in touch. She always sent me a birthday and xmas card enclosing a letter typed on the trusty typewriter telling me all the news about Francesca, Tom and the family. Her dry sense of humour was always to the fore. If it is at all possible I would be grateful if this could be forwarded to Tom and Francesca..who I met briefly wwhen we were both nobbut kids…just to say how sorry I am. I may not have seen Pat for well over 20 years but my memories are strong and fond.

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