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Mary Ormerod

Mary Ormerod

Photograph of Mary Ormerod that accompanies her retirement notice in the Bethlem and Maudsley Gazette 1965

Mary Ormerod was born Mary Burton in 1894 and was raised as a Quaker in a religious household. She attended Manchester High School for Girls, and in 1921 married Frank Cunliffe Ormerod in London. He went on to be a successful surgeon at the Hospital for Diseases of the Throat in Golden Square, and a professor at the University of London. They had two sons (one by adoption), and lived in Hampstead in north London for their working lives.

It is a shame that her husband’s importance in his field seems to have obscured her own activities in the years after their marriage. However they both seemed to have been driven by social consciousness and a vigorous desire to help society and those less fortunate in whatever way they could. In the Second World War the Ormerods took in refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, and Mary is later described as never being without ‘a lame dog on her hands’, and in a constant whirl of activity in trying to solve the problems of the institutions she was administering.

Her own activities come into focus first when she worked for the Ministry of Economic Welfare in The Second World War. At the end of the War she was elected to the London County Council in 1946 as a Labour councillor for Hackney, where she took the chair of the Mental Hospitals Committee and the Maudsley Sub-Committee.

Perhaps her greatest achievement as an administrator was in joining the then very separate Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital together into a single entity, while at the same time overseeing the change of the Maudsley medical school into the Institute of Psychiatry. Ormerod had to balance the needs of both Hospitals, the staff that ran them, the City of London (still then in charge of the Boards of Governors at Bethlem), the London County Council, the University of London, and the newly formed Institute, and then had to guide the new Joint Hospital into the newly formed NHS in 1948. An article in the Bethlem and Maudsley gazette, written on her retirement, praises her clear sighted vision and her commitment to realising it as major factors in creating the structure of the joint Hospital and the IoP. In achieving this Mary Ormerod and her colleagues largely created the shape of the current NHS Foundation Trust today.

She subsequently became the first Chair of the Board of the newly formed joint Hospital in 1948. She is described in the History of Bethlem by Andrews et al as deeply committed to the Maudsley, and as already being very used to working with Aubrey Lewis, the Superintendent of the Maudsley and the dominant figure there. While the initial partnership between the Hospitals was dominated by the Maudsley, Mary Ormerod established positions, such as ‘House Governor’, that allowed the Monks Orchard site to thrive in its own right.

She is described as a warm hearted and positive person who enjoyed taking a direct approach to working with people, and who promoted patient care with great energy. The Gazette article also mentions her ‘rare independence’ from party line, and her determination to ensure her actions had the right effect, rather than pleasing the ‘right people’. This perhaps explains how she kept a balance between the two Hospitals during the difficult first few years of the merger between them.

Outside of her responsibilities at the Hospital she represented Hackney as a Labour member of the London County Council up to 1961, and sat on the South West Regional Hospital Board. She was also a governor at two schools, sat on the board of another mental health hospital and sat on the Board of the Old Vic theatre as part of her LCC duties. The Gazette article mentions her love of music and theatre, and her devotion to the family boat at Bosham. 

Her work as a public administrator and office was recognised when she was appointed CBE in 1958, and she retired from her role as Hospital Chair in 1965. Her husband passed away after a short illness in 1967 and she died in 1975. She is remembered in our Boardroom in the Museum, the first woman to have her name put in place on the wall as a Chair or Treasurer. Fittingly, the arms she requested to represent her there are the combined coat of arms that the Joint Hospital registered with the College of Arms in 1951. Her sons survived her, one becoming a medical doctor in Canada.

We are extremely grateful for the additional information provided by the family of Mrs Edith Taylor, Mary's housekeeper of many years.