Dedicated fundraiser Edith Oakley has died at the age of 103, having spent some 60 years supporting Blood Cancer UK, during which time she raised around a quarter of a million pounds for the charity.
Born on 27 October 1919, and passing away on 27 December 2022, Edith made an outstanding contribution to medical advancements in blood cancer through her fundraising, all while never moving from Radlett, her place of birth.
Edith chose Blood Cancer UK followed the sad death of her son John, who passed away in 1959 from leukaemia. Edith and her husband Laurie were inspired by a story in the newspaper to raise money for research. Edith said that she never wanted any more parents to suffer the way she had and set about a lifelong task of fundraising for advances in blood cancer.
Reflecting on her experiences when she was 100, Edith recounted how she first began trying to sell handmade aprons to raise money:
“I’ve made a lot of friends doing volunteering and I’ve always really enjoyed it. But it’s been hard work at times – especially all the knitting and sewing we did.
“We also weren’t very well off, and to start with, I couldn’t even afford to go to the market on the bus to get the material for the aprons. I had to ask a friend if she could bring the materials back for me. When I made my first apron, Laurie took it to work and sold it. Then, with that money, we had enough to buy the materials to make three aprons. That’s how we did it in the beginning.”
In 1961, two years after Edith and Laurie began fundraising, the first leukaemia research unit opened and since then Blood Cancer UK have invested over £500 million into scientific research on blood cancer.
This has had a huge impact on the survival rates of people diagnosed with a range of different blood cancers – and currently, nine out of every ten people children with blood cancer survive for five years. At the time that John was diagnosed, doctors told Edith that the average span of the disease was just nine months.
Over the years, Edith’s fundraising efforts for Blood Cancer UK involved knitting and sewing for bazaars she held in local halls and garden fetes. She also held bikeathons and lots of local children and relatives did sponsored swims.
In her 100th year she was honoured in Downing Street with a Times Sternberg award for her work. When Blood Cancer UK was given the chance to have a cast of someone’s hands featured as part of a sculpture representing the organisations that contributed to UCL’s research, Edith was the natural choice with her dedication over so many years summing up the ethos of the charity.
At 100, Edith was also still the main contact for the charity’s Radlett & Borehamwood Branch, and her funeral collection was of course for Blood Cancer UK.
Helen Rowntree, Chief Executive of Blood Cancer UK, paid tribute to Edith:
“It’s without question that Edith’s pioneering courage, and selfless efforts have helped ensure other families don’t have to experience the same terrible loss that she did. For decades, we as a charity have been driven forward by people coming together and channelling their determination to achieve extraordinary, and no one better exemplified this than Edith.”