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Subject: Agony aunt and NHS campaigner Claire Rayner dies at 79

Written By: Philip Eno on 10/12/10 at 1:17 pm

Tributes have been paid to agony aunt Claire Rayner, who has died at the age of 79.

The award-winning journalist had remained poorly after intestinal surgery in May. She died in hospital near her home in Harrow in London.

She told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: "Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him."

Her husband Des Rayner said he had lost his soul mate and best friend.

She worked for the Sun, Sunday Mirror and Woman's Own and was named medical journalist of the year in 1987. She also wrote a string of novels.

Her restaurant critic son, Jay, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "She had been through a hell of a lot of health troubles over the last five months and some of us thought towards the end that she actually just wanted to give up.

"But late on Sunday night, when things were looking a bit bleak, she was offered one last chance and I honestly thought she would say, 'No, just let me go,' and she didn't.

"It was very much in the nature of her that she said, 'I will try the dialysis.' It didn't work, unfortunately. She had led an absolutely amazing life and I am very, very proud of her."

Mrs Rayner, who had two other children - Amanda and Adam - and four grandchildren, will have a humanist funeral for family and close friends.

A former nurse and midwife, for many years she was also president of the Patients Association.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 70, but beat the illness. In 2006 she wrote about her experience on the BBC News website.

Her husband of 53 years, Des, said: "I have lost my best friend and my soul mate. I am immensely proud of her."

Mr Rayner, who was also her agent and manager, said: "Through her work she helped hundreds of thousands of people and doubtless, by talking frankly about the importance of safe sex in the 80s when almost nobody else would discuss it, helped to save thousands of lives.

"Right up until her death she was being consulted by both politicians and the medical profession about the best way to provide the health services the nation deserved and nothing mattered to her more than that. Her death leaves a vacancy which will not be filled."

Her son Jay added that she had been a great parent and a great journalist who did not shy away from controversy.

"The thing about her was she was an agent provocateur, she liked to make mischief, she liked to infuriate people," he said.

In 1996 she was awarded the OBE for "services to women's issues and health issues".

She was involved with 50 charities, and was a member of the Prime Minister's Commission on Nursing and the last government's Royal Commission on the Care of the Elderly.

Her no-nonsense manner led to the BBC employing her to demonstrate how to put on a condom and she was one of the first people used by advertisers to promote sanitary towels.

Born into a Jewish family, she later became president of the British Humanist Association, whose chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: "Claire Rayner found meaning and inspiration in living and the enjoyment of life, in trying to fulfil her potential, and in the wonders of nature and the marvels of the cosmos.

"She was a remarkable woman with broad interests and deep sympathies who lived an exemplary humanist life and we all feel lucky to have known her and to have had her support for so many enjoyable years."

The chief executive of the Patients' Association, Katherine Murphy, expressed her "deep sadness" at the news and added: "For almost 30 years Claire has devoted so much of her time and energy to championing patients' issues. She was a figurehead and inspiration to us all."

Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK said Mrs Rayner was one of the charity's "most charismatic supporters", adding: "She was truly an inspiration and will be deeply missed."

Her close friend, Baroness Helena Kennedy, said: "She was an extraordinary woman - passionate, committed, warm and exuberant. The key thing about Claire was that she was a campaigner to her toes - her mission was to improve the lot of others and she did it with great humility and common sense."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes also paid tribute to Mrs Rayner, who joined the party in 2001.

She wrote in the Independent at the time that she felt disillusioned with Labour after 50 years of supporting them.

Mr Hughes said: "Claire's campaigning was an inspiration to millions and especially to Liberal Democrats, who were so proud that she was a member of our party.

"Continuous work and campaigning to improve our National Health Service for all our patients will be the best sort of tribute our country can give her."

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