07:57, February 27 68 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-27 07:57:10
Other lives  Biddy Macfarlane obituary

In a distinguished legal career, my mother, Biddy Macfarlane, who has died of pneumonia aged 89, was the first female county court registrar (district judge), and the first woman and first solicitor to be appointed Master of the Court of Protection.

She was born in Paddington, London, the fifth of six children of Grace (nee Gulston) and David Griffith, both doctors, and grew up in London and Suffolk. Her mother had trained as a doctor before the first world war and, among other things, drove medical supplies to Barcelona during the Spanish civil war and later went to work in a leper colony in Nigeria. Biddy had been evacuated to the US during the second world war, and attended nine schools there and in the UK.

In 1949 she began reading law at Bristol University, and there met James Macfarlane, known as Mac, who became an NHS hospital adminstrator and to whom she was married from 1957 until his death in 1999.

When she qualified in 1954, Biddy was one of only two female solicitors in Bristol. Two years later she moved to London and worked in private practice in Greenwich until 1966, when she joined the Land Registry and became assistant land registrar.

She revealed to a colleague recently that during this period she applied several times for appointment as a county court registrar, but was not accepted; it was felt that the time was not right for a woman to hold such a position. However, she persevered and in 1975 was appointed registrar of Bromley county court, then in 1982 master of the court of protection. She retired in 1995, and was made an honorary life member of the Law Society.

Everyone who knew Biddy personally or professionally held her in the highest esteem and affection. She broke the mould of the stereotypical judge: court of protection staff were startled when she arrived at her first office Christmas party dressed as a Christmas tree.

In 2010 Biddy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and in 2013 took the characteristically brave and independent decision to move to Morden College, a care home that offered the practical support for her to continue with almost all of her interests. When she took up residence she had to give up her passion for collecting Victorian tiles, but turned to other interests including photography, enamelling and writing for the college magazine. She was an enthusiastic participant in social life, organising quizzes and a dining club, and spent evenings in the bar trading terrible jokes and stories.

Biddy is survived by me and my sister, Deborah, by her sisters Gill and Veronica, and by her grandchildren, Hannah and Sam.

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