Rose Hacker: an 'example to many half her age'

Fêted at last year’s Press Gazette regional awards as the world’s oldest columnist, Rose Hacker, who died one month before her 102nd birthday, leaves a gaping fortnightly hole for many Camden New Journal and online readers worldwide.

Born, like the Labour Party, in London in 1906, Rose enjoyed a chequered career spanning politics, social work, mental health, prison care, marriage guidance counselling, writing, broadcasting and, to the media’s perpetual delight, sex therapy.

A lifelong peace activist, fierce CND campaigner and accomplished artist, she authored several books including one bestseller, The Opposite Sex, Britain’s first sex and relationships guide specifically for young people.

Rose spent her century publicly fighting for equality and against injustice while privately helping people all around her. Her journalism was an extension of this.

A powerful public speaker on almost any topic, at age 67, when many contemporaries were retiring, she entered the world of elected politics, becoming Greater London Council Member for Saint Pancras North.

In her 70s she took up sculpture from which she derived great pleasure and comfort. One of her pieces was displayed in the British Museum.

At 90 she wrote in her autobiography, ‘Old age and loneliness can be transformed by new interests and creative hobbies. Even… bedridden, one can model, paint, play chess and write. Computers bring new possibilities for the disabled”.

Always one to practise what she preached, at 100, Rose proved her point by becoming not just a journalist but arguably the New Journal’s star. She had written many articles over the years but never a regular column.

Did readers envisage the recollections of this ‘sweet old lady’– she certainly looked the part – being a token nod towards age equality, folksy recollections of some gracious, bygone era? What they got was a series of punchy, beautifully sculpted tirades against the growing injustice and inequality Rose witnessed and experienced as an increasingly frail, disabled, dependent pensioner.

Whether decrying child poverty, homelessness, the arms industry, accounting fraud, gambling addiction, Britain’s criminal care policies, loss of ‘real education’or politicians’ dishonesty and greed, or predicting disasters such as Northern Rock, she was able with unerring accuracy to link experiences drawn from more than a century of both personal and world history to latest events in the day’s news.

Phenomenal memory, encyclopaedic knowledge, razor-sharp brain and wit and a natural sense of poetry and fun made topics gripping and entertaining to readers of any age or background, as the paper’s letters showed.

As news of this ‘new phenomenon’spread, Rose was interviewed by national papers, specialist publications, radio and television, invited to address meetings and conferences, and recently, to host a forthcoming television programme on sex and the elderly.

In her autobiography she praised the 1993 book Growing Old Disgracefully, written by women then a generation younger than her. Rose Hacker gave that title real meaning, going out in a blaze of disgraceful glory, an example to many half her age.

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