How one East Devon woman survived single parenthood in the 1960s

PUBLISHED: 10:52 31 July 2009 | UPDATED: 23:55 15 June 2010

AN East Devon woman has published her second book, recounting her struggle as a single parent in the 1960s after her husband died.

AN East Devon woman has published her second book, recounting her struggle as a single parent in the 1960s after her husband died.

Pat Lowther, 79, of Harbour Road, Seaton, has released Picking Up the Pieces - taking the reader from South Africa to the House of Commons.

The follow-up to Vintage 1930 sees how an African idyll comes apart with the sudden death of her husband, aged 43, when she was 35.

Pat decided to return to England with her four children, one of whom was only 14 months old.

Pat said: "My husband had been suffering with coronary thrombosis for about five years, but the treatment was minimal. There was very little they could do."

The couple worked in the Salvation Army and had been happy in South Africa.

"It was wonderful - a beautiful country," said Pat. "At that time there weren't all the problems that have since developed."

Referring to the death of her husband, Ron, she said: "I've no idea how I got through it."

She had no savings, because of her missionary work, and had to scrape together the fare to get home.

She said: "We were pretty much penniless and, literally, just had our suitcases. As for a single parent family, they hadn't coined that phrase then.

"It didn't pay to broadcast it. Certain sections of the male population thought they were going to be the answer to your needs. Wives would view you with a little bit of suspicion.

"I felt like a fish out of water - I didn't fit in anywhere. Most of the people I worked with weren't aware I was a widow. I never brought the care of my children into the workplace or asked for any special consideration."

Adapting to life in the UK in the 1960s also proved challenging. She lived with an aunt for a while and then bought a run-down flat, with a toilet in the back yard and no central heating.

She said: "But we had a roof over our head. Nowadays, maybe, there would be more help available. I never went into the social security trap. I got jobs, I worked and I think that was a good thing."

It was here that she met her second husband, who was also starting out again after his marriage ended. The couple worked in the civil service, and Pat worked her way up to the fees office in the House of Common - dealing with MPs office costs and second home allowances.

Speaking about the recent MP expenses furore, she said: "I was delighted it was brought to light. But, ultimately, when I heard the scale I was appalled."

She said in her time there were no rules, but the expenses tended not to be exaggerated.

She added: "It was fascinating and wonderful working there - all the pomp and circumstance. It was a beautiful building and we got free tickets to all sorts of things - such as Fergie's wedding and the opening of Parliament."

Pat, whose second husband recently died, said writing both books brought all the memories flooding back.

She said: "It's been an interesting life one way or another."

l The book, published by The Book Guild in hardback, will be released on August 27 and will be available in most books shops priced £17.99.

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