Published: 00:00, 22 February 2007
| Updated: 10:52, 22 February 2007
ARTIST Christine Merton, a leading light in the Whitstable art community, has died at the age of 82.
Ms Merton was one of the founding members of the Whitstable Contemporary Arts (WCA), a pressure group responsible for the creation of the town's Horsebridge Centre.
In recognition of this the centre will host her last exhibition after her funeral next Friday.
Ms Merton was born in Germany. She was six when the Nazis took power. Her father was Jewish and spent time in a concentration camp before fleeing abroad.
After the war, and following the death of her mother, Ms Merton came to England. She married a young officer in Military Intelligence, Wilfred Dewhirst.
The couple, who divorced, moved from Yorkshire to London and when her two children, Nick and Pauline, were old enough she attended art college.
She was later appointed as a lecturer at the John Cass College in Whitechapel. After retiring to Whitstable, her dedication to WCA resulted in a former fruit and veg shop becoming an art gallery near the Horsebridge, which eventually became the new centre.
For the past six years Ms Merton had suffered from dementia and son Nick Dewhirst, 57, regards Whitstable’s community spirit as pivotal in ensuring she did not end up in a care home.
Countless neighbours, friends and concerned strangers returned Ms Merton to her home in Island Wall after finding her wandering around town, unable to remember where she lived.
Mr Dewhirst said: “She achieved her final goal to die a free person, living life to the full in the community until her very last day - in blissful ignorance of the confused, lonely or deserted fate of so many others who suffer dementia in strange places.
“It is thanks to the wonderful people of Whitstable that this did not happen to her and I do not believe that could happen in many places.”