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Former Medway MP Dame Peggy Fenner dies

By Chris Hunter

“Does my Rt Hon friend believe that the people of Rochester and Chatham elected me to support a government that would do what has just been done to their dockyard? My Rt Hon friend need not reply. I shall tell him the answer: they did not, and I will not.”

The battle may long since have been lost, but the people of Medway will never forget Dame Peggy Fenner’s dogged attempts to save Chatham Dockyard, which began with this spirited response to defence secretary John Nott in 1981.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Dame Peggy, first elected as Tory MP for Rochester and Chatham in 1970 and then as MP for the new constituency of Medway in 1983, has died aged 91.

But her fighting spirit will live long in the memory of the towns.

Chatham MP Tracey Crouch said the news was “desperately sad”.

“Many people across Chatham and Rochester will remember Peggy,” she added. “I looked up to her enormously.”

Cllr Ted Baker, who worked with Dame Peggy for many years, said: “I loved her to bits. She was a special lady.”

Cllr Tom Mason remembered her as “always very conscientious, and very keen on working with constituents. She had quite an impact.”

Penny Fenner with Bobby Moore, captain of the world cup winning England football team of the 1960s. 14th July 1987.
Penny Fenner with Bobby Moore, captain of the world cup winning England football team of the 1960s. 14th July 1987.

Dame Peggy began her political career on Sevenoaks council, before winning the seat for Rochester and Chatham in 1970.

She lost the seat at the October 1974 election to the Labour candidate Robert Bean, but regained it by defeating Mr Bean at the 1979 election. She held on to the Medway seat until 1997, when she lost to Labour’s Bob Marshall-Andrews.

She was also made a Deputy Lieutenant for Kent in 1992, and was latterly the UK’s most senior stateswoman.

Former journalist Alan Bennett dealt with Dame Peggy for many years.

“She was a formidable lady,” he said. “Quite a bit like a mini Thatcher. But unlike Thatcher I felt there was a compassion there, and certainly a sense of humour.

“She was an amazing person and had an amazing memory.

“If she met you once she would ask you about your family and where you’d been, and if she saw you again three years later she’d remember it. It was very impressive.”

Peggy Fenner, late Dame Peggy, is congratulated by her Labour opponent Anne Kerr - then the sitting Member - after winning Rochester and Chatham for the Tories in 1970
Peggy Fenner, late Dame Peggy, is congratulated by her Labour opponent Anne Kerr - then the sitting Member - after winning Rochester and Chatham for the Tories in 1970

Former Gillingham and KCC councillor John Spence, described her as "a loyal, one-nation conservative," adding: "She served at all levels of government, and was always hard working and energetic, with a great sense of humour.

"She had a ministerial career and was United Kingdom representative to Europe at a time when there were few women members of parliament.

"She retained an interest in the Medway towns right up until recently."

Dame Peggy outlived her husband, Bernard, and their daughter, Geraldine, who died in 2006.

A private family funeral will be followed by a thanksgiving service at St Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks on Thursday, October 16, at 2.30pm.

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