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Mariola Summerfield, champion of women’s rights, dies at 93

Archive image of Mariola Summerfield [right] and Rosie Peach. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Tributes have been paid to Mariola Summerfield, a champion of Gibraltarian women who died yesterday at the age of 93.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo described Mrs Summerfield as a “national treasure”.

“She was well known to me as a great friend of my own mother from the time of the Housewives' Association,” Mr Picardo said.

“She represented a generation of great Gibraltarians, in particular a generation of 'stand up and be counted' women who were not prepared to see Gibraltar harassed by the Franco dictatorship.”

“We have lost a 'one of a kind' lady.”

“She will be sadly missed.”

“With her dies a little bit of Gibraltar's post-war political, social and economic history.”

“Rest in Peace Mariola.”

“I extend my most sincere condolences to her family to whom I have also written privately."

Born in 1927, Mrs Summerfield was part of the evacuation generation and during World War II was evacuated with her family to Casablanca, Rabat and London.

After the war, she returned to Gibraltar and the turbulent 1960s and the closed frontier years, during which she played a prominent role in Gibraltar’s community response.

When in the mid-1960s Angela Smith called for a meeting of all housewives in Gibraltar, Mariola was among the first to take up the call.

She was one of the founder members of the Housewives Association, precursor to the Gibraltar Women’s Association which she led for 17 years, fighting for the rights of women on the Rock.

When the frontier was closed by the Spanish Government, Mrs Summerfield rallied the women of Gibraltar to take up the jobs that were vacated by Spaniards almost overnight.

Together with Mrs Smith, Mrs Summerfield would present a petition to the Queen in London on behalf of the women in Gibraltar, asking her for assurances on the “perpetual retention of British Sovereignty over the Rock and its people in Gibraltar”.

In an interview with this newspaper on the launch of her book ‘A Woman’s Place’, Mrs Summerfield said this had been one of the most important moments of her life and one which she recalled with great affection.

Another was at the time of the labour crisis on the closure of the frontier when the Housewives Association called on all women to help carry out essential services locally.

“They came in their hundreds and that was important because we played our part,” she recalled.

Mrs Summerfield believed that from 1966 onwards the Association did a lot for the women of Gibraltar and brought housewives out of their nest, giving them a chance to have a say in matters in the community and entered the labour market – “it gave women a voice”.

She further believed the Association then also fulfilled the role of many of today’s groups and government departments.

In her book ‘A Woman’s Place’, Mariola Summerfield wrote how the story of her early life was the perfect example of when and how the role of women in Gibraltar society began to change.

She wrote: “It is the story of one of those little girls, now a great-grandmother herself. The profile of a typical woman of a period who had to grow up and go through childhood and adolescence to womanhood practically by her own efforts, and who emerged from the ashes of a dark and difficult period in the life of our homeland as the phoenix of a new breed: a Gibraltar woman, with altered principles, a different outlook and higher expectations and aspirations for shaping a woman’s place in our Gibraltar Society.”

In paying tribute to her yesterday, the Gibraltar Government said Mrs Summerfield was part of a generation who had survived tremendous challenges.

“Mariola was a tough lady despite her personal charm and great sense of humour,” No.6 Convent Place said.
“With her passing Gibraltar loses one of its great patriots.”

Marlene Hassan Nahon, the Leader of Together Gibraltar, said: “The passing of Mrs. Mariola Summerfield MBE leaves a void in us all.”

“A champion for women and for our civil rights, she leaves a legacy of all that is strong and true about Gibraltar; our fight for survival, emancipation, civil and equal rights.”

“Today is a truly sad day for this community, but it is also a day to be grateful for, and to celebrate this lady and her great contribution to our society.”

“I send my deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

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