Death of former adoptions officer who helped to shape hundreds of young lives

Gladys Whitaker, who spent several years working as the childcare and adoptions officer in Burnley, toasts her 80th birthday at York Races.
Gladys Whitaker, who spent several years working as the childcare and adoptions officer in Burnley, toasts her 80th birthday at York Races.

A woman, who influenced the lives of hundreds of children, has died at the age of 88.

Gladys Whitaker worked as the Childcare and Adoptions Officer for the local authority in Burnley and the decisions she made affected the lives of many families.

Many of the children, whose lives she had helped to transform, remembered her, and she was often stopped in the street by people who wanted to thank her for the help and care she gave them when there may not have been anyone else around to look out for them.

Gladys loved the job even though she had to make some tough decisions that would have a lasting impact on families.

In one home she found a two-year-old boy who was so dirty his skin was biscuit coloured and he was so neglected he could hardly stand or walk. Gladys had no choice but to order that the child be taken into care, a decision she did not take lightly. But she knew it had been the right one when she saw the same child a couple of weeks later, running to her looking happy and healthy.

The tragic death of Jill, her eldest daughter, who was killed in a car accident when she was only 20, devastated Gladys so much she could no longer continue working with children and she gave up the job she had loved.

It took Gladys, who was the daughter of a Wesleyan minister, several years to come to terms with the loss of her daughter and she said it extinguished her "joy of life" for many years.

A woman ahead of her time, Gladys studied at Accrington Girls High School and had the opportunity to go to university.

But her dearest wish was to get married and have a family.

She spent a year working for the civil service in Fleetwood at the age of 18 and when she returned home she met her husband, David, and the couple were married in 1950 and settled in Burnley.

The couple played a central role in the avant garde amateur theatre company, The Masque Players, with David at the front of house and Gladys making costumes and throwing lavish after-show parties at the couple’s home in Rosehill.

Dancing was forbidden as a child for Gladys, due to her church upbringing, but she finally got her chance to dance at her lavish parties and she even danced the Charleston in the group’s production of “The Boyfriend”.

Gladys then became the deputy manager at the Temple Street Day Centre in Burnley and her work there helped it to become a flagship for other centres in Lancashire.

For the first time ever, the elderly and handicapped had a place where they could go and enjoy activities and hobbies together. But Gladys made it much more than that.

She was responsible for arranging a host of themed nights including French and Lancashire nights and a medieval banquet complete with a king and queen resplendent on their thrones.

Once again, Gladys was a woman before her time setting up the Disabled Sports Club and taking several people to Stoke Mandeville for the Disabled Olympics.

And another ground-breaking idea of Gladys’s was to take a party of young disabled people on holiday abroad.

And Gladys was the driving force behind setting up the Central Methodist Church coffee bar which is still going strong several decades later. Church elders objected to the plan at the time but they were forced to back down when it was proved to be a roaring success.

A widow for several years, Gladys moved to a care home in Chesterfield last year to be closer to her daughter, Vivien, a successful sculptor.

Gladys' failing health meant she was no longer able to enjoy the champagne lunches and days out with Vivien but she retained her bright spirit.

Vivien said: "We have had a lovely few months with her, sitting on our settee in front of the fire and entertaining her friends from Burnley to lunch.

"She really enjoyed spring with the lambs in the fields and the masses of wild flowers

"Even when she could no longer walk, she still had a sparkle in her eye and the staff, who were so kind and gentle with her, say they will miss her."

A celebration of Gladys' life will take place at 11-20am on Saturday, January 13th, at Burnley Crematorium.

Relatives will be coming from Switzerland and Abu Dhabi to pay their respects.

Everyone is welcome and, in respect of Gladys' wishes, everyone is asked to dress in a way that represented her bright spirit.

There is a request for no flowers but donations, if desired, can be made to Pendleside Hospice through Bertwistle Funeral Service, 46 Burnley Road, Padiham, BB12 8BN