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Tribute to Barbara Mary Peskett

Barbara Peskett was born Barbara Mary Roper in Great Dunmow, Essex, on 24 January 1922, the fourth child and much longed for first daughter of Richard and Alice Roper of Great Dunmow. Her father was the local pharmacist, pharmacy having been the family profession for several generations. Her mother was a suffragist and the local MP, RA Butler, was a frequent visitor to the family home.

In her early years Barbara was educated by a governess shared with the local vicar’s family. For her secondary education, she attended the Herts & Essex High School for Girls, where she did well academically and in sports.

At the age of 17, Barbara was apprenticed to Nunn and Sherry, a pharmacy at Crouch Street, Colchester; thus starting a career in pharmacy that spanned more than six decades.

The outbreak of the Second World War was when Barbara was in her late teens; she was given a driving license without having to take a test, and drove a Red Cross ambulance.

She went to university at the School of Pharmacy in London in 1941, briefly being evacuated when the school temporarily relocated to Cardiff. On return to London she had lectures by day and Fire Watch duties by night, sitting on the roof of the School of Pharmacy and reporting any fires, explosions and bomb damage she spotted, being keen to be the first to use the field telephone to report the incidents. She recalled a time when an incendiary bomb landed on the School of Pharmacy and she and her fellow students squabbled over who would put it out.

She had a narrow escape one lunchtime; she went to the Post Office to get some stamps, found the queue was long and, not wanting to be late for lectures, turned back. A few minutes later the Post Office suffered a direct hit by a bomb.

After graduating, Barbara registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in July 1943. She worked, initially, at the School of Pharmacy as a chemistry demonstrator and then took a research post at the National Institute for Research into Dairying in Reading. 

It was at this time she met and fell in love with another pharmacist, Wilfrid Peskett, who owned a pharmacy on Christchurch Road, Reading.

Barbara and Wilfrid married at St Mary the Virgin, Great Dunmow, on 7 April 1947. For the first year of their married life he lived in Reading and she at Ware in Hertfordshire, where she then worked for Allen & Hanburys doing research. After work on a Wednesday (then early-closing day), Wilf caught the train to London, and Barbara travelled on the Green Line bus from Ware and they would meet at Langham Place, at the top of Regent Street. On Saturdays, Barbara would travel to Reading.

By the end of 1949, they were living in the flat above the Christchurch Road Pharmacy, Barbara continuing to support the family business as well as raising a growing family of children.

In 1958, Barbara, Wilfrid and their children moved to the perfect family home in Earley. Barbara was tireless in giving her five children the happiest of childhoods, while running the home, helping with homework, organising outings, and serving the community by her work in the pharmacy. She was always hurrying around, walking or cycling locally and, if she had to travel further, driving quickly in a succession of sporty cars.

Barbara was always very active – she did cartwheels round the garden on her 40th birthday and could still do them in her 60s. She enjoyed travel, keeping up to date with pharmacy issues, and the lives and careers of her children, children-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Barbara had a great sense of fun and always had a very youthful outlook. She loved parties and in later years she organised regular reunions of her university friends.

Barbara was very proud to be a pharmacist. Two of her children joined the profession and, in 1954, she was awarded Fellowship of the RPS. Between them, Barbara and Wilf were members of the RPS for more than 150 years.

Barbara was devastated by the death of her son, Tim Peskett, at the age of 46, and the loss of Wilfrid at the age of 101 was a further blow, but she found comfort surrounded by her loving family.

In recent years, Barbara became increasingly frail but with the great assistance of her carers she was able to stay in the family home she always loved.

Barbara passed away peacefully at home on 18 June 2016, aged 94, with her children at her side.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20201608

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