Beulah Ainley obituary

  • 14 Oct 2022

Adam Ainley reflects on the life of his mother and her support for the union, including through seats on the Freelance industrial council and Black members' council.

by Adam Ainley

My mother, Beulah Ainley, who has died aged 77, was a nurse turned journalist and a staunch promoter of diversity in the media world, including through her championing of the creation of the George Viner Memorial Fund, which has provided bursaries to more than 150 minority-ethnic students to undergo journalistic training.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Ruby (nee Hall), a cleaner, and her husband, Rudolph Golding, a cobbler, Beulah went to Kingston secondary school. At the age of 18, after her parents had divorced, she and her mother and brother, Errol, emigrated to England.

Settling in Birmingham, Beulah studied at Handsworth College before training as a state-registered nurse at the Staffordshire General Infirmary in Stafford. She worked there as a nurse and midwife (1970-77), then moved to the Royal Free hospital in London, where she was a senior sister on the medical wards. It was at the Royal Free that Beulah met Patrick Ainley, who was working temporarily as a porter there after studying at Cambridge University. They were married in 1979.

Patrick became an English teacher, and the two of them shared a love of language that led Beulah to leave nursing to take a degree in English and Caribbean literature at North London Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University).

After graduating in 1981 she returned for a while to midwifery, but gradually switched careers to become a journalist. Starting out by writing a health column for the East End News, a weekly local newspaper run as a co-operative, she joined the paper’s staff in 1983, eventually becoming one of its co-editors.

In 1984 she also took on the role of press officer at the Greater London Enterprise Board, combining that job for two years with continued contributions to East End News. From 1986 onwards she was a freelance, writing for publications such as the Times Educational Supplement, New Scientist, UK Press Gazette and the British Journalism Review, often about equality and diversity.

Once she had switched to writing, Beulah became an active member of the National Union of Journalists, sitting on its freelance industrial council and black members’ council. There, in 1986, she was instrumental in the establishment of the George Viner Memorial Fund, of which she was for many years a trustee.

In 1994 she completed a PhD at the London School of Economics, and her thesis, which explored the representation of minority-ethnic journalists in the British media, was published as a book, Black Journalists, White Media, in 1998. In 2002 she was given a woman of merit award by the Executive and Professionals Network, and her second book, Guide to Race Equality in Further Education, came out in 2007.

In her spare time Beulah travelled widely, loved gardening, cooking and listening to music, and often ran or walked to raise money for charity.

Although her later days were interrupted by a succession of increasingly serious illnesses, she retained her enthusiasm for life and greatly appreciated the devoted care she received from Patrick and, eventually, from her carers at the Lakeside nursing home in South Norwood, south-east London.

She is survived by Patrick, by me, two grandchildren, Lydia and Miles, and by Errol.

© Adam Ainley

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