Judith Hanna obituary

By Joseph Nicholas
Judith Hanna
Judith Hanna worked to bring about a change in attitudes to protecting the natural environment Photograph: None

During her 30 years of working for a range of campaigning bodies and NGOs, my wife, Judith Hanna, who has died aged 67 of liver cancer, saw concern about the environment go from a fringe issue for community activists to a mainstream subject with a professionalised career structure.

Her life and career embodied the principle of “being the change you want to see”, through such local activities as organising annual seed swaps, promoting community gardens, calling for traffic calming measures in residential streets and, at national level, working for nuclear disarmament and better public transport. In her final role, as a social evidence principal specialist at Natural England, she promoted the now widely accepted health benefits of everyday contact with the natural world.

Judith was born in Nowra, New South Wales, the eldest of six children of Valmai (nee St Clair) and Jack Hanna. Her father was a naval aviator and Judith went to school in various locations according to her father’s naval postings. When he later became a sheep farmer the family settled in Kojonup, Western Australia, where Judith completed her secondary education before undertaking a degree in anthropology and linguistics at the University of Western Australia, in Perth.

She and I met in Sydney in 1981 through a shared interest in science fiction. The following year she moved to be with me in London, where I worked as a civil servant; as she subsequently put it, she “never quite got away”. We married in 1983.

Judith became PA to the general secretary and chair of CND (then Bruce Kent and Joan Ruddock) during its glory days of the mid-1980s, and organised the CND Express campaign bus in the run-up to the 1987 general election.

After that, she moved on to become assistant director of Transport 2000 (now the Campaign for Better Transport), often being interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme and sometimes breakfast television on a range of transport-related issues. While there, she helped set up the Environmental Transport Association, the green alternative to the AA and RAC.

After the 1992 election, Judith moved on again, to become editor of the specialist publication Local Transport Today, during which she was awarded the Chartered Institute of Transport’s 1993 medal for transport journalist of the year.

This was followed by a few years at the Campaign for Racial Equality (as it then was) and Volunteering England before, in 2002, she joined English Nature/Natural England as a social policy adviser.

Until retirement in 2013, she worked alongside scientists who were initially resistant to the idea that their work could have sociological and psychological dimensions, but came to respect her keen insight into the health benefits of contact with the natural world.

Judith and I settled in Tottenham, north London, in 1993, and in retirement we were involved in various local campaigns and community organisations. We kept abreast of scientific developments, especially new discoveries in the story of human evolution; enjoyed the lecture programmes of the cultural institutions, such as the British Museum, that we supported; spent weekends away in interesting parts of Britain; and travelled to various foreign destinations, including many visits to Australia.

But our chief leisure interest was gardening, at home and on our allotment. We were reorganising the latter when Judith was diagnosed with cancer in autumn last year.

She is survived by me, her mother and her siblings, Julian, Peter, Zena and Roslyn. Her brother John predeceased her.


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