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Sarah Smith

24 November 1963 - 26 October 2016

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith was born in London in November 1963 to parents John Bird, an insurance company executive, and wife Alison, a teacher, and moved to Manchester in 1972. Educated at Bramall High School, Manchester, she graduated from Goldsmiths College, London in 1981 with a BA in Drama and English.

In 1987, she married Barry Smith and moved down to Kent. Their first child, Becky was born in 1988 followed by Elli seven years later. She was productive in other ways too, as a serial entrepreneur.

Sarah's first business enterprise was her own dress shop in Canterbury which opened in 1987 at which time she also founded the 'Canterbury King's Mile Traders Association'. On moving to Chillenden, she set up 'The Rainbow Appeal' to help save church and community buildings. She also worked as a Finance Director for her husband's construction company, Bekbuild.

The 'Sugar Boy' sweet shops were her next venture. These began with a Canterbury shop which opened in 1998, and then further shops in Whitstable and Deal. And as if that wasn't enough, she took on posts in London, working for the Church of England writing a health and safety review of Church administrative buildings and then as a Senior Policy Advisor. She later moved to the Financial Services Authority as Senior Strategy Advisor. She also completed a Psychology degree with the Open University that year, which was followed by an MSc in cognitive Psychology at University College, London, completed in 2010. At the time of her death she was studying for a PhD in Cognitive Psychology at University College, London.

Sarah had signed up to the Liberal Democrats in 2007. Once her family had grown up, a move into public service was the obvious next step. She called it a "new phase in my life", explaining, "I wanted to make a bigger contribution to society'. And so, in early 2010, she became a founder member of the South Thanet Liberal Democrats which was re-formed that year. From the start, her vitality, enthusiasm and infectious personality endeared her to the public and fellow activists alike.

"Out on the campaign trail in the 2010 General Election with Sarah was exhausting but a lot of fun," another fellow activist remembers. "She always charmed people on the doorstep and never flinched, whatever words were thrown at her". It was at this time that she spearheaded a cross-party campaign to save Walmer Science College, a success of which she was particularly proud.

It was clear to all that Sarah felt passionately about trying to really improve people's lives and this meant running for political office. In 2013 she was approved as a Liberal Democrat candidate and stood for the North Deal ward at the Kent County Council elections. Later that year she was selected to run as Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Dover in the 2015 General Election. Campaigning in earnest began almost immediately, both to raise awareness of her candidacy for 2015 and to campaign for the European Elections - Sarah was a fully committed European and was heartbroken over the Brexit referendum result.

Campaigning was a field that she was not only good at but she absolutely adored. "Campaigning, meeting and talking to thousands of local people and standing up for our key local priorities, jobs, roads and schools, was an experience I would not have missed for the world," she later wrote.

It was following the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow in 2014 that tragedy struck. Feeling unwell, she checked into an A&E to receive the shocking diagnosis of Stage Three Ovarian Cancer. "I turned my face to the wall and wept, thinking about my precious daughters and family, and wondering how long I had left." But, being Sarah, she faced up to the lengthy treatments with her trademark courage, resilience and optimism.

"The local party gave me 100% support to carry on. Much to my surprise and delight, I got a handwritten note from Nick Clegg, saying he was impressed by the 'grit and determination' I was showing in continuing to campaign. That word grit stuck in my mind: he got it right. It made me feel the whole party is supporting me", she wrote later in an article for the online magazine, Red, in support of the ovarian cancer charity Ovacome's symptom awareness selfie campaign, #TellYourDaughter.

"I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown by local people - and the other candidates -following my shock ovarian cancer diagnosis during the campaign," she explained to her fellow activists months afterwards. "But as my treatment continues, so does my determination not to let the cancer stop me working for the things I believe in."

That same determination would see her have chemotherapy one day and face head-on an audience of difficult voters the next, always with her characteristic smile and warmth, wearing a wig if necessary. She seemed unstoppable and indestructible, and didn't let electoral defeat dim her enthusiasm.

"Since the election I have continued working to call our MP to account over the lack of serious investment in our critical road infrastructure," she wrote to her Dover followers. "The giant lorry park plan is a poor solution to our traffic challenges. It is diverting energy and money from proper strategic investment. But I am delighted that Charlie Elphicke has begun to champion my proposal for a Town wall Tunnel. A road tunnel is what Dover needs and deserves."

"We always said that if we ever got a tunnel, we would call it "Sarah's Tunnel", remarked one fellow activist, adding "We were all so very proud of her." Another campaign she championed was to bring a share of the £44 million foreign lorry levy to Dover.

From the moment of her diagnosis, Sarah began campaigning for the Eve Appeal which aims to improve awareness and early detection of ovarian and other gynaecological cancers, speaking at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at a London Conference on Ovarian Cancer Testing (Sarah speaks from 17:52) in December 2015 and at a meeting at the House of Commons in 2016.

After her initial treatment, she was optimistic that she would survive but in late 2015 the aggressive cancer returned. Nevertheless, she remained active until the very end, firing off emails and newsletters, working on her favourite causes, even leafleting, determined to live life as best she could for as long as she could. "I just have to learn to live life a bit differently now" she explained. She married again - a joyous occasion - to Robert Seabrook in April 2016.

Her final days were met with tremendous calm, courage and dignity. "I've had a wonderful life," she told me. "I've packed in such a lot. And we've all had so much fun!"

She leaves Robert, her former husband Barry, with whom she remained close friends, and their two daughters - Becky aged 28 and Elli 21.

Lynne O'Donoghue October 2016

Donations

If you would like to make a donation in Sarah's name, the chosen charities are:

The Royal Trinity Hospice, http://www.royaltrinityhospice.london/

The Eve Appeal, The Eve Appeal

Memories of Sarah

Please use the comment box at the end of the page to share your memories of Sarah.

Article in the Guardian:

Beth Robson wrote the following piece for Kent Online:

Sarah talking to young pupils

Sarah talking to young pupils

Speaking out at Conference, Glasgow 2015

Sarah speaking at Glasgow conference 2015

Sarah talking to students

Sarah talking to students

Sarah out Leafleting in Eastry

Out campaigning in Eastry

Sarah speaks out on refugees - East Kent Mercury

Sarah speaks out on refugees - East Kent Mercury

A Focus leaflet from Sarah's first campaign

A focus leaflet from Sarah's first campaign

Sarah canvasing with Diana

Out canvasing with Diana

Sarah speaking out at a Hustings, 2015

Sarah speaking out at hustings 2015

Sarah campaigning in Whitfield

Camapigning in Whitfield

Sarah with Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover

Sarah with Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover

With Antony Hook, Lord Newby and MEP Catherine Beardsley in Dover.

With Antony Hook, Lord Newby and MEP Catherine Bearder in Dover.

Sarah's Tunnel

Campaigning for Sarah's Tunnel

Sarah with Danny Alexander, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Sarah with Danny Alexander, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Sarah out doorstepping

Sarah out doorstepping

Sara Smith at the Liberal Demoncrat Conference

Sarah at the Liberal Democrat Conference

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