Our 1st Chief Commissioner
27th September 2023
Mrs R.H.Owthwaite (Winifred) known as Deda was born in 1913 in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. She attended the Mount School in York, before becoming a teacher of physical education. She married in 1937 and had one son and three daughters, she would later have 13 grandchildren. Deda joined Girlguiding in 1954 and quickly became Division Commissioner for Bradford East 1954-62, County Commissioner for Yorkshire West Riding North West 1963-68 and she was the area representative for North East England 1966-1970
The Guide Association celebrated its diamond jubilee in 1970 and owing to a great increase in membership and for better administration the decision was made to divide England into 6 new Regions. North East England, North West England, Midlands, Anglia, London and South East and South West England alongside the existing devolved nations Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Nine new Chief Commissioners were appointed to each Country and Region. Deda became the 1st Chief Commissioner of North East England on 1st January 1971 with 85000 members rising to 94,000 by 1977.
Each Region was to have an office and for this purpose, 106 Heworth Green, York was purchased for £7,700 by Deda on behalf of the new Region, her husband Robert was chairman of Grattan catalogues. Deda gave the Region the option of renting or buying the property from her, over the next 6 years the funds were raised to buy the property from Deda. The office was officially opened on 17th March 1971, by the Chief Commissioner of the Guide Association, Mrs Parker Bowles and a blessing was given by Dr. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York.
In 1973 our counties grew from 11 to 15 in accordance with the local government re-organisation, many counties were re-named to coordinate with the government changes. In 1974 a Deputy Chief Commissioner was appointed, Miss Nesta Taylor.
The foundations upon which North East England was built are a living memorial to a truly remarkable lady; an example to all in the guide world of living out every part of the guide promise an law – Letty Hanson, North East England General Secretary 1971-1986
One of Deda’s dreams was to fill York Minster with the brown and blue uniforms of young members for a Christmas Carol Service and this she did in 1976, giving us the first of many Minster services. The Ranger Jubilee and the Queens Silver Jubilee took place in 1977. A book of Loyalty to H.M. the Queen was made by Rangers in N.E.E. every page was designed and signed by each County over 2000 signatures in all. The book was presented when Her Majesty the Queen visited York, three rangers carried the bound book (copy retained for posterity at HQ) to the appointed place, where a three minute slot had been allowed in the programme of the day.
It is reported in our archives that Deda travelled in Europe and the Far East, visiting guide HQs in Luxembourg, Rome and Borneo. Her interests are swimming, gardening, tennis and volunteering work at her local hospitals. It is clear that Deda was well regarded by all who worked with her, hard work, determination and innovation are apparent throughout her term of office.
Deda quietly handed on the badge of office to Greta Fowler in 1977, she later became the first President of Girlguiding North East England in 1981. In 1995 Deda died, a thanksgiving service was held at Bradford Cathedral to celebrate her life.
Written by Angie Goddard, Region President & Archivist.