Former Mayoress worked tirelessly for the good of the community

Loyal servant of Lewes and the wider area ... former Mayoress Birthe Rutley
Loyal servant of Lewes and the wider area ... former Mayoress Birthe Rutley

Birthe Rutley, a former Mayoress of Lewes who lived a life of dedicated service in the community, has died at the age of 82.

She was Mayoress to her husband John Rutley when he served as Mayor in 1980-81.

It was a turning point in her life as her community activities expanded, from working on the Committee of the Homeless in Sussex Fund and with Age Concern to the House of Friendship on High Street, where she served as Chairman for many years.

Birthe also served as President of the Women’s Branch of the Royal British Legion and was privileged to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday for more than 30 years.

Born in Denmark in 1937, in 1957 she travelled to England and enjoyed working as an au pair for a family in Surrey. She married her husband, John, in 1960, with whom she had two sons, David and Michael.

The family moved to South Street, Lewes, in 1971, where Birthe lived for more than 20 years before moving to her own home in Castle Ditch Lane in 1994.

In the early 1970s, South Street suffered from very high volumes of traffic. Birthe started campaigning against the congestion, with local residents and her then husband.

The protests staged by the newly formed South Street Action Group were creative and Birthe took on a starring role as the wife of a visiting fake sheikh to get publicity, including local TV coverage, for the cause. The group’s campaign helped lead to the Cuilfail Tunnel, which opened in 1980.

Birthe was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and attended the congregation in Brighton. During her dedicated service in the church over many decades, she raised many thousands of pounds for countless charities, including Guide Dogs for the Blind, Cancer Research UK, Work Aid in Africa, Harvest Help in Africa, Sightsavers, RISE (Women’s Refuge in Brighton), Brighton and District Food Bank and local hospices.

The cake stall she started at Glyndebourne for charitable causes with other church members will continue next year in her honour.

In addition to community and charitable activities, Birthe was also busy at work, initially as an auxiliary nurse at Lewes Victoria Hospital in the early 1970s. She went on to work as a receptionist at the old Rugby Cement works, and then moved to work at Baxter Printers. Her love of antiques later took her to work at Gorringes Auction House and then to work in a local antiques shop.

In the last few years of her life, Birthe became increasingly frail and in January this year moved to a nursing home in Macclesfield to be closer to her family.

Birthe was a devoted mother and grandmother and she is survived by her two sons: Michael, a senior lecturer at Wolverhampton University, and his partner Caroline; and David, MP for Macclesfield, and his wife Rachel and their children William, Jonathan, Sarah and Jennifer.