My mother-in-law, Dr. Helen Humphries, who died at the age of 101, was a medical officer at the Family Planning Association Birmingham in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the mid-1960s, she became the first female doctor in the FPA’s leading home visiting service, who addressed the contraceptive needs of women – many financial handicaps or non-English speakers – who were reluctant to seek such advice outside of their homes. She remembered it had become “the largest service of its kind in Britain, and I feel proud of it.”
She was born in Birmingham to Edward Mason, an industrial chemist, and Elsie (née Berkeley). Both were influential figures in the start-up and growth of the city’s first family planning clinic; Helen remembered her visit at the age of nine, and helped her mother pack parcels of birth control supplies to send to patients.
She attended Edgbaston High School and was accepted by Newnham Women’s College at the University of Cambridge in the late 1930s to study medicine. A diligent student, she was also active at CUSC, the university’s socialist club.
Back in Birmingham in the early 1940’s, she met another medical student, David Humphries. Both audiophiles, passionately played the piano together. In 1944 they married and Helen began her long career, first in public practice, then working primarily in the FPA.
Helen continued her work with the FPA in the 1970s and also worked for the City’s Brook Counseling Center. She co-founded the Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service since 1968, against fierce opposition.
In 1965 she and David purchased Knill Court, a small estate on the Welsh border near Presteigne that offers stunning views of green hills and valleys. After years of extension and renewal, they finally moved there in 1980. With their knowledge of music, they made an immediate impact on the area, helping to establish the Presteigne Festival, which began in 1983 and has flourished ever since.
David died in 2011, four years after suffering a serious stroke. Helen continued to be an influential and beloved character in the Pristine area, playing cello, piano and attending festival parties until her 90s.
She is survived by three of her four children – Caroline, Bridget, and Philippa. Her youngest daughter Nicola passed away in 2017.