A woman with a passion for helping the needy

Community worker Dr Margaret Elsworth.

Dr Margaret Elsworth, who played a leading role in the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (Shawco), has been hailed as a woman with a passion for helping the needy.

Dr Elsworth died at her retirement home in Rondebosch on Friday October 6, at the age of 93, according to her son, Sandy Elsworth.

He said it had been an emotional time for the family as his sister, Barbara Elsworth, 66, of Makhanda, had died of a heart attack late last month.

Mr Elsworth said his mother, one of five children, had been born in Sussex, England, in 1929. She and her siblings came to Cape Town in 1940 and were raised in foster care by Dr Muir Grieve and Barbara Grieve.

Mr Elsworth said their father, Sandy Blagden, had later come to Cape Town from the UK in 1942, but the children had remained in foster care.

Margaret became a medical doctor and worked as a paediatrician at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital until 1994.

She was involved with community work since the early 1940s and she began volunteering at Shawco in 1948, five years after it was founded by medical student Andrew Kinnear and Dr Golda Selzer, of Groote Schuur Hospital’s pathology department.

She was involved from a young age with the Cape Flats Development Association (Cafda) and volunteered in its bookshop for the past 20 years. According to Cafda CEO Peter Cato, Sandy Blagden assisted in setting up Cafda with their founding member, Mary Attlee.

“Hence, one of the streets in Cafda was named after them, being Blagden Street,” he said.

Dr Elsworth also helped to found the African Scholars’ Fund, which supports promising school pupils and students with bursaries.

In 1996, Queen Elizabeth II presented her with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace for her charity work.

Mr Cato said Dr Elsworth had volunteered at Cafda’s Claremont bookshop and had supported the bookshop when it moved to a Kenilworth warehouse. “Although very hard-headed sometimes, she remained committed to the values in order to bring change to all individuals who have crossed her path.”

He said Dr Elsworth had stepped back from volunteering at Cafda the past two years due to her deteriorating health. “She would still call to check if all is well,” he said, adding that her death would leave a “huge emptiness” in the community.

Professor Jackie Stewart said Dr Elsworth had been passionate about helping people in need, and while still a medical student had been eager to put her skills to use.

“In her third year of medicine, she volunteered to help at Shawco’s Kensington Clinic, which was then called the Windermere Clinic.”

She said Dr Elsworth had worked tirelessly to raise funds for a proper Shawco clinic in Kensington.

“Her commitment to making a difference in the lives of others is truly inspiring and is a shining example of the values that Shawco embodies,” she said.

Dr Elsworth was a member of the St Paul’s Anglican Church in Rondebosch.

“She assisted with the Anglican Student’s Association and she also helped some of our younger parishioners with education bursaries,” said Reverend Reeva Mulder.

Dr Elsworth’s funeral was held on Saturday October 14 at St Paul’s Anglican Church.

She is survived by her four remaining children, Christopher Elsworth, 68, Sandy Elsworth, 64, David Elsworth, 62, and Elizabeth Campbell, 60, as well as 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Her husband, Dr Jack Elsworth, died in 2003.

In 1996 Queen Elizabeth II presented her with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace for her charity work.