Kathleen Nancy (Hadow) Bleakley, MBE

Nancy with her mum and grandadKathleen Nancy Hadow is the daughter of Douglas Scott Hadow and Kathleen Davidson. Like her mother, she was a keen sportswoman and devoted volunteer. She met and married John Bleakley during WWII and represented Barnardo's for over 68 years.

Douglas Scott Hadow
Frederick Edward Hadow
Frances Emma (Anderson) Hadow
Kathleen (Davidson) Hadow
Samuel Cleland Davidson
Clara Mary (Coleman) Davidson


"She's the smallest giant I've ever met!" was the description of Kathleen Nancy Bleakley given by a close family friend following her unexpected death at her home on Tuesday 7th October. His statement aptly sums up the 87-year-old mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and 'grand old lady of Bangor'. She was barely five feet tall even before she became stooped with age. Mother of six, inspiration to thousands, Mrs Bleakley touched the lives of everyone she met. Bangor is a lesser place without her great soul.

Born Nancy Hadow on the 9th of November 1915 at Seacourt, Bangor, the 'big house' was her home for almost 60 years. Her parents were Kathleen, daughter of Sir Samuel Davidson, the founder of the Sirocco Works, Belfast, and Douglas S. Hadow of the Indian Police, Delhi. Educated at Bangor Collegiate School and Brampton Down School, Folkestone, she excelled at French and on the hockey pitch. She learned to drive when she was thirteen and was an intrepid traveller, going on a motor tour of Europe with two school friends when a young woman. Her sporting interests also included skiing, ice-skating, golf, sailing, table tennis and lawn tennis. In the early 1930s she represented Ulster in inter-provincial tennis championships both as a Junior and at Senior level, also partnering her mother in the ladies doubles.

At the age of 17, aware that she had been born into a life of privilege, Nancy decided to do all that she could to help the less fortunate in the community. She became a volunteer for Dr Barnardo's Homes (now just 'Barnardo's') and was still working for the children's charity at her death 70 years later.


During the Second World War, Nancy's mother contributed to the War Effort by running Seacourt as a convalescent home for injured officers. It was here that Nancy was to meet her future husband, Dr John Bleakley of the Royal Army Medical Corps. John, having sent numerous injured officers to Seacourt to recouperate, was one day to arrive himself after he was the victim of a night-time motorcycle crash in the black-out. During his stay at Seacourt, he and Nancy fell in love and were later married on the 13th of September 1941. After the war, they went on to live in Seacourt where Dr John set up as local G.P., and Nancy took on the challenging job of 'doctors wife'. She patiently answered endless telephone calls on the Seacourt number, Bangor 1, and at times drove her husband to night-calls when he was too tired to drive himself.

Nancy's community involvement was wide ranging. She became the third generation of women in her family to serve on the Committee of Bangor Hospital, following the examples of her mother and grandmother. She was a Governor of Bangor Collegiate School, a past President of Bangor Horticultural Society and winner of the prestigious Traders' Cup, like her mother before her, and also like her mother, Patron of Bangor Operatic Society. But Barnardo's was her special interest.

Nancy promoted the work of Barnardo's to generations of children in the schools of Bangor and enrolled many young 'helpers', who were issued with the characteristic cottage-shaped collecting boxes. For forty years she organised a faithful band of helpers, which ultimately numbered over 100, in running the annual Country Market fund-raising event. Her children and even people she scarcely knew were also liable to be recruited. The introduction of the Christmas Catalogue gave her another outlet. Through skilful marketing, she secured orders worth thousands of pounds. In 1983, Nancy was honoured at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Bangor Barnardo Helpers Branch, receiving a crystal bowl in recognition for her work. Appeals Director for Ireland, Mr Harold Alexander described the woman who had spearheaded voluntary fund-raising in Bangor for 50 years as, 'tiny but determined, energetic and with unfailing enthusiasm' also saying that, 'we all have absolute admiration for her. Words cannot express the person she is or her dedication to Barnardo's.' Within those 50 years, Nancy was at the head of fund-raising events that increased the annual income from just a few pounds, to a record £10,745. This figure was to increase again and again over the next 20 years.

Her success in fundraising led to an invitation to join the Barnardo's National Council and Appeals Advisory Committee. She made many friends on her regular trips to London, one of whom wrote 'her inner self towered above her physical one.' Nancy was awarded the M.B.E by Her Majesty the Queen for her services to Barnardo's. She was also recognised for her work on several other occasions, not least by Diana, Princess of Wales who was the president of Barnardo's and whom Nancy met in person on three occasions. At a service in Westminster Abbey in 1985, Nancy briefly discussed with the Princess a Northern Ireland project at Carraigfoyle aimed at helping families with handicapped children. Some weeks later, Nancy attended the fourth birthday party at Carraigfoyle and was surprised to find out that Princess Diana was attending the party as a special guest. During conversation, Nancy commented to the Princess that this was the project she had mentioned when they last met. Diana replied, 'Yes, and I couldn't tell you then that I was coming'. Nancy wrote later that the Princess 'had remembered a very unmemorable person, met weeks before'. In reality, Nancy herself was also a remarkable and unforgettable lady. They met for the last time at Buckingham palace in 1992 when the Princess presented her with a scroll marking 60 years of service as a Barnardo Helper. She retired as Honorary Secretary of the Bangor Barnardo Helpers Group in 2001 after 68 years in that office, but her diminutive figure was observed only ten days before her death intercepting shoppers on Bangor's Main Street, collection box in hand. At Nancy's funeral, her successor, Mrs Carolyn Kerr, observed 'Nancy led her Committee by example, never asking them to do what she had not done herself many times before. There were moments when you wondered just when it was that you had volunteered for a particular job - it was all achieved so gently and quietly.'

Nancy was not, however, only an organiser, fund-raiser and Committee member. She was genuinely kind and concerned for those who needed her help or just cheering up. Without any fanfare she visited the sick and the housebound, often going shopping for them or dropping in with a meal she had prepared. Equally she could be found sympathetically discussing their woes with her grandchildren or reading stories to her great grandchildren. She was a friend to all. Age or position did not matter.

She never lost her adventurous spirit. For many summers she towed a large caravan across Ireland behind her Bedford Dormobile (containing her six children) for the annual family holiday in Portnoo. On holiday in Wyoming aged 76, she surprised her grandchildren by camping in Yellowstone National Park (despite the bull bison wandering around the campsite) and joining them on a white-water rafting trip down the Snake River. In her mid 80s she went on a canal boat cruise through Holland's bulb fields. She attended four family weddings this year, two in Edinburgh, one in Cornwall and one in France. After a little revision she proved well able to converse with the French guests though she had not been in France for almost 70 years. A few days before her death she walked up the steep hill to Scrabo Tower.

Nancy also had her share of hardship. Her parents' marriage did not last, so she was the child of a one-parent family. One of the twins she was expecting in 1942 was still-born. Her second daughter, ----, died following an accident in 1974 aged only 27 leaving two young children. Nancy was widowed in 1992. She took comfort at such times of hardship from her strong faith and her happy memories, and carried on.

She is survived by five children, ----, ----, and ----, ----, and ----. Most of her 27 grandchildren and even some of her 19 great-grandchildren were able to attend her funeral. One grandchild wrote 'Despite the sheer size of the family, Granny showed the same selfless generosity to each one, regardless of their faults and flaws'.

There was standing room only for the funeral service on Saturday the 11th of October, held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cleland Park, Bangor, where she was a much loved member of the congregation. Unusually the family chose to celebrate her life though a presentation conducted by grandson ----, in which each of Nancy's children spoke about different aspects of her life and her characteristics as a person. A group of her grandchildren and their spouses sang 'Each life that touches ours for good', with flute and viola accompaniment. From the comments of the mourners, Nancy will continue to be an inspiration in death as she was throughout her life. In the words of Mrs Kerr '70 years ago Nancy lit a candle. It has not been extinguished with her death. We that are left to carry on her work glow less brightly, but together we will continue to bring hope and comfort to those who need it most'. That is undoubtedly what this unassuming and saintly lady would appreciate most as a memorial.

This obituary was compiled by Mrs Bleakley's grandson, ----.