Mrs. Gabrielle Pike

The Times 1st December 1999

Gabrielle Pike, CBE, Chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, 1961-66, died on October 12 aged 83. She was born on July 29, 1916.

Tall and blonde with striking good looks, Gabrielle Pike combined charm with authority, and warmth with great organisational gifts. This served her well in her long involvement with the WI. She also served on several government committees, including the Stamp Advisory Committee and the Advertising Standards Committee, as well as being wife to the headmaster of Cothill House.

Born Gabrielle Woods, she was the youngest of six children of Edward Woods, the Bishop of Lichfield. Her childhood was blissfully happy, though it is said that she did not always abide by school rules. When she was just 20 she accompanied her brother Sam to New Zealand, and was propositioned on the boat by Augustus John. Once there she learnt more about sheep farming than was strictly necessary for her future career.

During the war she worked for the War Office. In 1942 she married Major George Pike of the Scots Guards, and although childless, the marriage brought them great happiness for more than fifty years.

Pike was persuaded by his father to leave the Army in 1947, ostensibly to take over Cothill House School in due course. But there was no particular urgency, and for some 15 years he was merely an assistant master.

Finding no role for herself at the school, Gabrielle Pike became involved with the Women’s Institute, at first locally with the Berkshire Federation. Her public-speaking ability was soon noticed, and she was invited far and wide, giving 500 talks, for instance, about her French bicycling holidays.

She proved a popular and effective chairman of the WI, able to control a meeting of 6,000 members in the Royal Albert Hall or to lead an innovative visit to Russia to further contact between the women of the two nations.

Her many commitments, which included being a JP on the Abingdon bench, at first prevented her from giving all the time she might have wished to helping with the school – which she and her husband found in a fairly parlous state. Soon, however, she had made it a special place, with dinner parties in the garden from which the male guests were despatched with the headmaster to turn out the boys’ lights; Sunday picnics complete with the donkey of the time; and her reading to the youngest boys on Friday evenings.

She maintained a strict order for the day, which always combined a walk and a prayer. She was appointed CBE in 1966. Her husband predeceased her in 1992.