Ryder, Sue (1923–2000)

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Ryder, Sue (1923–2000)

British social worker and philanthropist. Name variations: Baroness Ryder of Warsaw; Lady Ryder. Born Margaret Susan Ryder in England in 1923; died in Bury St. Edmunds, England, on November 2, 2000; married a naval officer (killed in World War II); married Leonard Cheshire (a social worker, war hero, and holder of the Victorian Cross), in 1959 (died 1992); children: (second marriage) Jeremy Cheshire; Elizabeth Cheshire.

Sue Ryder devoted her entire life to the care of others. She was born in England in 1923 into a prosperous farming family, and spent her early childhood living on the outskirts of Leeds, near some of the city's worst slums. The children she saw on the streets during the Depression provided her with her first lesson in the misery of poverty. During the 1930s, the Ryder farm also fell on hard times; the family moved to a summer cottage in Thurlow, Suffolk.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Ryder left school and volunteered for the FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). After training, she was assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a unit involved in organizing sabotage and supporting resistance movements in occupied countries. Attached to the Polish section, "The Bods," as they were called, Ryder endured extreme danger and hardships and lost many of her compatriots on various missions. It was a highly motivated group, however, and further inspired Ryder to devote her life to the relief of human suffering. She later served in North Africa and Italy, and at war's end performed relief work in France and Poland. She became so enamored of the Polish nation that she would take the name Warsaw as part of her title when she was elevated to the House of Lords as a life peer in 1979.

In 1953, using a small inheritance and borrowed money, Ryder established the first Sue Ryder Home in Suffolk, England, a refuge for concentration camp survivors as well as the mentally and physically ill. In 1959, she went into partnership and married Leonard Cheshire, a British war hero and founder of the Cheshire Homes for the disabled. (At 18, Ryder had married a young naval officer, but he had been killed in the war just a few weeks after the wedding.) Through the Sue Ryder Foundation, she would found 24 Sue Ryder Houses in Britain and 80 other centers in 20 nations, including Eastern Europe and India. She also set up 500 Sue Ryder charity shops, where she was known to purchase her own clothes. The homes serve patients with cancer, the physically handicapped, the elderly, the mentally ill, and those suffering from Huntington's disease. Some of the facilities also offer home visits, bereavement counseling, and respite care. In 1979, the queen mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon , inaugurated the Sue Ryder Foundation Museum in Cavendish. "It is intended," said Ryder, "to show the misery in the world and the needs which exist more vividly than the written word could do. It is not dedicated to me." Ryder was the author of two autobiographies: And the Morrow Is Theirs and Child of My Love.


"Baroness Ryder, 77, Charity Organizer, Dies," in The New York Times. November 7, 2000.

This England. Spring 1987, p. 74; Spring 1998, p. 79.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts