LONDON (AP) — Socialite, codebreaker, British government minister and bon vivant Jean Barker — better known by her title, Baroness Trumpington — has died. She was 96.
Son Adam Barker said she died in her sleep on Monday. He tweeted that “she had a bloody good innings.”
Jean Alys Campbell-Harris was born into a wealthy Anglo-American family on Oct. 23, 1922, and educated in England and France. When World War II broke out she worked on a farm as a “land girl” before serving in naval intelligence, translating messages from German submarines at the secret Bletchley Park codebreaking center.
After the war she worked for an organization in Paris helping to restore Europe’s ravaged transport network before moving to New York, where she got a job in advertising and enjoyed the city’s nightlife. She later said she arrived with just a few pounds in her pocket and subsisted on cocktail snacks until her first paycheck came through.
Returning to England in the early 1950s, she married historian Alan Barker and entered Conservative politics, becoming a councilor and mayor of the city of Cambridge. She was appointed to the House of Lords in 1980 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government, taking the title Baroness Trumpington of Sandwich, and served as a minister and a whip during the 1980s and ’90s.
She was known for her sense of fun — dancing on tables and belting out “Chattanooga Choo Choo” at social functions well into old age — and for her forthright opinions. She received outraged letters from animal-lovers after suggesting that sheep in the Falkland Islands should be used to detect land mines.
“My point was that sheep could be put out of their misery and eaten, whereas men could not,” Trumpington said.
She became a U.K. media star in 2011 after she made a rude hand signal in the House of Lords at a member who had referred to her age, a gesture caught on camera and endlessly replayed online.
She retired from the House of Lords last year on her 95th birthday.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Trumpington “was a formidable figure in British politics and her kindness and humor will be sorely missed.”
Former Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that “she was one of a kind – they simply don’t make politicians like that anymore. She will be sorely missed in Westminster but long remembered for her outstanding ability and great humour. RIP Trumpers.”
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt wrote on Twitter: “Deepest sympathies to all who knew and loved this incredible woman. Socialite, mother, Bletchley Park code breaker, Baroness, Minister, trailblazer, heroine and an utter joy.”
This story has been corrected to give the surname as Barker, not Baker.