Baroness Masham, Paralympian and longest-serving female peer, dies aged 87

Baroness Masham, a Paralympian and the longest-serving female member of the House of Lords ever, has died aged 87.

Lady Masham won medals in swimming and table tennis at the 1960, 1964 and 1968 games and was created a life peer in 1970.

She spent much of her career campaigning for disability rights.

The Spinal Injuries Association, which she founded in 1974, said it was “devastated to have lost our greatest champion”.

She died peacefully in hospital in Northallerton, Yorkshire, on Sunday, it said.

Lady Masham, born Susan Sinclair, became a wheelchair user after suffering an injury to her spinal cord in a riding accident in 1958.

Two years later, she won a gold medal in the 25m breaststroke at the Paralympic games in Rome, and in 1964 won another in the women’s doubles table tennis in Tokyo.

She won a further six silver medals and two bronze across both sports in the three games at which she competed.

In 1976, she was the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life.

A prominent Roman Catholic convert, she was a patron of the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, and supporter of many Catholic causes.

She sat as a crossbencher and spent a total of 53 years in the House of Lords, more than any other female peer in history.

She set up the Spinal Injuries Association to address a lack of specialist care or advice available to newly injured people and served as its president until her death.

The association described Lady Masham as “the reason we have been able to champion, fight, serve and support thousands of spinal cord injured people ever since”.

“Our condolences go to her family at this sad time,” it said.

Lady Masham also sat on a number of all party parliamentary groups (APPGs), including those on global tuberculosis, HIV and Aids, and malaria.

The APPG on global tuberculosis said she had been “one of parliament’s most vociferous champions for disability rights and has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of people around the world living with TB and HIV”.

“Baroness Masham’s remarkable life serves as a testament of her compassion and dedication. She will be greatly missed by all,” it said.

Catholic Union Director, Nigel Parker, expressed his deep sadness on hearing of her death.

“Lady Masham lived a life of service. She served as a crossbench peer for over 50 years and continued to play an active role in public life until just a few weeks ago. A former Vice President of the Catholic Union, Lady Masham spoke fearlessly about her faith, which no doubt inspired her public service,” said Mr Parker.

“Lady Masham was a faithful attendant at the Wednesday Mass in Parliament. Never one to be told that something could not be done, she found a way of accessing the underground Chapel in Parliament in her wheelchair. Her disability, like her faith, was never something she would tolerate being a ground for discrimination or disadvantage.

“Most recently, Lady Masham helped improve police guidance on priests having access to crime scenes. Following the murder of Sir David Amess in October 2021, she was one of the first to raise concerns that he had been unable to receive the Last Rites on the day he died. In a very moving debate in Parliament, she described the Last Rites as a sacrament ‘to strengthen and comfort the soul, and food for the journey’. We pray that she will receive that fullness of comfort and peace now.”

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.