Timaru anti-fluoride campaigner Imelda Hitchcock dies

Timaru anti-fluoride campaigner Imelda Hitchcock has died, aged 90.
John Bisset

Timaru anti-fluoride campaigner Imelda Hitchcock has died, aged 90.

A woman who fought tirelessly to get fluoride out of Timaru's water, and keep it out, has died.

Imelda Hitchcock, described as a "force to be reckoned with", died on Sunday, aged 90, from natural causes.

Hitchcock was the driving force behind the council's decision in July 1985 to remove fluoride from Timaru's water supply.

Timaru anti-fluoride campaigner Imelda Hitchcock.
TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

Timaru anti-fluoride campaigner Imelda Hitchcock.

Hitchcock was a regular contributor to The Timaru Herald's letter to the editor section on the matter, with her family confirming she had written a last letter to the paper, which will run at a later date.

READ MORE: SCDHB supports fluoride benefits

She also dedicated thousands of hours, throughout more than 30 years, to The Blind Foundation, and was involved in many other organisations in the community.

Hitchcock's family said they were "terribly proud" of her and what she had achieved in her life.

"The length of time she fought to get fluoride out of the water, and keep it out. It was her life mission. She was very inspiring," they said in a statement.

"She was a battler and a campaigner, with a relentless amount of energy."

Hitchcock's anti-fluoride campaign began in 1974 when she noticed health problems that she believed were related to fluoride in the tap water.

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She began collecting water and six years later wrote a letter to the paper.

Interest grew and Hitchcock found herself leading the anti-fluoridation campaign.

She paid for a coupon in the paper, over a long weekend, for people to sign asking the council to hold a referendum on the matter, and by the following Tuesday had more than 1100 signatures supporting the idea.

As momentum gathered a Timaru doctor, Dr van Herel, wrote a letter to the paper about his concerns around fluoride in the water and in January 1985 the council debated to have fluoridation ceased, but there was no progress. After another debate later that month the council decided to halve the level of fluoride in Timaru's water.

The following month she organised an unofficial door-to-door survey over four weeks - the result four-to-one against fluoridation. In April the council again voted for fluoride, despite the survey, with the meeting filmed for television news.

The July meeting which decided on the removal of the fluoride was one of Hitchcock's "proudest moments", her family said.

Her work didn't stop there. Whenever the fluoride debate kicked off in Timaru, Hitchcock was quick to fight it.

Earlier this year she was recognised for her work in the community with The Blind Foundation's Star Awards Volunteer Recognition Award.  

Blind Foundation community engagement practice leader Alison Marshall said Hitchcock had been "a force to be reckoned with".

"She gave a huge amount of her time to supporting both the organisation and its clients," Marshall said.

"It's very sad news to hear of her passing."

Timaru Blind Foundation acting chairwoman Anne O'Connell said Hitchcock had given much to the organisation.

Hitchcock was the chairwoman of the foundation for 20 years and a zone committee leader for the door-to-door collection, as well as a committee member for the Timaru branch. 

"She had a huge impact on the Timaru Blind Foundation and will be missed."

Hitchcock also set up the Timac (Timaru and Mackenzie) Support Group in 2001 with the help of former Timaru mayor Wynne Raymond. The group is separate from the Blind Foundation and provides activities for its members.

South Canterbury dentist Mark Goodhew said Hitchcock was ``indefatigable".

``She never gave up - she just kept on going."

Goodhew said there was never any animosity between the pair despite their differing views on fluoride.

``She was a patient at our practice and a nice lady.  My condolences to her family."

South Canterbury District Health Board chairman Ron Luxton said Hitchcock would be missed.

"I appreciate her community involvement, especially with the Foundation for the Blind."

A service for Hitchcock will be held at Aoraki Funeral Services Chapel on Friday, at 1.30pm.

 - The Timaru Herald

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