Suzy Oakes obituary

Suzy Oakes obituary
Suzy Oakes

When I first met Suzy Oakes, who has died aged 61, in the mid-1980s in Oxford, she was working on the UK Prospective Diabetes Study, directed by Robert Turner. Her penchant for hard work, organisational flair, superb communication skills and emotional intelligence made her the perfect person to keep this landmark study, which established the principles behind the modern treatment of Type 2 diabetes, going for eight years.

Suzy spent an idyllic childhood in the Gloucestershire village of Frampton on Severn. After leaving Malvern girls' college (now Malvern St James) at 16, she trained as a secretary in Cheltenham. In 1967 she headed for the US, where she worked as an au pair, and then followed the Snow Goose migration down to Texas, where she got a job on a ranch, lassoing calves and shooting fish in the bayous.

Back in England, she was briefly married and then divorced. When her beloved mother died (from the same type of lung tumour that Suzy later developed), Suzy found herself adrift and penniless in Bristol. The generosity of the people who helped her back on her feet left a deep stamp on her. She excelled as a secretary for David Smith, head of the botany department at Bristol University. In 1978 she set off with a friend to India, via Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran (during the revolution) and Afghanistan (which she thought the most beautiful country she had seen). She also spent a couple of years in Greece, but by 1982 she had settled in Oxford.

There, in 1984, Suzy met her future husband, Stephen O'Rahilly. When they moved to Cambridge, she organised a huge study for the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer. During recovery from hip surgery, and missing her kitchen, where she produced wonderful meals, she set up a website called whatamieating.com. It now has more than 70,000 dictionary-style entries about food, in more than 60 languages.

Suzy was deeply passionate about her local neighbourhood, and with a small group of like-minded people set up the Mill Road winter fair, which has entered the annals of historic Cambridge fairs. She was tireless in supporting the traders and residents of Mill Road from the depredations of large conglomerates.

She is survived by her husband, her brother, Bob, and her sister, Wendy.

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