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Sue Blacker obituary

·2-min read

My wife, Sue Blacker, who has died from a brain tumour aged 69, kickstarted a minor revolution in the textile industry with her Natural Fibre Company, which provided a spinning service for small shepherds and those with specialist breeds. As a result of this, British processed yarns from British sheep breeds are still of high quality and selling all over the world.

Sue’s championing of British sheep breeds with her company took the industry in a new, sustainable direction. There are nearly 40m sheep in the UK and more than 60 different breeds. Most are slaughtered for meat. Outside of the operations of the Wool Board, which largely supplies the carpet industry, there were few opportunities for small shepherds. Using her own flock of Gotland sheep, Sue developed a wool mill in Cornwall capable of scouring, spinning and dyeing under the same roof, something she believed was a world first.

Sue was born in St Austell, Cornwall, daughter of George Blacker, a quantity surveyor, and Grace (nee Walkington) whose family had links to the textile industry.

After St Austell grammar school, Sue won a place at Girton College, Cambridge, to study medieval history, graduating in 1972. She was the first female graduate recruited by the merchant bank NM Rothschild and was among the first women to be a member of the London Stock Exchange. She went on to become an investment analyst.

When the City of London was deregulated in 1986, Sue was analysing electronic stocks for Shearson Lehmann and was one of the highest-paid women in the City. That is where we met; at the time I was a reporter with the Daily Mail City office. We married in 1987. After a short period with the French bank Paribas, she returned to her native Cornwall where our son, Sam, was born.

In the early 1990s she worked for the Devon & Cornwall Development Company, notably on agriculture, fishing and tourism, helping to improve local employment prospects.

She acquired the Natural Fibre Company in 2004 and through that provided a contract spinning service for small wool producers, while its other arm, Blacker Yarns, sold knitting and weaving yarns online all over the world, largely to North America and Europe. She disposed of the company in December 2019.

Sue had a voracious appetite for knowledge and a desire both to use and share her skills. As the 21st century dawned she returned to Cambridge and acquired an MBA at the Judge Institute.

She continued to work as a consultant for the Natural Fibre Company after selling it. She also managed two environmental charities, The Groundwork Trust, Plymouth, and the Silvanus Trust, regenerating woodlands. She was a non-executive director on the local health authority and ambulance trusts.

She is survived by me, Sam, her granddaughter, Olive, and her younger sister, Polly.

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