Firth, Virginia Arabella ('Gay') (1937–2005), author, journalist and political campaigner, was born in Belfast on 9 January 1937, the eldest of three daughters of Lancelot Turtle, a Belfast businessman and stockbroker, and Helen Ramsey Turtle (1911–46), born in Denver, Colorado, USA. On a visit to the north of Ireland, Helen met and subsequently married Lancelot Turtle in May 1933 and moved to Belfast. Her intelligence, vivacity and cultural interests brought her many friends, and after her tragically early death from breast cancer, they set up a fund in her memory. This was used to establish the well-known Helen Ramsey Turtle scholarship in the Queen's University of Belfast, awarded annually since 1949 to foster friendship between Northern Ireland and the United States.
When Helen Turtle died, her daughter Virginia, always known as Gay, was nine years old. The family belonged to the Society of Friends, and Gay was sent to a quaker boarding school, The Mount, in York. She went to TCD to study history, classics and politics, graduating BA in 1959, and moved to Cambridge to train as a teacher. Like her mother, she had a gift for friendship, and in both Dublin and Cambridge moved in intellectual and theatrical circles; she was prominent in the DU Players, and friends she met through the Cambridge Union included future British politicians such as Geoffrey Howe, Ken Clarke and Leon Brittan.
She taught history for a time, and published Antiques anonymous (1964) on the joys of old furniture. With her husband Tony Firth, a Cambridge friend who became a journalist and broadcaster, she kept in touch with politics and public life in London. They moved in 1970 to Glasgow, when he was appointed programmes controller in Scottish Television. The family spent some time in the US. In 1976 Gay Firth was appointed office manager and speechwriter at the UK's newly established Equal Opportunities Commission. Her arguments are credited with helping convince UK legislators, and policy makers generally, of the importance of equal rights for women in employment and other aspects of life. During this time, she and Jane Donald wrote What's for lunch, Mum? (1976), a successful hardback and paperback publication providing cooking inspiration to busy mothers.
After Tony Firth died in 1980, Gay Firth worked as a freelance writer and journalist. She was particularly interested in the arts, and with wit and insight reviewed books and plays in The Times and the Financial Times, where she also worked on foreign news, but she found a particularly congenial role as letters editor on the Financial Times (1980–95). Firth's personality, wide interests, and friendships in political circles meant that she kept a finger on the pulse of public life. She was a member of the Athenaeum Club, and was particularly keen on assisting girls' education. She served on various quaker committees, and as chair of Quaker House in London, helped with the annual international meetings called 'quaker conferences for diplomats', which encouraged discreet meetings to explore world relations and conflict areas.
Firth herself worked to foster reconciliation and social cohesion in Northern Ireland, helping in 1970 to found the liberal and non-sectarian Alliance party. She and her husband, also a quaker, supported Alliance's goals by writing many letters to newspapers, briefings, and other documents aimed at setting out the party's goals and increasing the its profile; she served as the party's first press officer. After retirement, Firth joined a new current affairs essay magazine, Prospect; her rigorous copyediting standards helped form its house style, and her views and contacts assisted the editor, a former colleague on the Financial Times. She was writing a book on the history of rationing when she discovered that she had cancer, and she died in London on her birthday, 9 January 2005, after nearly a year in hospital. She was survived by a son and a daughter.