Almost 50 years ago, Nancy Pearce watched as her friend’s daughter struggled with an eating disorder. 

So moved by her plight and the wider impact the disease had on the girl’s family, she founded a charity on her doorstep.

The year was 1976 and since then the idea has grown and expanded into the national organisation, Beat - now the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. 

Born and raised on the family farm in Oxfordshire, Nancy Barbara Ferris arrived into the world at the start of the Great Depression on February 11, 1930. 

She attended St Swithun’s school before completing a course in home economics and catering at Gloucestershire University, then a training college. 

In 1950, she met the man who would become her husband at a Young Farmers’ Club social. They became engaged the following year and married in 1952. 

Eastern Daily Press: Nancy Pearce with husband Derek at the 2014 Royal Norfolk Show

Derek Pearce was known locally as a champion of farm business management and agricultural education. 

The couple moved to Norfolk to the 436-acre mixed farm The Oaks, in Kerdiston near Reepham, in 1964. 

Before moving to the county, the couple had their three children; Shirley (b.1954), Jennifer (b.1956) and George (b.1959). 

Mr Pearce died in 2020 aged 94. 

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Mrs Pearce’s eldest, Shirley Pearce, explained how her mother thrived in family life. 

She said: “She dedicated her life to making a home. 

“She was a very sociable person and was also a great listener who was always interested in people and their stories and challenges.” 

It is unsurprising then that she became so invested in her friend when her daughter began a long and heart-breaking journey with the eating disorder anorexia.  

Using her background as a marriage guidance counsellor, she started the charity Anorexic Family Aid in 1976, which would later become Beat.  

Eastern Daily Press: Nancy Pearce being made an OBE by the late Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace

She was made an OBE during the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2007 for her work in mental health and met with the royal at Buckingham Palace six months later. 

Speaking of her achievement at the time, she said: “In those days there was a stigma against it, and it seemed very important to get families together. 

“We got more and more people contacting us and from quite a long way away and I would go around giving talks and I did a course in America to learn more about eating disorders. 

“Very few people really understood what it was all about and, in many ways, I didn't understand it.  

“I think it was something people did not talk about, that they were ashamed of.” 

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Her charity helped shatter many misconceptions and had a dedicated phone line set up in Mrs Pearce's home until enough money was raised to open an office in Norwich.  

Then in 1989, following a merger with another Norfolk charity, Anorexic Aid, Beat was born. 

Since then, Beat has grown to become the leading charity for anyone affected by not just anorexia, but also conditions including binge eating disorder, bulimia, and other types of eating disorders. 

Eastern Daily Press: Beat's founder Nancy Pearce OBE with its chief executive Andrew Radford celebrating the 30th

Paying tribute to her, Beat's chief executive, Andrew Radford, said: "Nancy was a passionate and dedicated campaigner and was fearless in her work to fight for the rights of all those affected by eating disorders.  

“Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this incredibly upsetting time, and we’re proud to continue the amazing legacy she leaves behind." 

Away from the charity she was a gifted athlete and played tennis and cricket for her county in Oxfordshire. 

Previously trained to be a tennis instructor, she only stopped playing at the age of 86 due to failing eyesight. 

A talented artist, she also exhibited her artwork in several places, including at the Royal Norfolk Show

Mrs Pearce died on October 8 aged 93 and leaves behind her children, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. 

A celebration of her life will be held at GreenAcres in Colney on Tuesday, November 14 at 1pm. Donations made payable to BEAT may be sent c/o Allcock Family Funeral Services, Falcon House, 96a City Road, Norwich, NR1 2HD or online at 

  • If you are worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or