Dozens of Norbury residents attended the memorial service to the late Councillor Maggie (Margaret Rosalind) Mansell held at Croydon Minister on Tuesday 29 January. Among the well over 200 people who attended were members of her extended family, Councillors from both political parties, and the MPs Steve Reed (Croydon North), Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) and Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), along with dozens of Labour Party members, community activists, former work colleagues and friends.
As the Mator Bernadette Khan entered the Church the song Bandiera Rossa Trimphera was played. As the presiding priest Rev Dr Andrew Bishop said it was the first time the Italian communist song had been played in the Minster. This had been specified by Maggie as was Jerusalem, I vow to thee my country, The day thou gavest, Lord is ended, and Nimrod.
The main eulogy was given by trade union activist and former Councilor Peter Spalding who had known Maggie for 40 years. Other tributes were given by Council Leader Tony Newman and Steve Reed, and Dr Frances Howard, a friend of Maggie’s from when they started work on the same day in 1971 at what is now Croydon University Hospital.
Shafi Khan, her fellow Norbury & Pollards Hill, gave the following personal tribute:
‘Today, we have gathered here to have a celebration of Maggie’s life. To remember Maggie, as just a decent person who was part of this community and contributed well, as well as a well-respected public figure. She was known as approachable, good listener, reliable, kind, supporting, compassionate, a doer and always eager to help those who can’t help themselves.
Maggie wanted to have a happy memory of her. That’s why, she asked for us to wear something red. Lovely choice! Humble but beautifully glamorous!
I have known Maggie for 30 years and have the privilege to represent the good people of Norbury along with her for almost 25 years as Norbury councillors.
She was a great comrade and was always there to support, help or give advice. Maggie’s advice wasn’t always what one wanted to hear, but it was advice one needed to know and be aware of. I am sure quite a lot of you have first-hand experience!
She strongly believed, “The capitalist system has favoured a small number of rich and powerful people at the expense of ordinary working people. Anyone working full time should be able to afford a decent lifestyle. Instead, the gig economy, zero-hour contracts, austerity and mean benefit cuts have driven low paid workers into poverty, to the food banks, eviction and homelessness”.
Over the years I have seen some of the transformation of Maggie:
During her Mayoral year she truly became a real trend setting fashionista; Recently she became a vocal fan of CPFC and above all, to my astonishment, she has changed to an agreeable person!
When I asked about this change, she told me “I have learned from Glenys Kinnock that, you first nod or say I agree, to tackle aggression, then you put across your views”. Probably that is why I never fell out with her although we disagreed quite often.
Maggie was very proud of the achievements of the staff and pupils of our local Norbury Manor Primary school. She was always discussing the issues like extra funding for the school, school improvement plans or how to improve learning and teaching.
She was working with the BME Forum on developing mental wellbeing, and supporting our Croydon North MP Steve Reed in this work. She was also engaged in a programme with Barbers to raise awareness of health risks and healthy lifestyle with their customers.
Maggie was instrumental in setting up several residents associations in Norbury to give real voice to the community and was leading the work with them to get a lift in Norbury Library, to reopen the first floor hall for community use. To pay respect to Maggie’s memory, it would be nice to bring that hall back in use and name after her.
Money, job titles and social status did not impress Maggie – she campaigned with passion and energy for fairness, social justice and equality of opportunity. She campaigned against poverty, homelessness, NHS cuts or against any social evils.
She never stopped campaigning. Just before the Christmas, when she heard that the local cash exchange shop on London Road, Norbury was selling guns, she set about tackling the issue straightaway. I was in that shop with her and experienced that friendly confrontation!
The only time she ever said she couldn’t make it was the Wednesday before she died – she wasn’t well enough to leaflet at Norbury Station with us.
Norbury has lost a strong voice; I have lost my long-time ward colleague and a good friend; CPFC has lost one of their most ardent fans; the NHS has lost a dedicated and committed champion and Norbury Manor have lost their beloved chair of governors. Maggie Mansell was one of Croydon’s true champions. Her loss will be felt right across Croydon but most profoundly in Norbury – her home and her ward.
Can I finish by saying; Maggie lived and worked with highest integrity, with utmost dignity and grace. One can be a popular politician but not everyone can be a hard working local politician like Maggie Mansell. We will miss her hugely.’
In line with her beliefs the service was full of political references.
The memorial service was followed by a gathering at the Town Hall.