Obituary: Phyllis Preece (1938 – 2020)

Vicki Lloyd remembers one of Wales’ most prominent and fierce campaigners for older people.

Everyone at Age Cymru, from current and former staff, to our trustees and supporters across Wales were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Phyllis Preece who died on 1 May 2020, arguably one of Wales’ most prominent and fierce campaigners for older people.

It hasn’t gone un-noticed that Phyllis passed away on 1 May, the internationally recognised day that celebrates the contributions and rights of workers – an issue that was central to Phyllis’ core beliefs throughout her life.

Campaigning for others had always been important for Phyllis, particularly for those who didn’t have much, and as a young woman she became a shop steward in the Freeman’s cigar factory in Cardiff. She went on to become a well-known figure in the Welsh trade union movement and, at a time when women were not so visible, she would not baulk at walking into a room full of men and tell them exactly what she thought. Often with the aid of very blunt language.

Phyllis’ zest for campaigning did not end with her retirement, far from it. Instead she became very active in the retired trades union movement chairing committees, workshops and numerous conferences for National Pensioners Convention Wales, Pensioners Forum Wales and the Cymru Older People’s Alliance to name but a few.

Such was Phyllis’ reputation that the Welsh Government would often invite her to sit on advisory panels. So it would not be an exaggeration to say that Phyllis has contributed to much of the current Welsh Government thinking and policy on ageing matters. Phyllis was consistent in her call to action across a range of issues.

The rights of women, both in the workplace and in retirement, also became an important topic for Phyllis. Operating in the traditionally male dominated world of trade unions, Phyllis showed by example what a woman could achieve, and encouraged others to follow her lead. Few argued against her approach.   

In recent years Phyllis became heavily involved in many of the day to day activities of Age Cymru and its predecessor charities, often fronting its communication and fundraising campaigns.

Regardless of the weather, Phyllis liked nothing better than joining her friends from Age Cymru with bucket collections on international days in Cardiff, revelling in good-humoured banter with inebriated rugby fans! 

Whether it was highlighting our Spread the Warmth campaign encouraging older people to keep warm and safe during the Winter months, or discussing the ways in which older people could tackle loneliness or isolation, nothing fazed Phyllis. And none of us will forget the time she got up on stage at an Age Cymru Gala Dinner and took the mic off Jason Mohammed to tell the audience exactly why they needed to support our work! 

Phyllis was a great networker, and on first name terms with a number of senior politicians and civil servants, including First Ministers.  Phyllis would not hesitate to support Age Cymru by sharing her views with these key decision makers to help progress the charity’s work.

But Phyllis wasn’t just a key ally of Age Cymru and older people.  She also cared about individuals and would often ask if we and our families were safe and well. 

To say we will miss Phyllis is a huge understatement. We will miss her knowledge, experience, drive and honesty.  But most of all we will miss a very good friend.

Vicki Lloyd is Chief Executive of Age Cymru.

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