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Honour for late Purton philanthropist
Buy this photo » Royal Voluntary service is giving a Posthumous award to Martin Tomlins, the nephew of Elizabeth Ward, who died last year. From left, Martin Tomlins, niece-in-law Angela Tomlins, community group president Diana Thombs, Royal Voluntary Service chair
A PHILANTHROPIST with unstinting determination and a remarkable ability to ‘rope in’ volunteers has been recognised posthumously for her dedication to the Purton community over 65 years.
Elizabeth Ward, of Bradon, passed away on November 28 last year aged 88.
An unstoppable force for good, she founded the Purton Luncheon Club, as a side operation from the local Women’s Institute, in 1948 with her mother Nancy, delivering meals to elderly residents.
She later set up a more formal lunch group in a wooden hut on the High Street, where the Silver Threads Hall now stands.
Over the next 65 years the club would grow to cater for about 30 people each Tuesday and Thursday and now has 35 volunteers.
She was awarded the Royal Voluntary Service’s long-service medal and the organisation’s 60 year volunteering badge yesterday at her beloved luncheon club.
Never taking no for an answer, Elizabeth had a gift for recruiting new helpers – many of them through her sheer power of persuasion and tenacity.
Her nephew Martin Tomlins and his wife Angela travelled from Spain to accept the honour on her behalf.
Martin, 65, who lives near Malaga, remembered his aunt as a resolute and bold woman who could make anything happen when she put her mind to it.
“She deserved this award in spades,” he said. “If people couldn’t come to the club she would take the food to them or make sure someone took it to them.
“I came over in June last year. She had fallen over and damaged her eyesight and was not able to drive anymore. But that did not stop her. I took her to the luncheon club and I remember her standing by the piano announcing bus times for the people in the group.
“She was there until the end. This was the work of her life.”
Angela, 58, added: “She was the rock around which our family revolved. She was a small bundle of energy and there was no stopping her. If she decided something should happen she would make it happen. You always knew when she walked into a room.”
Elizabeth never spent an idle day in her life and at the age of 17 enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army during the Second World War. She was posted on the South coast where she was in charge of radar spotting.
In 1995, she received an MBE for her volunteering work.
Caroline McLean had just moved to the village when she received a visit from Elizabeth and first encountered the woman’s indomitable will. Within a few minutes of the meeting, she had been enlisted by Elizabeth in her community work. That was 25 years ago.
“Elizabeth roped people in; that’s how she operated,” said the long-serving member of the luncheon club. “And she roped me in 25 years ago. She was generous and very hospitable. She gave a lot of her energy and time to other people. And she knew how to make things happen. She was very special.”
Despite a long list of health problems, including failing lungs and a weak heart, she was still on duty at the luncheon club days before her death.