TRIBUTES have poured in for a much-loved mum and fiercely-dedicated Adver journalist who was known as the Queen of Swindon.

Shirley Mathias spent decades fighting for the underdog and puncturing the powerful through her work at this paper.

Her widely-read columns often became the talk of the town and sparked debates as they channelled her immense compassion and kindness into acerbic, righteous take-downs of wrongdoing.

She joined the Adver as an apprentice in 1955 before moving to a newspaper in Wales, where she met her husband.

Shirley later returned to Swindon and her old stomping ground and, over five decades, worked as a reporter, sub-editor, feature writer, women’s editor and columnist.

She loved her job so much she continued working after retirement, still coming in three days a week and then two days before finally stepping down in 2008.

Shirley died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 84 on January 10 at Fitzwarren House, just a few weeks after moving there from her Wroughton home.

A small private funeral will be held due to the pandemic restrictions.

Shirley is survived by her son Andrew, who said: “She was incredible, she brought my sister Anna and me up single-handedly.

“She was so easy to get on with and likeable. I think everyone in Swindon knew her and I think she made a lasting impression on the town.

“She always made sure we had a summer holiday to Somerset. She was old-school, she had contact books full of names she would call to get quotes, and she loved meeting people.”

Shirley left a lasting impression on many of her colleagues who quickly became good friends and were inspired by her thoughtfulness, steely determination and font of local knowledge.

Former managing editor Pauline Leighton said: “When I joined the paper as a trainee in 1973, Shirley was the Queen of Swindon.

“Everyone knew her and her acerbic pen. No wrongdoer escaped her gimlet eye and her weekly column was one of the best-read features in the Adver.

“She was terrifying! But over the years, we became firm friends – she even babysat my children – and behind that sharp veneer beat a heart of gold.

“She was a force to be reckoned with, one of the best I’ve worked with. RIP Shirley, a great journalist.”

Former Adver feature writer Barrie Hudson said: “Shirley Mathias was a type of journalist which almost every local newspaper had once upon a time but few have today - the veteran who becomes a priceless living source of knowledge about the paper and the area and people it serves.

“When I came to the Swindon Advertiser in 1998, she had already been there for about four decades.

“Her local knowledge was impeccable, her writing never less than perfect and her regular columns avidly read by thousands of local people.

“In her opinion pieces, Shirley always stood up for the vulnerable. She thought nothing of savaging powerful people who did wrong, no matter how many threats those powerful people issued to her and the many editors she worked under.

“For all her fierceness and the pride she took in holding wrongdoers to account, Shirley was one of the kindest colleagues I have ever encountered during my own decades as a journalist.

“Ever modest, she would praise co-workers to the skies while doing her best to sidestep any glory headed in her direction,” he said. “She added to the sum of goodness and decency in the world, which is all any of us can hope to do.”

Former associate editor Steve Webb said: “I had worked for Shirley for many years up to her retirement. She was a consummate professional, a breed of journalist who pushed and probed to get to the heart of the story, caring deeply for the people she was writing for and about.

“Her writing skills were of the highest quality and should be held as an example of good writing for young journalists everywhere.

“Shirley’s weekly column in the Advertiser was certainly a must-read experience and her opinions and honestly-held beliefs earned her respect and friendship throughout Swindon.

“She was also great fun socially, and friends and colleagues will remember being with her at after-work pub gatherings, or at one of her famous barbecues.”

Some Adver readers later joined the profession because of how much they admired Shirley’s tenacity and talent. She helped to shape a generation of Swindon journalists.

Former Adver deputy editor Michelle Carter said: “Shirley was one of the reasons I went into journalism in the first place.

“Her column was renowned in Swindon when I was a teenager and I wanted to emulate her sharp style and clever, cutting way with words. I soon realised that Shirley was a master at what she did, with a talent that couldn’t be copied.

“When I got to work alongside her later, I realised she wasn’t always as fearsome as she seemed and in fact had a fantastic sense of fun and a much gentler side - unless, of course, you were the subject of her latest column.

“For older Swindonians, Shirley is as much a part of the Adver as the Football Pink. She’ll never be forgotten.”

Former Adver reporter Leigh Mytton said: ‘Shirley was fearless, feisty and very talented – a feminist icon and superb role model for me as a junior reporter at the Advertiser 25 years ago.

“She undoubtedly had the same impact on numerous female journalists who cut their teeth at the paper and went on to build careers at national media outlets. For this, I am extremely grateful.”

Shirley’s daughter Anna, a barrister, died aged 50 in 2018.

MORE TRIBUTES: Swindon community remembers influential reporter Shirley Mathias