SENIOR politicians paid tribute to the UK’s ‘oldest mayor’ at her funeral on Friday, saying her lifelong public service had made her home town “a better place”.
Eulogies were read by former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Torfaen MP Lord Paul Murphy, and current Torfaen MP and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.
Both said Phyllis had mentored them – along with three other former MPs – in a career that was “nothing short of remarkable”.
Lord Murphy, a friend of Phyllis’s for 50 years, spoke of how much laughter he enjoyed in her company.
He said that he had been on many trips abroad with her, and she would always say that nowhere she witnessed – such as Mont Blanc in the French Alps – was as beautiful as the view from Keeper’s Pond on the Blorenge.
“She inherited her socialism from her father and her life’s work was to better the lot of the people of Blaenavon,” he said.
“Above all, she had no side: no pretensions, no pomposity - she was as at home speaking to a pensioner in Elgam as she was conversing with royalty.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds said Phyllis had been a mentor to him, Paul Murphy, Leo Abse, Arthur Jenkins and Daniel Granville-West - five Eastern Valley MPs.
“Born in 1924, Phyllis’s politics were formed in the Great Depression, and the poverty she saw then,” he added.
“She often spoke of how awful it was for people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, and how determined she was that we should never go back to times like that.
“Her father Christopher Davies was a war hero who was held as a prisoner of war for two years before he led 20 other prisoners of war back home through Belgium and France to Dover.
“After the war, he worked underground, before becoming a fireman at Big Pit.
“Christopher became president of the local branch of the miners’ union, and she heard the gossip of everything that was going on with the miners at that time.
“His friends were people who were to become national politicians, like Jim Griffiths and Aneurin Bevan.
“Her life in politics was nothing short of remarkable. She was a pioneer for the representation of women, and I’ve heard so many times from the women who followed her as councillors in succeeding generations say that it was to her they looked for inspiration.
“But she was also an internationalist, deeply proud of Blaenavon’s World Heritage Status, and loved travelling around the globe, though she told me she never found anywhere that looked more beautiful than the Blorenge and the Coity!
“She made Blaenavon – and the valley – a better place.”
Former Islwyn MP Lord Touhig read Psalm 121, current Mayor of Blaenavon Cllr Liam Cowles read the Lesson from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, and Phyllis’s niece Susan Wilson read a poem written by her father Chris Davies called Ruth.
At Gwent Crematorium, Sue and her son David read very moving tributes to their auntie, who they said had inspired them both in their careers and in the way that they lived their lives and respected other human beings.
As well as being the second female Chair of the former Blaenavon Urban District Council in 1970, she went on to become a Gwent County Councillor, Mayor of Torfaen in 1983 and then Blaenavon in 2017, two years after being awarded the British Empire Medal.
Along with running her newsagent’s shop in Broad Street for more than 25 years, Phyllis’s many other roles included Chair of Governors at the former Park Street Secondary School for almost 50 years, and a magistrate for 30 years.
During a break from politics, she became a founder of Age Concern Torfaen and Chair of Blaenavon Over 50s Forum.
She was also Vice-President of Blaenavon Male Voice Choir and President of the Ladies’ Choir.
A post by Blaenavon Town Council said: “Farewell, Phyllis. You will never be forgotten by this town which meant the world to you - and which will forever be grateful for what you did for us.”