Michelle Wyer, former ARC president
Michelle Wyer conjures up three remarkable women.
I’ve been asked about inspirational women for IWD. I’m going to be cheeky and write about 3!
Firstly, my nana. She was a Welsh matriarch who was taken from South Wales at the tender age of 13 to be a maid in London – can you imagine? She eventually returned to South Wales and met my grandad at a fair and they got married – they were married for more than 50 years. Why is she inspirational? Well she had 7 children and all of them were fed and watered during the war, [my grandad was a miner, a reserved occupation], because she had a home garden. She took on an extra child arising out of a family predicament and raised him as her own, she dealt with the death of a child. She was an excellent cook and seamstress. She looked after me when my mum was at work. The main reason that she inspired me though, if that wasn’t enough, is her work ethic. She literally never, ever stopped. She was always working for her family and she was very much the leader of our family – you didn’t cross her! Something that I know wasn’t always good news for those coming into the family but my goodness she was a formidable force. I’ve tried to emulate that work ethic.
Secondly I have to mention Lesley Strathie. She joined HMRC as its first female Permanent Secretary when I was working in the Chairman’s Private Office. Why was she inspirational? Well she was someone like me. She loved dancing, she loved prosecco, she had a great sense of humour and she was always turned out beautifully. For me, a working class girl, she showed me what was possible if you had drive, determination and wit. She fought cancer twice, the second time, sadly unsuccessfully. Even now if I have to make a decision I will look at her photograph and say, ‘what would you do Lesley?’
Finally, I will talk about the Headmistress at my school where I am a Chair of Governors. She was born in the East End and had a family before deciding that she wanted more out of life, she rose from being a dinner lady to being the Headmistress of my school and she is absolutely brilliant. She is curious, she has a gift which allows her to ‘get’ people and she is 100% devoted to offering those children, from working class backgrounds just like both of us, the best possible chance to succeed. She has turned the school around in the time that I’ve been there, she never, ever stops trying to improve on what’s she’s done. She’s amazing.
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