Tributes have been paid to ‘irreplaceable’ former Lord Mayor and community stalwart Jean Edwards.
Jean, who served as a Labour councillor for Burslem for three decades and was the driving force behind Tunstall’s Floral Hall, died on Monday at the age of 83 after a short battle with a thyroid tumour.
The mother-of-six was known as a passionate community campaigner, and served various roles on the city council, including Lord Mayor in 2006/7.
Family, friends and colleagues have now paid tribute to Jean, who they describe as a tireless activist, a true Boslemite and a ‘proper Stokie’.
She was born Jean Jones, in Norris Road, Stanfield, in 1936 and went on to attend St Mary’s School and Forster Street School.
After leaving school at 15, she went to work in the pottery industry, where she met her future husband Harry Edwards. They got married in 1956 and had six children: Neil, Michael, Paul, Mark, Deborah and Joanne, and subsequently seven grandchildren and a great grandson.
Jean, who first joined the Labour Party as a teenager, became actively involved in local politics during the successful campaign against a proposed abattoir in Scotia Road, in Tunstall.
She was subsequently elected as a councillor for Burslem Central in 1979, and she would go on to serve on the authority for 32 years, until 2011. During that time she chaired the housing committee and later became chair of social services, as well as serving as first citizen for a year.
Jean also chaired the Floral Hall management committee, and following the centre’s asset transfer from the council, she became chairwoman of the board of trustees. Harry served as secretary of the management committee until his death in 2009.
Former Stoke-on-Trent North Labour MP Joan Walley worked alongside Jean and Harry from 1986, and was a good friend.
She said: “Jean was much loved. She was a tower of strength, Labour through and through, not just to the local people she represented in the Burslem and Tunstall area but in all the work she did for children and social services on a city wise basis.
“Compassionate, principled and never afraid to speak out, through her unstinting work on the city council Jean Edwards saw to it that local people’s housing and social needs were acted on.
“She was the most caring of women who led by example. She will be sorely missed. We need the likes of her more than ever.”
Jean started to get involved in local issues when her youngest daughter Joanne started school.
She joined other parents in campaigning for a play park on Bycars Greenway, and helped organise a street part for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
Jean was also heavily involved in the PTA at Mill Hill Primary School where all of her children attended, and later became a governor at both Mill Hill and Stanfield High.
But Jean, who worked at Stanfield Post Office and as butcher’s assistant in Tunstall Market, also had her own personal battles, surviving three bouts of breast cancer in 1980, 1987 and 2019.
Jean’s family say they are ‘heartbroken’ the coronavirus lockdown means they cannot celebrate her life at this time, but they plan to hold a memorial service later in the year.
In a statement, they said: “Jean was dedicated to the people of Stoke-on-Trent. A Boslemite through and through.
“She was a Labour Party member and socialist; a political activist and also adversary; ambassador for our city and a community campaigner. But above all of this she was a mum, nanny and great grandma. She was much loved, irreplaceable and unmatched.”
Jean was instrumental in the setting up of Tunstall’s community centre, and later successfully campaigned for it to be transferred to the then derelict Floral Hall, in Tunstall Park.
The facility thrived under her stewardship, and she led numerous fundraising campaigns. The Floral Hall is now licensed to host weddings and has a successful community cafe, and is currently raising funds for a new conservatory.
A spokesman for the Floral Hall said: “Jean was the Floral Hall to all of us staff, she had dedicated her later years in life to reinstating Floral Hall as a wedding venue and a community cafe, she was passionate about keeping the cost down so it was affordable for all in her community to use.
“The employees are all local people, she treated them all with respect, the committee and staff are one big extended family.
“Jean, you will be sadly missed by all of us. Floral Hall is your legacy and one we will treasure.”
Current Lord Mayor Jackie Barnes paid tribute to Jean on behalf of the city council
She said: “It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of former long-serving councillor and Lord Mayor Jean Edwards.
“She was a hugely popular councillor who worked so hard on behalf of residents across the city. She was proud of Stoke-on-Trent and represented our city with distinction.
“Jean was a councillor for the then Burslem Central ward for more than 20 consecutive years, and served as Lord Mayor in 2006, where she raised many thousands of pounds for local good causes.
“On behalf of residents across the city, and colleagues who knew and respected Jean so much right across the council chamber, we send our deepest condolences to Jean’s family at this time.”