Years of service to community

Coun Myra Townley in her Mayoral year with Mayoress Dorothy Jordan, right
Coun Myra Townley in her Mayoral year with Mayoress Dorothy Jordan, right

A former Mayor of Todmorden, Myra Porteous Townley, who has died at the age of 85, served her community for decades.

For 40 years she had devoted a lot of her time to Todmorden and Todmordians, service which was recognised in 2010 when she received the outstanding individual achievement award in the Halifax Courier Community and Environment Awards held at Berties, Elland. She had also helped set up the Community Foundation for Calderdale, and never lost sight of the wider world.

She was Todmorden’s first citizen in 2004-2005 - a high profile role which was perhaps the tip of the iceberg as much of the work she had undertaken in many walks of life was not always highly visible, a situation which the unassuming Myra was happy enough with. It was helping others rather than any limelight that appealed, though she and her family were justifiably proud of that 2010 award.

Born at Birch Hill Hospital, Littleborough, she went to school at Rochdale and then Stockport, her family moving to Haverthwaite in the Lake District following the outbreak of the second world war due to her father’s employment. When they returned she went from Stockport Grammar School to college in Leicester, where she gained a social services diploma.

Undertaking jobs which ranged from office manager for a dentist to cleaning jobs, she became personnel officer for engineering company Simon, which ironically later became part of Simon Warman, now part of the Weir group, in Todmorden.

An adventurous spirit saw Myra, nee Howard, go travelling in France after the war, following which she took part in an early French exchange visit. Later, when Todmorden began the process of twinning with Roncq in France, she was there at the beginning and retained her interest via Todmorden Town Twinning Association.

Myra met her husband Werner at the International Club in Manchester, a social organisation numbering among its membership local people, refugees, international students and more, to play games, enjoy days out and the like. Werner had a small factory in Manchester but having married and found a new family home in Todmorden, the company - Harmsworth Townley and Co Ltd - moved there. It employed around 100 people in the 1970s and continues today, now at White Hart Fold, with Myra and Werner’s daughter Clare as managing director.

Eventually Myra began working for her husband’s company, was something of a pioneer in having an office in the family home and had already thought of ways to help working or busy mums, setting up a playgroup in her home when Clare was very young, these not being common at the time.

Clare remembers: “Mum was always volunteering; she was on the Open Air school committee, organised children’s holidays and involved in Purposeful Leisure, which introduced young people to things like youth hosteling, horse riding, and so on - I met good friends through those.”

Other organisations Myra later joined included Todmorden Volunteer Bureau, Todmorden Women’s Centre, the Fielden Centre committee and Pennine Prospects, and she was a long-time supporter of Todmorden Band. Myra had also been the first administrator of Hebden Bridge-based Pennine Heritage.

In her 60s, Myra went back to university - she had attended the Leicester college after the war as university places were being reserved for returning servicemen - and 40 years on from her diploma received her social sciences degree from Bradford University.

Serving on Todmorden Town Council, she undertook a lot of behind the scenes organisational work as well as chairing committees and service as Deputy Mayor and then Mayor.

She had been due to take office in 2003 but had to take time out when her husband Werner was ill and passed away. Myra took office in 2004, supported by long time good friend and fellow councillor Dorothy Jordan as Mayoress, and as well as fulfilling the social side of the role campaigned against Calderdale Council’s removal of funding for Todmorden Tourist Information Centre, among other things. She raised thousands of pounds for Yorkshire Air Ambulance in her civic year. This included selling “Mayor’s Bears” toys, gaining publcity for the cause by arranging some prizes and asking people to photograph them on their travels - the result was pictures taken all over the world.

She leaves her daughter Clare, son-in-law Glenn and grandchildren Sasha, Nathan and Millie. A celebration of Myra’s life will be held in April.