Community hero with a twinkle in her eye

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For 50 years Sylvia Byham devoted herself to public service as a councillor, charity fundraiser and tireless

champion of campaigns and good causes.

But those who knew and worked with her also remember something else – her irrepressible sense of fun.

Sylvia, who died two weeks ago aged 86, was in the forefront of community life in Sudbury and Great Cornard from the time she joined Cornard Parish Council in the 1960s.

If a cause needed fighting for, she was there.

“I’ve never been one to dodge a fight,” the former Mayor of Sudbury told the Free Press in an interview after retiring from the town council four years ago.

She believed in plain speaking but delivered it with courtesy and charm.

A lifelong Conservative, she thrived on the cut and thrust of politics but could never be tempted to stand for parliament – preferring to work at grassroots level for the communities she loved.

Suffolk county councillor Colin Spence, who served with her on Babergh District Council, said: “She was a real force to be reckoned with when standing up for all those she served and represented.

“Despite the often difficult and challenging issues which had to be dealt with, Sylvia never lost her infectious sense of humour – I really appreciated it and will long remember her for it.

“The community of Sudbury and beyond owes Sylvia sincere appreciation for her long and dedicated public service – she lived her commitment to serve others.”

Veteran Sudbury councillor John Sayers said: “Sylvia will be remembered as a splendid ambassador for the town.

“The community of Sudbury was always close to her heart.

“Even while residing in a care home she would show fellow residents historical pictures of Sudbury.

“Sylvia seldom missed attending events in town, was often ‘front stage’, and always generous with her kind remarks.

“Also I cannot help associating her with her beautiful home-made cushions, which she would take to many fund raising events.”

Sylvia was born in Sudbury and after leaving school trained as a dressmaker. Needlework remained one of her favourite pastimes.

She met her husband Roy in 1948 at a dance in Sudbury’s Victoria Hall. They married two years later and set up a grocery store in Great Cornard.

Roy, who later became a driving instructor, died in 2004, four years after their golden wedding anniversary.

Sylvia, who lived in Pot Kiln Road, Great Cornard before moving into the nearby Hillside Care Home, leaves two sons Michael and David, three grandsons and a great granddaughter.

She was elected Mayor of Sudbury in 1989. Highlights of her year included welcoming Princess Anne during a royal visit to the town.

Sylvia was always a committed European, a keen supporter of town twinning, and a national ex-chairman of the European Union of Women.

Charities she supported included Help the Aged and the Far East Prisoners of War Association.

In 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and later set up Sudbury Breast Cancer Appeal which raised more than £50,000 for Ipswich Hospital where she was treated.

Colin Spence, who knew Sylvia for almost 40 years, added: “Whatever the important community issue Sylvia was there showing leadership and taking on the challenges when required with passion and dedication.

“Outside her commitment to her politics and support for the Conservative Party, and her love for her family which meant so much to her, Sylvia’s commitment to raising so much support for the charities she believed in was to be respected.”

Sylvia’s funeral was due to be held yesterday at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury.