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Pam Gilby, tireless campaigner for South End Green

Tributes to founder of the Fleet Singers choir, who has passed away aged 79

30 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

WHEN developers set their sights on the old ABC cinema in South End Green, they were not going to get a free hand to do as they pleased: the neighbourhood had a staunch champion in the shape of indomitable campaigner.

The battle for the picturehouse site was recalled this week as tributes were paid to Pam Gilby following her death last week, aged 79. She dedicated years to South End Green Association (Sega) and as the developers pulled down the cinema and built flats and a supermarket in its place, she was determined the Green would benefit.

So, Pam battled to have the Victorian fountain at its centre restored and water flowing through it once again it and benches repaired or replaced. She fought to have the 168 bus route changed – a campaign that saw a compromise through tweaks to the bus timetable – and lobbied to have a lift installed at Hampstead Heath train station. She was also the driving force behind establishing the South End Green Festival, which is still held every year. When she stepped down after a decade of chairing Sega, Pam turned her attention to establishing a community choir, the Fleet Singers.

Pam Gilby

Former Conservative councillor Chris Knight worked closely with her. He said: “Pam was one of the best community leaders I have come across in terms of the work residents’ groups do. “She was genuine, honest and hard working. She knew how to work the system to get things done. She was intelligent and likeable and her determination was incredible.”

He recalled how when she handed her role at Sega on, she wasn’t in any way slowing down. He said: “She said to me: ‘Chris, I am going to start a choir.’ She poked me in the chest and said: ‘You are going to help me!’ And for many this was a lifeline. It wasn’t just about the singing, but the company it provided.”

Pam was born on 1938 in Freiburg, South Africa. Her parents George and Elsie Sneesby had travelled from Cambridgeshire to teach. Coming from a Baptist background, there was a missionary element to the family settling in the country. Pam was the youngest of three siblings, a sister to Roy and David.

Her father rose to the post of chief schools inspector and inspired her to study education and theology at Rhodes University. The family came back to settle in England, and Pam’s South African teaching qualifications meant she spent a year at the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury – but before enrolling, she had studied at a typing and secretarial college in Hampstead.

It was during this period in the mid-1960s that she met Norman Gilby, a school science technician. They married in 1971 and moved to Constantine Road, where she would live for the rest of her life.

Pam became the deputy head at Palmers Green High School and had a spell at William Ellis school in Highgate Road. She had a son, Robin, in 1975 and then worked as a tutor and at Lady Eden’s private school. Pam was passionate about the natural world and enjoyed visiting National Trust homes.

She loved cats, Doris Day, steam trains and travel. She ran an amateur dramatics society at the Gospel Oak Methodist Church, where she later preached. Pam fell ill last year. She was diagnosed with cancer and passed away two weeks ago. The day before she died, she was visited in the Royal Free by one of her doctors, who asked her if there was anything she wanted. Her reply was typical of her spirit and optimism: “I persevere,” she replied.

Pam leaves an continuing legacy as an inspiration to other community campaigners fighting to protect and improve South End Green. Always happy to share an opinion and listen to others, she got involved to make a difference.

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