MORE than 200 people gathered in Croydon Minster on Wednesday to remember and say goodbye to "one of the Croydon's great characters", former mayor and New Addington councillor Brenda Kirby.
The description of Mrs Kirby, who died last week after a four year battle with brain and lung cancer, came from Canon Colin Boswell, the Vicar of Croydon, who conducted the memorial service.
And it was echoed later by Councillor Timothy Godfrey in his eulogy when he called her a larger than life character who could "always be found in a crowd by her bright red hair and amazing laugh".
The service was attended by many members of the New Addington community to which she had devoted her life to helping both before and after being elected to the council as a Labour member in 1986.
They were joined by members of council, both Labour and Conservative, senior council officers and representatives from community groups. Also attending was Geraint Davies, now Labour MP for Swansea, who was elected as a councillor for New Addington in same year as Mrs Kirby and went on to become MP for Croydon Central.
Mr Davies said: "Brenda was an unusual politician because she had been deeply involved with the community before she was elected.
"She was a passionate representative of that community."
Mrs Kirby lived with her husband Bob on the estate for 45 years and it was a partnership, Cllr Godfrey said, which helped foster her commitment.
He said: "Brenda, like all councillors, would undertake her caseload with vigour and passion for every single case, but it was the excitement about changing people and places for the better that excited Brenda.
"Brenda was at her very best and most excited by what she could help to achieve for people and for New Addington and the borough of Croydon."
She had been immensely proud when elected Mayor in 2004 and even more so when made an MBE in 2010 for services to New Addington, something, Cllr Godfrey said, she saw as an award for New Addington as much as for herself. It was the diagnosis of brain and lung cancer which forced Mrs Kirby to decide not to stand for election in 2010.
Cllr Godfrey said after her diagnosis it would have been understandable if she had decided to spend more time with her family.
Instead she set about setting up a cancer help centre in New Addington to provide support to those suffering from the disease.
He said: "Using her own name for the centre was a great way to generate interest and exploit goodwill – something that on this occasion Brenda was willing to do to get the centre off the ground."
Cllr Godfrey concluded by saying her work in New Addington and Croydon should be an inspiration to those taking part in voluntary and civic life.
He said: "The world would surely be a brighter and more hopeful place if we call could adopt even a small amount of Brenda's unfaltering optimism and work ethic towards ensuring that all people deserve equal respect and opportunities."
Anyone wishing to remember Mrs Kirby are asked to make donations to the Brenda Kirby Cancer Centre c/o Rowland Brothers, 32 Central Parade, New Addington CR0 0JD.