[Check against delivery]
It’s a privilege and an honour to be here to pay tribute to Mel Dyke.
What a life she lived and what a legacy she leaves behind: Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother!
Teacher, author, mentor, patron and a true Barnsley and Yorkshire champion.
Wise, generous, funny, tough, and a fine friend to so many of us.
I’ll always remember the very first time I met Mel.
I knocked on her door, during my by-election.
I can’t quite remember if she called me ‘young man’, I think she did, but she certainly said that she was pleased to see me and straight away invited me in for a talk.
She would be doing most of the talking!
Whilst these doorstep encounters normally take just a couple of minutes, I sat at her table for more than half an hour while she told me; what was what, and how things were!
I left with a long list of jobs, but I also left with a very firm impression that this was: someone of great character and spirit, someone who knew virtually everybody(!) and someone who was both a force of nature,
and real force for good within the town.
And so she was.
And we got to know each other well after that and were in regular touch over the years. She would often call and text with ideas.
Do you know about this, what can you do about that?! She would say!
I would regularly see Mel beetling about town in her red mini and then sat in Pollyanna's with Rita Britton, where together they would be holding court. I’d call in and they’d sit me down give me a nice coffee and
put the world to rights! I always left impressed by their sheer energy, passion and commitment to the cause of ensuring that kids from Barnsley didn’t miss out.
She was indefatigable!
I would see Mel around at various events, but there was a time, a few years ago when I’d seen her at several gatherings, but most unusually we hadn’t ended up having our usual long catch-up chat.
So the next time I saw her, I was determined to make sure that we did.
I remember finally catching up with her and saying; ‘Mel, we’ve been like ships passing in the night!’
Quick as a flash. She didn’t miss a beat before taking my arm and saying in her own characteristically enigmatic way; ‘Ah, but we’ll never sail apart!’ and on she went!
She was formidable!
It was matter of real pride and enormous pleasure for us both that we were – together – appointed as the first Honorary Patrons of the Barnsley Youth Choir – B.Y.C.
I couldn’t tell you how many concerts we attended together at the Emmanuel Church and elsewhere, but it’s a lot! She adored the Choir, and they adored her. It was with BYC, that I saw first-hand her dedication
and passion for the arts and her ability to both inspire, and where necessary, and sometimes it was necessary, to cajole!
She was such an amazing advocate for BYC, not least because she knew, better than anyone, the huge value of the cultural opportunities for kids from Barnsley and what she did, brilliantly, was to encourage and
to inspire young people to dream big and fulfil their potential. Ahead of today, I spoke to Mat Wright from the Choir, about Mel. And I wanted to share what he told me about her:
“Mel epitomised Ian McMillan's great quote: “Barnsley's fierce love holds you forever in its heart”.
Her kindness, compassion and unwavering devotion to the town and its people was truly extraordinary. The choir will miss her presence, her guidance and her support. I’ll also miss her personally and just feel
lucky that I had a chance to be taught by her at Bretton Hall all those years ago. I remember all of the students had such respect for her and she had such aura and presence…..they were also a little bit terrified of
her too mind!”
It’s certainly true to say that Mel wasn’t somebody to be messed with. And I nearly always minded my Ps and Qs! I say nearly, because I remember being sat next to her – just there – in this very church, not long
after it had been announced that she had been awarded a very richly deserved MBE. With something of the tone of a headmistress about her, she asked me if I’d known anything about it and I couldn’t resist
gently teasing her a little. I said, emulating her own enigmatic approach, in response to her question:
While you might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment, Marlene.
It was the first and only time that I didn’t call her Mel!
She responded in typical fashion, with a beaming smile and then a fairly friendly, clip round the ear!!
I know we’ll all miss Mel terribly but I also know that we will remember her as she was:
A true Barnsley legend.
Someone who devoted her life to helping others fulfil their potential, and someone who’s grace and reassuring presence touched the lives of so many of us in Barnsley and beyond.
Farwell and thank you, Mrs Barnsley.