A former mayor of Shaftesbury was awarded the town’s highest honour in a ceremony in the Town Hall last night, 18 months after losing his battle with cancer.
Mervyn Jeffery, who chaired the Council in 1995, was made a Freeman of Shaftesbury posthumously in the presence of fellow Freemen, family, friends and councillors.
Mayor Tim Cook says it is a rare award. “It is for outstanding service to the community over a number of years,” said Tim. “Up until this evening, we had 22 Freemen of the town, going back to 1903. It is for services over and above the exceptional. I’m so annoyed that we never did this 10 years ago when Mervyn was still with us,” Tim added.
Mr Jeffery’s wife Julia said she was proud to receive a scroll in her husband’s honour. “He did so much for the town. He started Swan’s Trust. He definitely was a doer. Because he had been on the District Council, he used to be able to sort things out. He knew who to contact,” she said.
Julia says that it was almost expected that her husband would become the town’s Mayor one day. “He said it was a family tradition, because his grandfather, his father and his brother had all been Mayor here.”
Mrs Jeffery says Mervyn gave long and distinguished service to the town, despite physical challenges. “His health has been bad because he was born with spina bifida. His mobility wasn’t all that good. I always knew him as being disabled. It was just part of life,” she smiled.
He would have been delighted to receive the town’s recognition of being awarded the title of Freeman. “I think he would have taken great pride in having it, although I think he would have felt very sorry that he wasn’t around to drive a flock of sheep down the High Street,” said Mrs Jeffery.
John Parker is also a Freeman of the town, which he describes as ‘a great honour’. John worked closely with Mervyn on a variety of projects including the Open Spaces group. “My very first memories of him were that he was doing a DJ job outside the Town Hall, at Gold Hill Fair or something like that. He really enjoyed it,” said John.
John recalled that Mervyn spent much time restoring his motorbike in Motcombe. He encouraged dozens of Moto Guzzi club members to ride into town and base themselves in Shaftesbury on their annual trip. “I can remember the roar when something like 150 Moto Guzzis started up on Park Walk. That was all Mervyn’s doing!” said John.
Julia enjoyed the bikers’ visits, too. “I was involved as well. I am a ‘retarded biker’,” she laughed adding, “Those are good memories.”
Derek Beer recalls that Cllr Jeffery was a man who tried to get results. He credits his work in establishing business workspaces and a place for the town’s young people. “He was very pleased to have the District Council build small industrial units at Longmead, to provide jobs for local people,” said Derek. “He was really proud to have achieved that. At Toby’s, he and I worked hard to create a drop-in for local young people who wanted to play music or just have somewhere to call in at night. He was very, very proud of that.”
Julia is proud that her husband helped so many people and made a lot of friends because of that. “I think that, because of his involvement with Swan’s Trust and being a Shaftesbury man, even people who just moved in ended up knowing him,” said Julia.
Mayor Tim Cook agreed, as he shared his personal recollection of first meeting Cllr Jeffery. “Soon after we moved here in 1999, there was a knock on my door. There were two people outside, one of whom was Mervyn Jeffrey. They were coming around canvassing for the 2002 or 2003 district elections. I remember I had a 25-minute conversation on the doorstep with Mervyn talking about how I could put something back into my community. It’s through him that I managed to get involved with the Liberal Democrats, became a county councillor and then a town councillor. He’s got a very special place in my heart because if it was not for him, I may not be doing the service that I feel I can do,” said Tim.
Although pictures of Cllr Jeffery at the Town Hall function showed him in his mayoral robe and ceremonial chains, Derek Beer remembers him differently. “When I think of Mervyn, I think of the hat with corks hanging from it, because he wanted to be thought of as an Australian. He would also say he was a ‘Moonraker’ from Wiltshire, but really, his heart and soul was in Shaftesbury,” said Derek.
John Parker, who wrote a tribute to Mervyn in the order of service, says that his friend would wish to be remembered as a man who made a difference to Shaftesbury life. “He helped to make the community here. He volunteered for things and encouraged all sorts of people to volunteer, join in and make it work as a proper society. He was a very good role model and it’s very appropriate that he’s now made a Freeman of the town,” said John.