In the much quoted maiden speech of Jo Cox MP she laid out her strong belief that what we all have in common is much greater than what divides us.
As readers will know, I’ve always believed that: and last week was another bitter sweet moment seeing the truth of this.
Mew Ning Chan Edmead was a remarkable woman who bridged the different worlds of wartime Hong Kong and peacetime Gloucestershire, and in her very busy retirement found a cause that linked the lands of her father and her husband – to the huge benefit of many.
She was born in mainland China in 1935, and I think Mew Ning then came to Hong Kong after the Japanese invaded Canton (Guangdong), as did many other refugees. She went to school during and after the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and studied at the Hong Kong Art School, developing the skills and interest in design printing that led to a career in Hong Kong and then in Gloucester and Stroud, after her marriage to Bill Edmead in Hong Kong in January 1962.
When they came to Gloucestershire, Mew Ning worked in Bon Marché, the Gloucester Carpet Co, Clarke Engineering Stroud and then Stoate & Bishop printers, retiring in 1995. But by then she had already started what was to be her major, and I hope lasting, achievement: the founding of the Gloucestershire Chinese Women’s Guild (GCWG) in 1990.
Many of the older Gloucestershire residents of Chinese origin were from Hong Kong’s New Territories, had not studied much English and typically worked here in laundries and takeaway restaurants. They found implementing an increasing number of hygiene, health and safety and local government regulations very hard because of the language barrier: and in their own lives often found communication with doctors and hospitals hard.
Mew Ning set out to solve these barriers with indomitable enthusiasm and good will, translating documents, providing welfare services, solving problems for the Gloucestershire Chinese community, liaising with local government and bringing everyone – whether of Hong Kong or mainland Chinese descent – together through social and fundraising events.
Chinese people love food and Chinese New Year celebrations, with centuries of traditions that were never interrupted in Hong Kong, and Mew Ning successfully added contributions from the NHS, local councillors (especially her friend Pam Tracy from Bon Marché) and myself, and organised amazing parties every year for the community.
Over the ten years that I saw the GCWG, Mew Ning was the energy, the guiding spirit, MC and Head Mistress, helped by a wonderful team of Irene, Jean and others. So it was no surprise at her funeral last week that so many former Mayors and Sheriffs, and the City Council Leader, gathered at Coney Hill to pay respects to her, Bill and the Gloucestershire Chinese community.
Mew Ning’s dynamic energy, and selfless 21 years of entirely unpaid volunteering on behalf of others, well deserved to be recognised as a woman whose example of service I am inspired by. Her Majesty the Queen did meet Mew Ning, and perhaps both saw something similar in each other – small of stature, giant hearted, indomitable of spirit and generous of her time for all who needed help.
For me, Mew Ning was a fantastic example of how much immigrants bring to our city: a bridge between two cultures, a life enhancer, someone who cared deeply about Hong Kong, Gloucester and Gloucestershire. Her laughter, her enthusiasm and her ability to help others mean that Gloucester will remember Mew Ning for a long time, and all our thoughts, and thanks for her life, are with Bill and both families.