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Mrs Merlyn Vaz

We regret to announce the death of MERYLN VAZ on 15 October 2003 after a four-year battle with cancer. She was Leicester's first Asian woman councillor and champion for pensioners' rights. Wife of late Xavier. Mother of Penny, Valerie and Keith. Grandmother of Dominie, Finn, Neil, Liberty, Luke and Anjali. Condolences to

Below are excerpts from some of the Press reports about her.

Broadcast (UK)
31 May 1996

The BCC has upheld a complaint from Labour councillor Merlyn Vaz over an edition of Newsnight in which she was criticised by a former colleague.

The package, screened on 21 September 1994, documented a Labour Party inquiry into alleged problems within the Leicester branch. Vaz said she had been given no opportunity by Newsnight to counter claims made about her and said her reputation had been damaged. The BCC upheld Vaz's complaint that the item was unjust and unfair.

27 August 1998

Leicester City Councillor Merlyn Vaz, chairman of the Senior Citizen's Forum, compared filling in benefit claims forms to "trying to unravel a knotted ball of wool".

"Some of our senior citizens get so confused when they are trying to fill these forms in. It's terrible for them," she said.

16 October 1998
[ Move to liberalise child adoption rules].
It is a move supported by city councillor Merlyn Vaz, who believes age should be no bar. She said there were people in their 50s and 60s who had the time and capabilities to care for a child.

8 April 1999

Chairwoman of Leicester city council's senior citizen's forum Coun Merlyn Vaz has welcomed a new report on covering the cost of care for elderly people. Coun Vaz has responded to a report drawn up by The Royal Commission on long-term care proposing that £1 billion of Government cash should be provided to ensure that care for the elderly is free.

Nursing home care can set recipients back £400 a week, but at present people are entitled to help only if they have assets of less than £16,000. Coun Vaz said: "Many older people do not realise they may have to sell their home to pay for their residential care.

24 April 1999

Merlyn Vaz (Lab) is a sitting councillor, chair of the city council's senior citizens' forum and a retired teacher.

She is a widow and mother of three, including Leicester East MP Keith Vaz. Merlyn has six grandchildren and enjoys sewing and reading in her spare time. She says: "Housing is the most important issue, followed closely by traffic, broken pavement slabs and poor lighting. As my ward has a high proportion of elderly people, I am involved with their problems."

9 July 1999

A CHARITY which offers help for people with cancer has held a seminar to improve care for Asians across Leicestershire.

Coping With Cancer invited top speakers including Leicester city councillor Merlyn Vaz and public health consultant Dr Rashmi Shukla.

10 February 2001

Keith Vaz, who is married to Kenyan-born solicitor Maria Fernandes, came to London at the age of nine with mother Merlyn Vaz and sister Valerie in the mid-60s.

Merlyn, an Indian school teacher, is a formidable woman, who on her own raised her children to believe that any of their goals were possible. Her husband Xavier, a former airline clerk and Times of India journalist, died when the children were young.

21 March 2001
Merlyn Vaz, a teacher in the borough [Richmond], disputed her lack of promotion. She said that her failure to progress was discriminatory.

March 27, 2003
Pensioner power rewarded. By M. El Atkinson
Councillor Merlyn Vaz is marking her retirement from Leicester City Council by unveiling the Pensioners' Prize scheme. Prime Minister's wife Cherie Booth has agreed to act as patron, and the judges include Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens.

Coun Vaz, mother of Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, is standing down in May after 14 years as councillor for Charnwood ward.

She chaired the council's first senior citizens' committee and has been a staunch campaigner on pensioners' issues.

Coun Vaz, 71, has been ill for some time with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Despite her retirement, she is determined to keep pensioners in the spotlight.

She said: "I've been on the council for 14 years now and I have really loved it because of the chance to help the pensioners. No such prize or recognition exists anywhere in the country that singles out pensioners for what they have done.

"The Pensioners' Prize will be an annual award to an individual or organisation in Leicester and nationally who has furthered the cause of pensioners.

"This new prize will help to ensure that those in power continue to recognise the importance of senior citizens." Coun Vaz will chair the panel of judges, who include Bishop of Leicester the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Liam McCarthy of Radio Leicester, Baroness Ros Howells and Gita Patel of the IK Foundation.

People can nominate themselves or can be nominated by councillors or members of local groups. There is a cash prize of GBP 1,000 for each of the two categories.

Age Concern director John Scruton said: "It's a brilliant idea - I'm sure there are people here who would want to get involved. It's quite clear that although grey power is growing at the moment, it is somewhat hidden under a bushel.

"This is a great chance for older people who are making a contribution to stand up and be counted, and for the population as a whole to celebrate their achievements.'' Coun Vaz's son, Keith, said: "We are formally launching the awards at a retirement party for Merlyn tonight, where the guest of honour will be Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

"This is like the Nobel peace prize for pensioners. I hope my mother's award scheme will be a great success."

15 October 2003
Leicester's first Asian woman councillor and champion for pensioners' rights has died today.

Merlyn Vaz died in hospital after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 74.

She had been suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was admitted to the intensive care unit in Northwick Park hospital, North London, on Saturday.

Today, her family revealed the tireless work Mrs Vaz carried out to help the people of Leicester and in particular for hundreds of pensioners.

After retiring from the city council in May, following 14 years as representative of Charnwood ward, Mrs Vaz chaired the council's first senior citizens committee.

She then became a staunch campaigner in support of pensioners' issues.

In April, Mrs Vaz launched an annual Pensioners' Award scheme to recognise the work of elderly people.

Cherie Blair, became patron of the scheme.

The judges for the prize include Baroness Howells, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, and Nick Carter, editor of the Leicester Mercury.

In a fitting tribute by trustees the scheme was today renamed The Merlyn Trust.

Mrs Vaz and her late husband, Xavier, were born in Goa, India. They came to Britain in August 1965 and lived above a launderette.

After the death of her husband, Mrs Vaz moved to Leicester in 1985.

She taught at Whitehall Primary School before standing as Labour candidate in Evington.

In 1989 she was elected as a Councillor for the Charnwood ward and then became the first Asian woman ever to serve on Leicester City Council.

She was also elected the first chairperson of the council's pensioners committee, which became the Senior Citizens' Forum.

She edited and produced the first Pensioners' Guide, which listed services for the elderly in the City of Leicester.

At her council retirement party in March, Mrs Vaz revealed her love of people and a passionate belief in education which kept her going.

Her son, Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, said: "On her retirement card she wrote "never forget the pensioners".

"She knew we would all be pensioners one day."

Councillor John Thomas, chairman of Leicester East Labour Party, said: "She was unique. She made history and was a role model. They broke the mould when they made her."

She is survived by her three children, Penny, Valerie and Keith, and five grandchildren, Dominie, Finn, Neil, Liberty, Luke and Anjali.

18 October 2003
By Jennifer Sym.

The centre, at Hamilton Community College, was officially unveiled yesterday by Lord Falconer of Thoroton in honour of Merlyn Vaz, who died this week.

Mrs Vaz - mother of Leicester East MP Keith Vaz - died after a four-year battle with cancer.

She was the city's first Asian woman councillor, an active campaigner in support of pensioners' issues and a governor of Hamilton Community College.

Within days of her death, the Keyham Lane West school decided to honour her by naming the sports hall after the former teacher.

Lord Falconer, the secretary of state for constitutional affairs, cut a ceremonial ribbon at the school before unveiling a plaque and enjoying a dancing and gym display by pupils.

He told the audience of pupils, teachers, councillors, sports stars and other guests: "It is remarkable that coming here today I am able to open this sports centre and name it after Merlyn who did so much for all of us.

"Secondly, I am delighted because it is the most fantastic facility." Eddie de Middelaer, principal at the college, said: "It is a superlative day, simply because the community has been waiting 20 years for this and we have it now.

"It is fantastic and it is going to mean so much to sports development and excellence in sport in this part of the city." The hall was funded by the Department for Education and Skills, Hamilton Trustees and the city council.

Keith Vaz paid tribute to the hard work of those who had fought for the centre.

24 October 2003
MP's mother whose work for the elderly was renowned
By Times reporter
AN ANNUAL pensioners’ award scheme to recognise the work of elderly people is to be known as The Merlyn Trust, in memory of Merlyn Vaz, who died last week at the age of 74.

Mrs Vaz, the mother of the MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, lived in Richmond upon Thames for nearly 30 years and worked for the council's education department in Regal House, Twickenham and as a teacher at Stanley Infants School, Teddington.

Mrs Vaz, a widow for more than 30 years, had fought a four year battle with cancer. She retired from Leicester Council in May, where she was the first female Asian MP and had chaired the first senior citizens committee.

She became a staunch campaigner in support of pensioners’ issues. In April she launched the annual Pensioner Award Scheme to recognise the work of the elderly which was last week renamed by the trustees The Merlyn Trust. Patron is the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Blair. One of the first letters of sympathy received by the family was one from Tony Blair.

Mrs Vaz and her late husband Xavier were born in Goa. They came to Britain in 1965 and moved into East Twickenham. They later lived in Richmond and East Sheen. After Mr Vaz became MP for Leicester East, Merlyn moved to Leicester but since her illness she has been living with Mr and Mrs Vaz in North London.

She is survived by three children (Keith, Penny and Valerie) and five grandchildren.

The Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will pay tribute to her work at the funeral service in the Sacred Heart Church, Mere Road, off Spinney Hill, Leicester tomorrow (Saturday) at noon.

The family have requested no flowers but donations may be made to the Merlyn Trust, Lloyds TSB, High Street, Leicester (sort code 30 94 97, account number 03533526).

The trust will make annual awards to pensioners who have made outstanding contributions to the community.

Mr Vaz told the Times this week: “My mother loved Richmond upon Thames where she worked taught and brought up her family. It always gave her great pleasure to come back and meet our many friends who still live here. It was her favourite place.

"We think the Pensioner Award Scheme will be a fitting way to remember her as she had championed the cause of the elderly for many years."

26 October 2003
A farewell to Merlyn Verona Vaz

Scores of people attended a touching thanksgiving service held at the Sacred Heart Church in Leicester on Saturday for the life of Goa-born Merlyn Verona Vaz, Leicester 's first Asian woman councillor and champion for pensioners' rights.

The 74-year-old Vaz, mother of Keith Vaz, Former Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, died recently after a four-year battle with cancer.

At the Sacred Heart Church on Saturday the tribute was delivered by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs.

Merlyn had been suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was admitted to the intensive care unit in Northwick Park hospital, north London .

After retiring from the city council in May, following 14 years as representative of Charnwood ward, Mrs Vaz chaired the council's first senior citizens committee.

She then became a staunch campaigner in support of pensioners' issues.

In April, Mrs Vaz launched an annual Pensioners' Award scheme to recognise the work for elderly people.

Cherie Blair, wife of the Prime Minister Tony Blair, became patron of the scheme.

The judges for the prize include Baroness Howells, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, and Nick Carter, Editor of the Leicester Mercury.

In a fitting tribute by trustees the scheme was renamed The Merlyn Trust.

27 October 2003
Fond farewell to Merlyn.
By Jennifer Sym.
Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Prime Minister of India IK Gujral were among those to send their condolences.

The mother-of-three died earlier this month at the age of 74, after a four-year battle with cancer.

On Saturday, friends, relatives and well-wishers congregated for a service of thanksgiving to mark her life in the Sacred Heart Church in Mere Road in the city.

A procession through the streets before the noon service was led by a piper, and enabled shopkeepers and residents in her constituency to pay their respects.

While she was a governor of Hamilton Community College and a tireless campaigner for pensioners' rights, it was Merlyn the family woman who was remembered at the service.

Messages to their "nanna" - in prose, poetry, and music - were given by her five of her six grandchildren.

Family friend, Rt Hon Lord Falconer QC, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, paid tribute to a vibrant, music-loving woman, saying: "She was such a good friend to so many.

"To me, to my family, to the prime minister, to all who knew her in Leicester and beyond, she was so open and so warm, she had such a gift for friendship. She loved people, that's why she touched so many hearts.

"You have touched our lives so much, we know we will never see your like again on earth." Candles were lit by the congregation in Mrs Vaz's memory as the procession left the church.

In lieu of flowers, her family asked well-wishers to donate to The Merlyn Trust, formerly the Pensioners' Award Scheme, which was renamed following her death and honours senior citizens or organisations in Leicester and nationally.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, told the packed church: "In her life, Merlyn profoundly influenced hundreds of people over three continents, where she was born, where she worked and where she lived and died; she kept company with people in every walk of life as an elected representative of this city for 14 years, in whose ward this church is based; in her death, she commands the sympathy of thousands." Mrs Vaz, who was widowed in 1970, leaves three children - Keith, who is MP for Leicester East, Penny and Valerie - and six grandchildren.

16 December 2003
Luke, Shobna and Anjali
Hundreds of people turned out to watch soap star Shobna Gulati switch on Christmas lights in memory of Merlyn Vaz.

Shobna, who plays unlucky-in-love shop assistant Sunita Parekh in Coronation Street, helped bring some festive cheer to Spinney Hills by lighting up a Christmas tree.

The 20ft tree in the grounds of Green Lane Road School, in Spinney Hill Road, is a tribute to the councillor, who died in October.

Mrs Vaz, who died after a battle with cancer, was Leicester's first Asian woman councillor. She retired in May after 14 years representing the Charnwood ward.

Several hundred people turned out to take part in the celebration.

Among the crowd was Nasima Daya, of Spinney Hills.

She said: "My son goes to the nursery here so I thought I would stay and watch. I think the tree is lovely."

As part of the memorial, 50 hampers were presented to local pensioners.

Alwen Exton and Sophia Crouch, of the Charnwood estate, were both delighted with their surprise Christmas hamper containing bucks fizz, mince pies, tea, biscuits and a tipple of Baileys.

Mrs Exton said: "This is a nice surprise. I think the hampers are a lovely thing to do. This will really make my Christmas."

Mrs Crouch said: "I hope my hamper has a nice box of chocolates! This is a treat."

Shobna signed autographs, chatted to well-wishers and mingled with the crowd.

Mrs Vaz's son, Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, was at the event. He was joined by his children Anjali, six, and Luke, eight, who read out two poems they had composed in memory of their grandmother.

Mr Vaz said: "It was always an ambition of my mum that there should be lights on Green Lane Road. We hope that this tree is going to be the start of lights all the way down Green Lane Road. She would have been delighted to know that Shobna had been to switch on the lights."

Shobna revealed that she had taught at the school as a one-off in her earlier career as a dance teacher. She said: "It is a great honour. In respect and admiration for the loveliest lady, I am turning on these lights."

It is hoped that the switching-on of the lights, funded by public donations, will become an annual event in Green Lane Road.

The tree tribute was the brainchild of Bob Smith, chairman of Charnwood Tenants' and Residents' Association.

5 February 2006

Keith Vaz to award British scholarship to Goan teacher
—The longest serving British Asian MP, Keith Vaz, will be visiting Goa in April 2006 to award a teacher from Goa, a scholarship to teach in the United Kingdom with all expenses paid.
The scholarship is in memory of Vaz’s mother, Merlyn Verona Vaz, who died in October 2003. Merlyn Vaz was a teacher and the first Goan to be elected councillor of Leicester. Her family lived in Calangute.
The scholarship will include the opportunity to teach in a primary school in Vaz’s constituency of Leicester east, accommodation, a stipend to cover the cost of food and travel expenses and sight seeing tour of the United Kingdom.
Vaz is inviting Goan teachers to apply by emailing their CV with a covering letter explaining, how the scholarship would benefit them. Vaz has written to Chief Minister, Pratapsingh Rane, to ask the government of Goa to endorse the programme. The deadline for applications is February 28. All applications need to be emailed to
On the scholarship Keith Vaz MP said “My mother loved Goa. She was a great teacher. This is a great opportunity for someone from our place of origin to enhance their skills and a fantastic path to advance the relations between our two countries. If it is successful the scholarship will be awarded every year.

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