ARGUABLY one of Honiton’s most important citizens and its first female mayor has finally had her portrait hung in the town council offices after restoration work was carried out.
Juanita Maxwell Phillips’ portrait, painted by acclaimed Irish artist John Lavery, now takes pride of place outside the council chamber and offices.
The painting had become damaged before the council moved premises two years ago and needed restoration work, undertaken by local artist Pauline Selhurst.
The restoration was a passion project for Cllr Caroline Kolek; the former mayor lobbied – whilst in and out of office – to have the painting restored and hung in its rightful place.
Cllr Kolek said: “We have now raised £398 with another £250 to go to cover the restoration costs.
“We were delighted members of the Devon Branch of the Fawcett Society attended, with society member and Labour county councillor Yvonne Atkinson (Alphington and Cowick) pledging to ensure that Juanita is recognised at county level as the first woman on DCC ensuring the rights of women and children were considered, raising issues such as housing, education, play and birth control.”
Honiton’s current mayor, Cllr John Zarczynski, who also attended the unveiling, said: “I would like to thank Cllr Kolek for her dedication to the project and to Pauline for her skill in restoring the painting.
“It is a fantastic piece of art and it was a shame that the picture fell into disrepair.
“Juanita was a fantastic woman and community member in Honiton, and it is right that her brilliant work in improving everyone’s lives in Honiton is recognised for years to come.”
Tony Simpson read the foreward that he had written for local author Julia Neville’s book ‘Viva Juanita’ at the unveiling.
Mr Simpson said: “Someone who knew Juanita described her as ‘no ordinary mortal’.
“Several informants spoke to me of an extraordinary presence; a woman who, and did, ‘make things happen’, usually for the public good.”
Juanita was the first female to be elected to Honiton Borough Council where she served the town between 1920-49 and was the first female mayor, holding the position 11 times.
She represented Honiton on Devon County Council between 1931 and 1966, was the first female Freeman of Honiton, county organiser of the Women’s Voluntary Service during the Second World War and awarded the OBE in 1951.
Alongside all her achievement Juanita also helped to develop the first council houses in Honiton and became a Guardian of the Poor, working to improve conditions in workhouses.
She set up the first infant Welfare Clinic in Honiton; organised local services for disabled children; became a gove- rnor of what is now the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and charged with the oversight of county council services for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues.
And due to her fantastic service and support of the suffragette movement, as well as her commitment to public service, it was also announced at the unveiling of her portrait that she has been nominated and accepted as one of 100 Suffragette Pioneers to celebrate the centenary of the movement that worked towards equal rights for women.