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First Asian woman elected to UK city council dies

Shyam Bhatia in London | October 16, 2003 01:27 IST

The first Asian woman elected to the Leicester city council and the mother of British MP Keith Vaz on Wednesday died of cancer.

Merlyn Vaz (74) was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and had been admitted to a London hospital last weekend.

Born in Goa, Vaz and her late husband, Xavier, migrated to the UK in August 1965 and lived above a launderette. After her husband's death, Merlyn Vaz moved to Leicester in 1985 where she taught at a primary school before entering politics.

In 1989, she became the first Asian woman ever to serve on the Leicester City Council. She was also elected the first chairperson of the council's pensioners committee and later edited a pensioners guide for the elderly of Leicester.

Earlier this year, after retiring from the city council, she chaired the council's first citizens committee and became a campaigner for pensioners' issues.

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."

Last April, she launched the annual Pensioners' Award scheme, under Cherie Blair's patronage, to recognise the work of elderly people. Following her death, the scheme has been renamed the Merlyn Trust as a tribute to her groundbreaking work.

Leicester East Labour Party councillor John Thomas said, "She was unique. She made history and was a role model. They broke the mould after they made her."

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