When it comes to awards, Mildred Garfield is well used to receiving them. In fact, former Mayor of Derry, Mildred, recently became the first woman to hold ‘Woman of the Year’ and ‘Pensioner of the Year’ awards simultaneously.
“I don’t do what I do for the glory, I do it to help others and to make their lives better,” she smiled.
Mildred won the ‘Woman of the Year’ award earlier this year but after she was nominated by Caw/Nelson Drive Action Group co-ordinator, Linda Watson, she was crowned Age Concern ‘Pensioner of the Year’ last month.
Mildred was born and reared in a “two up two down” house on the Foyle Road in 1949 and she described her childhood as “happy” and “joyful”.
“The Foyle Road area was very mixed back then. Nationalist families lived either side of us and I used to pal about with a few Nationalist girls when I was younger.
“It was the kind the childhood where you had very little but you never wanted for anything.
“One of my earliest memories is of my friend and I, Elizabeth Stutt, taunting the local park warden ‘Flukey’ McDermott. We used to taunt him so he’d chase us through the park near the Abercorn Road - they were great days.
“My parents were hard workers. My father, Hammy Lytle, worked in Bigger’s Pork Store and when my mother finished rearing the three of us she got a job working in Magee.
“I was the baby of the family and I got away with blue murder on more than one occasion.
“Every year without fail we went on family holidays to Portrush. We used to stay in a renovated train carriage - it was a really quirky looking thing and everyone would congregate around it during summer nights,” she smiled.
As a young girl, Mildred attended Bennett Street Primary School and after the school closed she finished her primary education at Carlisle Road P.S.
Mildred then went on to attend Templemore Secondary School on the Northland Road before leaving to take up a job working for local clothes shop firm, Hill’s.
Mildred married and gave birth to her first child, April, in 1969.
“My dad had lung cancer and he was very sick and I’d just given birth. I was still in my mother’s at the time so we decided to move out and we got a house in Newbuildings.”
Mildred’s husband was called George and she said that people used to joke that they were like the fictional couple from the 1970s television series ‘George and Mildred’.
“It was a standing joke at the time and everyone used to call us George and Mildred - it was funny.”
Mildred then moved from New buildings to Hollymount Park in the Waterside but six years later she moved to Sperrin Park in Caw and still lives there to this day.
“When I lived in Hollymount Park, I’d heard that a window cleaner called Mickey Harkin was looking to move out of Sperrin Park so we did a straight swap with him and I have been living here ever since.
“It was a new estate when I moved here in the beginning but the place has really developed and grown. It’s a great place to live and there’s a real community atmosphere out here.”
A few years after moving out of the family home Mildred’s father, Hammy Lytle passed away. Her mother, Elizabeth, was living in the house on her own but when the Troubles intensified she decided to sell her house and moved to a small bungalow near Mildred in Caw.
“There was a British Army base where the railway museum is now on the Foyle Road but I think my mother wanted to downsize so she sold the house and moved over here.”
Mildred and her husband George separated but the couple had three children; a daughter April and two sons Stephen and Mark.
“My mum had had a stroke and Mark, my youngest, was the only child still at home at the time. My mother lived nearby so I moved in with her to look after her.
“Mark stayed with me and my mother during the week but I’d let him go down to my house at the weekends so he could spend some time with his friends.”
Mildred’s mother passed away a few years later and she moved back into her home in Sperrin Park.
“I sort of fell into the whole community work and volunteering by mistake.
“The residents out here were concerned that they weren’t getting as much as other communities in the city.
“Many other areas had communities whilst we had nothing. We fought with Derry City Council until they built us a small building.
“Now when I say small, I mean small. It had a boys’ and girls’ toilets and a tiny kitchen. The inside of it wasn’t even plastered so the place would have frozen you death in the middle of winter.”
This was to be Mildred’s first step in working and volunteering within the community. It was something that she was excellent at and her public persona went from strength to strength.
“I started to go along to few local DUP meetings here in the Waterside. As most women from a unionist background will tell you, when you first start going to these meetings you are usually asked to make tea and sandwiches,” she smiled.
“I joined the DUP in 1995 and soon after that I helped to man the telephones during elections but Gregory Campbell said he thought I should stand for council in 1997.”
Mildred admits that she never expected that the people of Ebrington would vote for but in 1997 she was elected to council and remained there until 2005.
“There was a DUP councillor who wasn’t sure if he was going to stand for election in 1997 so Gregory Campbell asked me if I would be the party’s standby so I said yes. However, the councillor in question went ahead and stood and my name was still put forward.
“I wasn’t expecting to be voted in but I was. I was a bit scared at the time because the other three DUP councillors who were voted in that year were Gregory Campbell and Willie Hay and in 1997 they were always very busy in Stormont.
“Joe Millar was the other DUP councillor that year but Joe was mayor that year so I really had no one to ask questions of and I think a whole year must have passed before I spoke at a council meeting,” she joked.
Mildred won again in 2001 and in 2002 she was asked by Gregory Campbell if she would be interested in becoming Mayor of Derry.
“I didn’t know what to say to be honest. I spoke to Gregory [Campbell] and Joe Millar about it. I also talked to Pat Ramsey [SDLP councillor] and Pat told me if I didn’t do it I would end up regretting it for the rest of my life.
“I went for it and I was mayor from 2001 to 2002. I can honestly say that it was a great honour and I also believe that I tried to represent every single person.
“I met some interesting people during my time as mayor. But sometimes people reacted differently to me because of the party I was a member of. That was their prerogative but I think I was well received as mayor.”
Mildred stood for election again in 2005 but lost out by six votes. She’s still an active volunteer within the community and her eldest child, April Garfield, was recently elected to council in 2011.
“I lost out by six votes,” she said disappointingly.
“If six more people had have come out for me that day I would have got in but it wasn’t to be.
“I am so proud of April. She lived in Holland for ten years so she brings a completely different outlook to council and I think that that’s great.”
Mildred also sits on the board of governors at both Ebrington and Culmore primary schools respectively. She also sits on the committee of the Foyle Women’s Information Network and she also helps to organise the Caw Luncheon Club three times a week.
“Politics is a young person’s game now,” said Mildred.
“I am just happy to be able to help those in my own community. I help to run the luncheon club in the community centre. We have the older people of the area up in the centre three days a week and they are given a warm healthy meal.
“There are a lot of older people in the area living on their own so the club is a great way for them to get out of the house and meet new people.
“I also used to help a woman called Carol Simpson to organise holidays for older people. Carol has since passed away but I try to keep the group going. I am not sure what the situation is regarding funding but hopefully we can keep it going.
“It’s a great group because it’s cross community and cross border. It’s called ‘Building Bridges’ and every year we would take the older people away to places like Cork and Drogheda - it’s always good fun.”
In years gone by Mildred has nominated other people for the ‘Woman of the Year’ and the ‘Pensioner of the Year’ awards respectfully.
“I was over the moon when I won the ‘Woman of the Year’ but to win the ‘Pensioner of the Year’ in the same year is just great.
“Linda Watson, who works for Caw/Nelson Drive Action Group nominated me. She told me what she had done but I honestly never expected to win.
“I could have killed Linda when they announced me as the ‘Pensioner of the Year’ because the other two people I was up against are amazing at what they do.
“It was a great night and I am just happy to be in a position to be able to help others,” she said.
With 2013 only two days away Mildred said she is hopeful that Derry’s year as UK City of Culture will be a positive one and one she hopes, can leave a lasting legacy.
“I think it’s great to see the city being recognised as UK City of Culture,” she said.
“It’ll be a great year and I know some people are saying that it’s going to be taken over by the nationalists but the only way that can happen is if people don’t get involved.
“There’s so much happening next year here too. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Caw Nelson Drive community so we will be hosting many events to celebrate our big birthday.
“Besides everything else, I just hope to stay in good health and hope that 2013 will be a good year for both myself and my family.”