TRIBUTES have been paid to a “legendary” figure in the north’s oldest branch of the Women’s Institute following her death at 90.

Sheila Tock was President of Witton-le-Wear WI for 44 years and County Chairman from 1996 to 1999.

Current County Chairman Sue Fox said: “Sheila was our County WI treasure – much loved and greatly valued. She was devoted to the WI movement and her expertise in cookery and crafts was second to none. Her sense of humour was legendary, a character in the very best sense of the word.”

Christina Haworth, who took over from Sheila as Witton le Wear WI President, described her predecessor as “a larger than life person who has left a huge hole in the WI”.

“With Sheila, you always knew that she’d speak as she saw it – always calling a spade a spade – but there was never any malice.

“I never once spoke to Sheila on the telephone or in person without having a laugh or coming away with a smile on my face. No matter how grave the situation was, she always found a way to lighten things. She really was a remarkable woman.”

Witton-le-Wear became the region’s first WI branch and the 13th in the country when it was founded on March 14, 1916.

Sheila, who was born in the village, became the driving force of her local branch and attended its last meeting before the country went into lockdown in March 2020, with members staging an “Oscars” celebration.

“She always loved dressing up and she never missed a meeting. She was always there because she was WI through and through – she just loved it,” said Christina.

Sheila was well known for giving needlework classes, with her skills described as “exquisite”.

“Her last wish to me was that the work of Witton-le-Wear WI carried on – she never stopped thinking about her local branch,” said Christina.

After the death of her husband, Jeff, Sheila lived in Witton-le-Wear with her beloved brother, George; niece, Laura; Laura’s husband, Graeme; and their son Lewis, 12, who was “the apple of her eye”. George passed away in 2019 and it was Sheila’s wish to die at the home they had shared.

Laura said: “She was simply our leader and matriarch. She was in charge of everything, including the family, and she will be missed by everyone who knew her. Someone described her to me as ‘The Iron Lady of Witton’ and that sums her up.”

Arrangements for Sheila’s funeral have not yet been finalised, but tributes will be paid at Witton-le-Wear WI’s first meeting since lockdown on September 3.

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