Oldest garden centre manager Phyllis Self dies aged 105

Company: Whitehall Garden Centre

The industries oldest boss, director of Whitehall Garden Centres who worked daily until well past her 102nd birthday, has died at the age of 105.

Phyllis Self and her son Christopher set up the Whitehall Garden Centre in Wiltshire 1968 after a bypass road split their farm in two and that was before the word diversification became fashionable!  She received an MBE from the Queen at the age of 101 for her work in the community in her native Lacock, where her funeral will take place next week.

Her son Christopher, who still runs the garden centre with her grandson Peter, said his mother once attributed her longevity to an interest in people and the odd whiskey and ginger.

When the family farm was split in two in 1963, with the building of the Lacock bypass, it gave the family a chance to obtain planning for one of the country’s first real garden centres.

Born in November 1907 in Merseyside, Phyllis was a pioneer of women in the 1920s, working as a personnel officer in a woolen mill before moving as a single woman to work at Avon Rubber in Melksham.  She met farmer’s son Rowland Self at a hunt ball and settled down to the hard life as a dairy farmer’s wife in pre-war Wiltshire.  She volunteered in the community, and was a popular member of a small group of ladies who adorned the village church, St Cyriacs, with flowers every week.

The garden centre took off, expanded, and soon other members of the family were involved.  Through the 1980’s and 1990’s she carried on, with eldest son Christopher, and later grandson Peter, taking over the day-to-day running of the centre.  A second site was added at Whitchurch near Bristol in 2001.

Into her nineties Mrs. Self still worked hard. She was company secretary, personnel and HR Manager, still driving herself from her farmhouse cottage to the garden centre a little way down the road. When she turned 100 she allowed herself an afternoon off, but made sure the payroll had been done first.

She had a gift for getting on with people, her son Christopher said. “She enjoyed the fact that the garden centre employed so many people and she took great pride in knowing them by name,” he said.

“When asked what she attributed her old age to, she said an interest in people and an occasional whiskey and ginger at night. 

“She did the flowers in the church, and liked her lilies on the altar. And was enrolling member for the Mothers Union at St Cyriacs, Lacock.

Mrs. Self was awarded the MBE in November 2008, just days after her 101st birthday, for services to the community in Lacock and in 2010 she received an industry Lifetime achievement award.

She continued to help run the garden centre until a couple of years ago, being described by many who knew her as a Grand Dame of the industry.  “She’s been at home for the last two and a half years or so, said Christopher.  “She died on Friday at home with her family around.  She was just really very tired after a very full life.”  

Mrs Self leaves a family of five grand children and thirteen great grand children.  The funeral will take place at the Church of St. Cyriac, Lacock, Wiltshire next Wednesday, October 9th, at 2pm.

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