The long-standing councillor and three-time mayor of Wem will retire from both Shropshire Council and Wem Town Council at this year’s local elections, the week after her 80th birthday.
First co-opted onto the town council in 1981 with the intention of serving “a couple of years”, Councillor Dee caught the bug and won a seat as an independent member on North Shropshire District Council in 1983, beating the incumbent by just 12 votes.
She became the town’s first female mayor in 1985, and served as chair of the district council twice.
When the county went unitary in 2009, Councillor Dee won one of the two Wem seats and became leader of the independent group, a position she still holds.
Recalling how she first got involved in local politics, Councillor Dee said: “I was 39, I was the children’s mum and my husband’s wife. I hadn’t got an identity.
“Two of the town councillors I had met on a twinning visit to France, and when there was a vacancy they both rang me up and said ‘why don’t you stand?’
“I wrote a letter saying I would like to contribute something to Wem, and I was co-opted.
“I didn’t really know what the council did. I had a rough idea from reading the papers, and thought I would like to get involved with this. I just kept getting elected after that.”
Wem has seen many changes since Councillor Dee moved to the town with her husband and their four children in 1976.
Her proudest achievements as councillor include boosting the town’s economy through the creation of Wem Economic Forum in 1994, driving forward improvements to the town centre and helping to develop major employment sites.
“Wem wasn’t in the Rural Development Area it wasn’t entitled to the grants that Whitchurch, Market Drayton and Ellesmere were able to get hold of,” she said.
“Through Wem Economic Forum we managed to get £1.3 million into the town from Advantage West Midlands and other European sources.
“What was the brewery is now the Wem Business Park, and at Wem Industrial Estate on Soulton Road we built some starter units and built the wall at the front to make it look a bit more acceptable.
“There was money all over the place in the 1990s and, having very good council officers, we were able to tap into it.
“All the pavements in town were done, premises above shops were all converted into flats, and people were helped with grants to paint their shop fronts.”
Councillors also used to be responsible for allocating council houses, and Councillor Dee said she was hugely proud to have helped so many local people secure homes.
Another source of pride for both Councillor Dee and her late husband Terry ‘Mick’ Dee, who served as a fire officer, was her role as a member of Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority.
Over the years Councillor Dee has travelled all over Europe, representing Shropshire and the UK in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), Local Government International Bureau and European Observatory for Crime Prevention.
She said: “In 2004 I was appointed CLRAE and three weeks later I was in Strasbourg at my first meeting.
“I was the council’s representative on a committee which was trying to alleviate poverty across Europe. I used to talk at many meetings on things that Shropshire County Council and the district council were doing.
“I was also on committees for culture, education and social cohesion, and the main committee I was on was to do with trafficking of women and children. ”
Councillor Dee was also on the Independents National Executive, attending monthly meetings in London, and served as president of the Shropshire Association of Local Councils (SALC), between 1998 and 2008, chairing many meetings on the county’s move to a unitary council system.
More locally, Councillor Dee is proud of how the town council has risen to the challenge of taking on more and more services in order to keep them running.
She added that this was only made possible thanks to the work of “dedicated” town clerks – Jane Drummond from 1985 to 2016 and Penny O’Hagan for the last five years.
Councillor Dee said: “The joy of being on Wem Town Council is how it’s evolved since 1981 into what it is now. It has taken on so much more responsibility and is a very active town council – because Wem does things for itself.
“Wem ratepayers fund the swimming pool, the town hall and the sports club.”
As well as retiring as a councillor, Councillor Dee will also step down as co-chair of the town youth club.
She said: “We are leaving it with a very healthy bank balance and a very good committee. It has been decorated and had work done thanks to generous donations by local businesses and local people. They have done masses of work on it and it looks fabulous now, and really inviting for the young people.”
But, not wanting to put her feet up just yet, Councillor Dee does plan to stay on as a governor of Newtown and Whixall primary schools, chair of 1st Wem Scouts and county president of the Scouts.
So what is the secret behind such a successful career as a councillor? A “sense of humour” and “putting people before politics”, Councillor Dee said.
She added: “Colleagues across the parties have been fantastic and I will miss it terribly. It has been so nice being able to help people.
“It’s going to feel odd no longer being a councillor. Whoever wins, I just hope that they will remember the most important thing is the people. It is about being proactive, not reactive, to see what needs doing and trying to do it.
“If anybody needs an advocate to plead their case I will still be there for them, as I have been for the last 40 years.”