Blue plaque plan to honour Oswestry Kindertransport refugee and IT entrepreneur

A former Kindertransport refugee who was educated in Shropshire and went on to become one of Britain's earliest computer software pioneers and a ground-breaking global IT entrepreneur is set to be honoured.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, visiting her former boarding house Oakhurst in 2015
Dame Stephanie Shirley, visiting her former boarding house Oakhurst in 2015

Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley Companion of Honour, now aged 87, will return to Oswestry on August 26 to unveil a blue plaque commemorating her outstanding contribution to British life and formative years in Oswestry.

The unveiling, at The Broadwalk adjacent to St Oswald's Parish Church, will be followed by a civic reception hosted by Mayor, Councillor Mark Jones.

Dame Stephanie arrived in the UK on one of the last Kindertransport trains out of Vienna in 1939, aged five. The young schoolgirl arrived in Oswestry six years later to begin her education at Oswestry Girls High School after her wartime foster parents recognised her intelligence and talent for mathematics.

In 1962, a little over a decade after leaving Oswestry, she started her software business from home with just £100, pioneering a new way of working by harnessing and championing the talents of women, like her, writing computer code from home.

From these humble beginnings Dame Stephanie went on to create a global IT business and a multi-million pound personal fortune, much of which she later gave away.

Giving away shares in her company as part of her exit into retirement, she made 70 of her staff millionaires in the process.

As she was busy building her IT empire, sadness beset Dame Stephanie and her husband, Derek, when their only child, Giles was diagnosed with severe autism.

Dame Stephanie has since devoted her life and much of her fortune to autism research and the provision of specialist care for those suffering the disorder.

Tragically, Giles died in 1998, aged 35 years, following an overnight seizure.

In 2009/10 she was appointed the UK's first ever Ambassador for Philanthropy. Her charitable Shirley Foundation has funded several pioneering projects, totalling £67 million to date.

Oswestry Town Council Mayor, Councillor Jones, said: "Dame Stephanie's outstanding contribution to her adopted home as a visionary entrepreneur, champion of women in the workplace and her tireless work for autism charities and research is inestimable. She is a tour de force and it is entirely right that we should recognise her incredible impact on society whilst she is here to appreciate it."

Dame Stephanie said: "I had six years of real peace in Oswestry, which I desperately needed after the trauma of the war. I have such affection for the town. To have the Town Council dedicate a blue plaque in my honour is simply amazing and very humbling.

"I boarded at Oakhurst Hall during my time in Oswestry, 1945 - 1951. I would be thrilled to meet up with any former 'Oakies' - as we were known - should any of my cohort wish to join me at the civic reception. That would be just marvellous."

Any former pupils who were at school with or boarded with Dame Stephanie are invited to contact Oswestry Town Council Clerk, Arren Roberts on 01691 680222 or email arrenroberts@oswestry-tc.gov.uk.

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