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Anna, former ‘oldest mayor’, dies aged 93

Woman who became Islington's first citizen at 82 ‘had gift to be relevant to all generations’

01 May, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Anna Berent during her time as Mayor of Islington

DESCRIBED by friends as “young at heart”, she became London’s oldest mayor 10 years ago.

Anna Berent, who has died aged 93, even took up rock climbing as a hobby in her 70s.

Greg Foxsmith, who was a Liberal Democrat councillor when Ms Berent became Mayor of Islington aged 82, said: “She had an amazing gift to be relevant to all generations even though she was one of the oldest councillors I ever met.

“She was still very young at heart and communicated with young and old. Probably being a mother and a grandparent herself, she was well-versed in speaking with everyone and never discriminated.”

Never lacking in courage, Ms Berent was once faced with a burglar in her home who slapped a towel across her face and told her to stay quiet. She bit his hand and chased him away.

It showed how she never shied away from confrontation, whether political or otherwise.

“Anyone who knew her wouldn’t have doubted that for a second,” said Mr Foxsmith, “She was steely strong inside.”

Ms Berent was born and bred in Islington. Her father was an immigrant from Austria and had moved to Britain in 1906. Both of her parents were philosophers.

“I think that is partly where her interest in politics came from,” said her son, Anthony Berent.

“She was lively, always knowledgeable and inspiring to people.”

Ms Berent worked as a research physiologist at St Thomas’ Hospital for 10 years.

“She was inspiring and very much the one who got me interested in science and maths,” added Anthony.

“I did a maths degree and ended up as a software engineer.

“She was very well read. I will miss being able to discuss things with her, being able to talk about things with her.

“That’s the big thing, really. She was one of the best people to try out ideas and discuss politics with. She loved an intellectual discussion.”

A former Labour supporter, Ms Berent became disillusioned and was voted in as Lib Dem councillor for Mildmay in 2002 at the age of 75.

Ms Berent during her younger days

As Mayor of Islington, she supported charities The Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and Room2Heal, supporting asylum seekers.

Former Town Hall leader Terry Stacy said: “Islington has lost a true champion and community legend today.

“Anna’s casting vote helped us keep control of the council when we were a hung council and helped me become leader of the council. I will always thank her for giving me the opportunity to serve the borough. She really did help make Mildmay a better place.”

A strong environmental campaigner, Ms Berent organised the St Paul’s Shrubbery Festival for 20 years and was a founding member of Newington Green Action Group, helping transform the green space. She also helped open the Mildmay Community Centre.

“She wasn’t afraid to back a cause and would always support the underdog,” added Mr Foxsmith,

“I remember as councillor in Hillrise I was supporting the Islington Boxing Club and invited the mayor along.

“In comes Anna in her bright red robes and she had everyone in stitches, even the young boys at the club – although she couldn’t be persuaded to put the gloves on and get in the ring!”

Ms Berent died on Tuesday at a care home in Potters Bar where she had been living since December. A memorial will be held after Covid-19 lockdown measures are eased.


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