Published: 5 January, 2017
By ERIC GORDON
SYBIL Shine, a former Camden Labour councillor, who fought radical causes throughout her life, has died at 80.
Sybil served on the council in the late 1980s and 90s and was always a thorn in the side of the leadership. She never sought, nor rose to any position in the hierarchy – she was far too questioning and drawn too much towards the protection of her constituents to take part in the knock-about positioning of colleagues in the race for high office.
Political colleagues and rivals often confused her air of uncertainty with eccentricity, and though this became more marked with the advance of years, in fact it masked a sharp, perceptive mind that was always able to see the political world for what it is.
Politically, the leadership never found her reliable. She was drawn to minority views and voted on what was known as the “Left”, alongside such colleagues as Gloria Lazenby. She was a strong opponent of moves to close down libraries – and whenever council tenants felt threatened she would be found on the side of the tenants.
She rarely talked to colleagues about her past, which began in the East End in the mid-1930s where her parents were part of a generation of poor Jews and worked in the rag trade.
She was largely cared for by her grandmother who would have spoken Yiddish to her so when war broke out and Sybil and her sister Barbara were sent to a small remote boarding school she found life difficult because she could hardly understand what adults and children were saying.
The family returned to London and her mother was often absent on fire-watching duties.
It was during the war and in the immediate post-war period that family fortunes changed. Her father, Barnie Shine, was reputed to have begun to get involved in the property world and soon set up residence in a luxurious flat off Great Portland Street which I sometimes visited.
He was part of that generation of East End Jews who were drawn to the radical left and his world view probably influenced Sybil. A cultured man, he became an art collector and proudly showed me on his walls some L S Lowry paintings that he was infatuated by.
His views changed slightly and by the late 1970s he had switched his sympathy from the Soviet Union to Israel.
It is understood he left a considerable fortune and set up a foundation to provide funds for universities in Israel.
He and his wife insisted that their daughters learned shorthand and typing so they would never need to be out of work. But Sybil wanted higher things and she took up the equivalent of A-level courses and later gained a degree in economics and sociology.
She was drawn towards town planning and architecture but saw the importance of their effect on the community, urging architects, builders and planners to focus on the people who would live in their developments.
She was married briefly in the mid-1960s to an architect and together they converted a house in Primrose Hill into flats. They also restored a tiny stone house in France which Sybil loved and she spent time there up until her last few months.
After serving on Camden Council for eight years Sybil, who had never enjoyed the jockeying for position in the Labour group, retired – and immediately helped voluntary organisations in the borough.
With more freedom and time, Sybil was now able to pursue her passion to help the dispossessed so she turned towards the plight of the Palestinians with whom she had always had much sympathy. She was an active member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians as well as a supporter of the newly liberated blacks in South Africa whom she visited several times.
In later life her mind turned towards her childhood and she took an interest in the history of east London Jews and became a friend of the East End historian Bill Fishman, revelling in speaking Yiddish whenever possible.
As a younger woman she had set out to do public good by serving on the council. This quality remained with her – a life spent as a woman with a conscience.