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Daily journalist known as ‘Queen’ of her patch dies aged 84

Shirley MathiasA regional daily journalist known as the ‘Queen’ of her patch has died aged 84.

Tributes have been paid to Shirley Mathias, whose association with the Swindon Advertiser lasted more than half a century.

Shirley, pictured, held a variety of roles including reporter, sub-editor, feature writer, women’s editor and columnist during her decades of service to the newspaper.

According to former Advertiser managing editor Pauline Leighton, who joined the paper as a trainee in 1973, Shirley’s standing was such that she was known as the ‘Queen of Swindon’.

Pauline told the Advertiser: “Everyone knew her and her acerbic pen. No wrongdoer escaped her gimlet eye and her weekly column was one of the best-read features in the Adver.

“She was terrifying! But over the years, we became firm friends – she even babysat my children – and behind that sharp veneer beat a heart of gold. She was a force to be reckoned with, one of the best I’ve worked with.”

Former Advertiser feature writer Barrie Hudson added: “Shirley Mathias was a type of journalist which almost every local newspaper had once upon a time but few have today – the veteran who becomes a priceless living source of knowledge about the paper and the area and people it serves.

“When I came to the Swindon Advertiser in 1998, she had already been there for about four decades. Her local knowledge was impeccable, her writing never less than perfect and her regular columns avidly read by thousands of local people.

“In her opinion pieces, Shirley always stood up for the vulnerable. She thought nothing of savaging powerful people who did wrong, no matter how many threats those powerful people issued to her and the many editors she worked under.

“For all her fierceness and the pride she took in holding wrongdoers to account, Shirley was one of the kindest colleagues I have ever encountered during my own decades as a journalist.”

Shirley first joined the Advertiser as an apprentice in 1955 before moving to work in Wales, where she met her husband, also a journalist.

She later returned to Swindon, where she remained until her retirement from full-time work, but she still came in three days a week and then two days before finally stepping down in 2008.

Former associate editor Steve Webb said: “I had worked for Shirley for many years up to her retirement. She was a consummate professional, a breed of journalist who pushed and probed to get to the heart of the story, caring deeply for the people she was writing for and about.

“Her writing skills were of the highest quality and should be held as an example of good writing for young journalists everywhere.

“Shirley’s weekly column in the Advertiser was certainly a must-read experience and her opinions and honestly-held beliefs earned her respect and friendship throughout Swindon.

“She was also great fun socially, and friends and colleagues will remember being with her at after-work pub gatherings, or at one of her famous barbecues.”

Former deputy editor Michelle Carter told the Advertiser Shirley was one of the reasons she went into journalism.

She said: “Her column was renowned in Swindon when I was a teenager and I wanted to emulate her sharp style and clever, cutting way with words. I soon realised that Shirley was a master at what she did, with a talent that couldn’t be copied.

Former Advertiser reporter Leigh Mytton added: ‘Shirley was fearless, feisty and very talented – a feminist icon and superb role model for me as a junior reporter at the Advertiser 25 years ago.”

Shirley, who died peacefully in her sleep last month, is survived by her son Andrew. Her daughter Anna, a barrister, died aged 50 in 2018.