Hidden heroines – Betty Campbell

Betty’s life was a continual defiance against expectations. She was a Cardiff girl who devoted herself to her community throughout her life.

By John Dixon, Aug 25, 2019 5:08

The first thing to say about the BBC “Hidden Heroines” competition to choose the first outdoor public statue of Welsh woman for the new BBC Wales headquarters in Central Square is a solid “What”?!

Are there really no memorials already to the women who helped make Wales? We’re well into the 21st Century and there’s not even one?

Well, yes. That is the case, but then every story in history has to start somewhere, even if it is a very, very late start, so I’m going to just put my indignation to one side for now.

There’s one person on the list that both Nigel Howells and I knew personally, and for whom we have a special regard, and we’d like to appeal to you to support her nomination for this honour – Betty Campbell.

We were both freshly minted councillors on Cardiff Council in 1999, and it was plain to see the respect in which she was held. An authentic Butetown voice, fierce in her advocacy, she sat as an independent after leaving the Labour Group (although there was never any doubt as to which side of the political aisle she sat on social issues!). When we were campaigning in the area, it was obvious that the residents who grew up there felt exactly the same way. She was, in the non-Don Corleone sense of the phrase, the true Godmother to the people of Butetown.

Betty took on the twin evils of both misogyny and racism

Betty’s life was a continual defiance against expectations. It wasn’t in the script for her to succeed as a black woman coming from a single-parent family in Tiger Bay, after her father was killed in the second World War, but she constantly proved her ability – as a teacher, then headteacher; as a pioneer of multicultural education; as a community activist; as a public servant or simply as an inspirational figure who strove to improve the lives of the community she loved.

If I’m honest, I hope eventually, all of the shortlisted candidates are memorialised. All of them have contributed, sometimes invisibly, their significance mostly unrecognised, battling a prevailing culture that historically ignored or belittled their achievements.

But, uniquely of the five, Betty took on the twin evils of both misogyny and racism, casual and overt, and ended up on top. She was a Cardiff girl who devoted herself to her community throughout her life, and who was recognised internationally for her contribution to education, and we’d say she’s earned your vote.

You can vote in the Hidden Heroines poll here from 9:30pm on 11 January at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1YBm76ymQspSp1xkRwLyxdl/hidden-heroines-merched-mawreddog

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