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Gravesend gran Vera Purll who campaigned to save Marks and Spencer dies aged 100


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A grandmother who campaigned to save her town's M&S at the aged of 93 has died.

Vera Purll didn't manage to save the department store in Gravesend from closing eight years ago – but she did achieve her dream of reaching her 100th birthday.

Vera Purll pictured outside Marks & Spencer in Gravesend, in 2014, aged 93
Vera Purll pictured outside Marks & Spencer in Gravesend, in 2014, aged 93

Vera's milestone birthday was in September last year. She was still living on her own in St Benedicts Avenue and remained fiercely independent.

But in January she fell and broke her arm. Her condition deteriorated over several months and she passed away on Sunday at Priory Mews care home in Dartford.

The campaigning gran joined forces with the Messenger in 2014 to try to save the M&S in New Road from closing.

The plucky pensioner had been shopping there all her life so when she found out bosses proposed to shut it down, she decided to take a stand and started her own petition.

Vera with the signatures she gathered opposing the closure of Marks and Spencer
Vera with the signatures she gathered opposing the closure of Marks and Spencer

Despite walking with a stick, Vera stood outside the store and urged shoppers to sign in protest.

She then turned up at the offices of the Gravesend Messenger armed with pages of signatures.

She later joined Messenger staff to hand over a petition containing more than 2,000 signatures to regional M&S boss Marc O’Connor.

Vera had collected more than 800 of those signatures. She said at the time, people would stop to ask her if she was the lady collecting the signatures "over coffee tables, brick walls, you name it.”

But sadly the campaign was unsuccessful. The branch closed in September 2014 and Vera was the last shopper inside.

Vera was the last shopper in M&S when it closed and was given a box of chocolates by staff
Vera was the last shopper in M&S when it closed and was given a box of chocolates by staff

She was given a round of applause by staff as she left her beloved store, where she had shopped every week, for the last time.

She said: “I think that it’s like losing part of our heritage when something like this goes.

“We’ve had M&S here for 100 years, I bought my going away outfit from here about 70 years ago.”

Vera said she would miss the food department most, adding: "I’m really extravagant – I buy fillet steak.”

Vera Purll has died aged 100
Vera Purll has died aged 100

Vera had been going to Marks and Spencer since 1930 and was introduced to it by her mother.

She was born on September 7, 1921 and brought up in Wilfred Street, the only child of Annie and Williamson 'Stan' Butler. The family later moved to St James's Road.

Vera worked at Short Brothers aviation factory in Rochester and married Stanley Purll in 1945. Their son David was born in 1948.

He said: "She loved Gravesend and had a vast knowledge of the town and its shops.

She was a good mum and a loving grandmother to Laura."

Vera cut the ribbon at the opening of B&M with manager Carl Russell and Gravesham mayor Cllr Greta Goatley
Vera cut the ribbon at the opening of B&M with manager Carl Russell and Gravesham mayor Cllr Greta Goatley

David, 74, described his mum as "strong, resolute and determined". She overcame a colonic cancer scare in her 80s and even breaking her hip at the age of 97 didn't slow her down too much.

David said it was her dream to live to 100.

Vera achieved celebrity status in Gravesend following her campaign and when B&M opened in the old M&S, she was invited to cut the ribbon.

After M&S closed she said: “I like to keep in the background but now people see me and speak to me all the time, saying that they are sorry the petition didn’t work."

David added: "Mum was proud of the campaign. It was her achievement."

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