Death of Rochdale Pioneers historian

Dorothy GreavesDorothy Greaves, the person who probably knew most about the Rochdale Pioneers, lost her long battle with cancer on International Co-operators Day, 3 July 2010

Dorothy was a Warden at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum for a period during the 1980s and later from 1994 until her health failed, and spent much of her spare time over the years researching the 28 “Men of Rochdale”. She developed a knowledge of “her boys” as individuals, and as people, not just as historical ‘names’ and visitors to the Museum loved her descriptions of their characters as well as their lives. Dorothy traced the families of the Pioneers to the present day, sometimes contacting people to ask if they knew that they were descendents.

Her research on the Pioneers included a survey of the graves, including finding those that had been lost for generations – once even uncovering a gravestone that had become grassed over. This research was vital to the work done by Funeralcare in renovating the graves in time for the 150th anniversary celebrations for the Rochdale Pioneers in 1994.

Following her move to Rochdale in 1975 with her husband Freddy and daughters Lesley and Christine, Dorothy became involved in a range of community activities, including being Chairman and Secretary of the Civic Society, member of the Rochdale Music Society, the Community Arts Committee, the Friends of Rochdale Art Gallery, the Culture Committee and, since their inception in 1990, organiser of the Heritage Weekends that have become a special feature in Rochdale in early September, negotiating the opening of buildings not normally open to the public.

Dorothy’s service to the communities of the Rochdale Borough was recognised not only by her being awarded “Rochdale Woman of the Year” in 1997, but a year ago by the presentation of a certificate of appreciation and a crystal vase at a reception in her honour at Rochdale Town Hall. She told a journalist from the Rochdale Observer at the time “If you’re interested in something you do something about it”. She was a Blue Badge Guide, qualified to guide groups around all of the towns of Greater Manchester and made full use of her encyclopaedic knowledge of the heritage of the region.

One of Dorothy’s lasting legacies will be the generations of Rochdale school children who enjoyed their visits to the Museum, remembering years later both the story of the Pioneers and the fun and enthusiasm with which it was portrayed. Dorothy’s work with the Museum brought her into contact with co-operators from all over the world, and tens of thousands over the years have felt the inspiration of her tours of the Museum. The news of her death will be greeted with a mixture of sadness and warm memories by those who knew her.

Elaine Dean, of the Midlands Co-operative Society said:

Dorothy was an icon, a legend and a wonderful champion of our Co-operative heritage. I have known her over so many years when we have taken groups of members to visit Toad Lane. Every single party was greeted with the same enthusiasm for her subject, the same terms of endearment for ‘my boys’ (the Pioneers!) and the same passion for imparting the history of the co-operative movement.

Toad Lane won’t seem the same without Dorothy standing at the door ready to greet another coachful of visitors and enthral them with her stories – but I feel sure she will be watching over us all to ensure that we continue her work and keep the memory of the Pioneers alive for future generations.

College Principal Mervyn Wilson added:

Dorothy inspired co-operators not only from the UK but from every continent. She understood the impact that the 28 working people who were the Rochdale Pioneers had – showing what people could achieve through co‑operation. The work we are commencing to bring their story to wider audiences will be the best possible memorial to Dorothy – and I am sure that co-operators the world over will in future remember her when celebrating International Co-operators Day.

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As a descendant of Miles Ashworth,I am his Great Grat Grat Grandaughter, I met Dorothy whilst doing my Family Research Rochdale Library.We shared many chats on my visits to the museum.Myself and my Mother were two of the descendants to attend the commemerative service at the cemetery and I layed a bunch of Roses on the grave of Miles Ashworth.As a lot of other people we shall have fond memories of Dorothy she was a very very special lady and will be sadly missed.

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