PETER UNDERWOOD, who campaigned with her on a range of environmental and political issues, offers his personal tribute to iC reader Grace Onions, who has died, aged 56
Grace Onions touched the lives of so many people in so many ways; there are thousands of moments and memories that will stay with people forever.
It would be impossible to sum up one person’s life in one article. There are plenty of people in Croydon who knew Grace better and longer than me, so I know I wouldn’t even be the best person to try to sum up her life, but I wanted to share some of my memories of Grace to mark her passing.
I first met Grace nearly 10 years ago. Once I left the Civil Service I wanted to get involved in more causes close to my heart and it seemed for a while that every group I joined or meeting I went to, Grace was already there.
Grace cared passionately about many things but she believed that caring wasn’t enough. If you really care about something then you should be willing to do something about it.
I met Grace through the Green Party and environmental groups like Croydon Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion. I know she was involved in many other campaigns and groups including the Real Nappy Network and Croydon Soroptimists, as well as supporting the annual peace demonstration on Hiroshima Day. When Grace couldn’t find a group to join, she was not afraid to campaign by herself, such as campaigning to stop the trees being felled at a local school and staging a one-woman protest on Selsdon Road to highlight the threat of Climate Change
But it wasn’t just big national or international issues that interested Grace. She was equally passionate about supporting her family, her friends, and her neighbours.
I often said to Grace that I struggled to keep up with everything she was involved in, never mind being amazed how she found the time to do it all herself. Grace would then usually produce her printed calendar that she carried with her to keep track of where she was supposed to be and who she was supposed to be meeting, and point out that she couldn’t keep track of it either, which is why she always had that calendar.
One memory of Grace that has always stuck with me was when we were standing next to each other at the Croydon Council election count in 2014. Grace confessed to me, as the results came in, that she was actually quite relieved not to have been elected as she wasn’t sure how she would have found time to be a councillor on top of everything else she was doing.
While Grace and I met through groups we supported, we didn’t always agree on everything. I experienced Grace standing up for what she believed a few times on issues where our opinions differed. But those disagreements increased my respect for Grace. I don’t remember her ever letting those disagreements become personal and there was also a recognition that we had far more in common than we had to disagree about. We still worked together for the causes we both supported.
While I’ve talked a lot about Grace’s campaigning I wouldn’t want you to think she was serious all the time, far from it. Grace took her campaigns seriously but her approach to life included a huge sense of fun. Whether I was protesting with her in the middle of a main road in central London, stood next to her on a stall in Wandle Park, or just having a cup of tea in her living room, I always knew we would be laughing and joking away for hours.
At one Friends of the Earth stall about pesticides, Grace managed to get hold of a bee costume and spent the whole day buzzing up to members of the public to tell them about our campaign. From then on I lived under constant threat from Grace that one day she would find a bee costume big enough to fit me and I would have to join her buzzing up and down the street.
I remember when I first heard about Grace’s illness.
It was dreadful news but I also loved that Grace was approaching it in a very Grace sort of way. She didn’t want any fuss made about her and she still planned to do as much as she could in the time she had left.
One of the last times I saw Grace was at the opening of the new Queen’s Gardens in central Croydon. Both of us had been involved in the design consultation and it was great to see the gardens finally open to the public again. Grace was clearly far frailer physically but we chatted away just like old times and it was great to see that the fire and the fun hadn’t left her eyes.
The world needs more people like Grace and it will be a sadder and lesser place without her here. Grace’s husband, children, and the many people who knew her will hold her memory dear.
I wouldn’t dream of trying to speak on Grace’s behalf, and I can picture the look she would give me for even suggesting that I might try. So I’m not going to tell you what she would have wanted you to do. I will just say that my tribute to Grace will be to carry on fighting for the causes we shared with that same caring heart, sense of fun, and determination to not stop until we have made the world a better place to be.
Rest in power, Grace Onions.
- Grace Onions died, aged 56, on September 23, 2022. She leaves a husband and two daughters
- Click here to read her article published in the Metro last July