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'We will miss Erika very much': Tributes after death of 'very special' WI leader

Tributes have been paid to Erika Wilkin, who has died. Picture: COURTESY OF SUFFOLK EAST FEDERATION OF WOMEN'S INSTITUTES

Tributes have been paid to Erika Wilkin, who has died. Picture: COURTESY OF SUFFOLK EAST FEDERATION OF WOMEN'S INSTITUTES

Archant

Heartfelt tributes have been paid after the tragic death of a "very special lady" who "reached out far and wide with a huge smile" during her time as a Women's Institute (WI) federation chairman.

Former district councillor and magistrate Erika Wilkin joined the WI approximately 10 years ago because she liked its friendship, community spirit and creative activities.

Being a "people person", she naturally took on leading roles in the women's group, organising the WI's Suffolk Show marquee before becoming chairman of the Suffolk East Federation of WIs in March 2018.

But little more than a year into her role overseeing the federation's 110 WI branches with 3,500 members, the grandmother of five was tragically diagnosed with cancer.

She was nevertheless "determined to fight", said Suffolk East Federation secretary Gill Denny.

"She set herself goals to help with the fight," Mrs Denny added. "Whenever you spoke to her while she was ill, she always sounded strong and positive."

Yet despite her battle against the illness and the support of her husband Derek, the 72-year-old died on Sunday, October 20.

"Whatever organisation she joined, she always worked upwards," said Celia Davies, who was Mrs Wilkin's vice-chairman and has now taken over the reigns as chairman.

"She was very proud to serve as chairman. She was very popular with members. She was a people person - very upfront, very colourful and you enjoyed being with her."

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However Mrs Davies said that "family came first" for the mother-of-four, adding that: "Her work life was catered to fit in with her four children".

"She was easy to talk to," Mrs Davies said.

"She was quite gregarious. She would always help if she could. She loved to sew - she would often alter my clothes for me."

Before she died, Mrs Wilkin experienced her "proudest moment" when she saw her grandson take part in the famous Trooping the Colour ceremony at Horseguard's Parade.

A statement from the WI said: "Erika was a very special lady, one who reached out far and wide with a huge smile, a wonderful sense of humour and a true love for the WI.

"Erika was delighted to become chairman of our federation and during her 18 months in office she made a great impact on all who met her.

"She was hugely personable, never fazed by public speaking and always able to find just the right thing to say to each member or WI she met.

"People felt they had known Erika for years and it was this ability, amongst many others, that endeared her to us all.

"SEFWI will miss Erika very much but she has left us a lasting legacy - do your job to the best of your ability, make everyone feel they are special and keep smiling through adversity.

"She always said: 'If you can't come first, there's nothing wrong in being last,' meaning every contribution is valuable."

Mrs Wilkin's funeral will take place on Tuesday, November 12.

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