TRIBUTES have been paid to Sheila Saunders, former chief executive of both Leeds Jewish Welfare Board and Leeds Jewish Housing Association, who has died from complications due to asthma at the age of 67.
During her tenure from 1983-2010, Ms Saunders spent most of her time challenging inequalities and social injustice.
Rabbi Ian Morris, from Leeds Sinai Synagogue described her as “a gem of the Leeds community.” He added: “We are all the poorer for her loss.”
Ms Saunder came to Leeds from Manchester in 1983 primarily to run the Welfare Board’s Queenshill day centre for the elderly.
Her leadership skills did not go unnoticed and in 1987 she was appointed executive officer for both welfare and housing.
Dynamic, direct – “I don’t do subtle,” she once said – feisty, funny and quirky, she fought fearlessly for the vulnerable.
Together with the late George Manning she set up Moorcare in 1994, a not-for-profit care provider run by LJWB.
Her research into domestic violence led her to found Jewish Women’s Aid in Leeds in 1985, which is now a national organisation.
Rebecca Weinberg, her successor at LJWB in 2004, described Ms Saunders as a born leader and a visionary. “Under her leadership the Welfare Board became a provider at the forefront of social care in Leeds,” she said.
“It is to her we owe a debt of gratitude for the development of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff community centre in Moortown.
“Life in Leeds changed dramatically for the better because of Sheila Saunders – future generations will benefit from her wonderful legacy.”
Housing services director Craig Simons said her achievements (1987-2010) were incredible.
He added: “She turned a small association into one that punched far above its weight.”
During a period of recession and economic gloom Ms Saunders found funding 62 flats and a number of four-bedroom family houses.
Edward Ziff, Welfare Board president, described her impact on the community as “awesome”.
With a wicked sense of humour and holding staunch left-wing views she adored designer clothes – the reformer wore Prada.
After retirement in 2010 Ms Saunders returned to Manchester to become Lady Mayoress alongside long-time friend Councillor Mark Hackett – both “student radicals” in the 1960s.
She is survived by partner Jalna, son Tom, foster-son Alex and brother Bernard.