Honiton: Juanita Maxwell Phillips - a woman of her time

HONITON S former Little Theatre attracted a full house when the colourful life of the theatre s original owner was the subject of an illustrated talk.

HONITON'S former Little Theatre attracted a full house when the colourful life of the theatre's original owner was the subject of an illustrated talk.

Honiton Senior Council has organised a series of Celebrating Juanita events, to mark the life of former 11 times mayor Juanita Maxwell Phillips.

Tony Simpson, secretary of Honiton Senior Council, gave the first talk last Thursday, which was introduced by Councillor Peter Fleming, the deputy mayor.

Mr Fleming said: "Juanita has been described as a woman ahead of her time. I disagree with that. I think she was a woman of her time, because there was nobody like her before and there has been nobody like her since."

A minute's silence was observed at 11am to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. Honiton's war effort was led by Juanita in the building where the talk was held.

Who was Alderman Mrs Juanita Maxwell Phillips JP OBE and where did she come from?

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Mr Simpson described her as "one of the most powerful women in the Westcountry". "She was a feminist before feminism and a woman taking the lead in a man's world," he said.

Born Juanita Maxwell Comber in Chile on July 23, 1880, she was one of seven children. Her father was a merchant and dealt in the extraction of nitrate.

The Combers were British, but there appears to have been a tradition on her mother's side of the family to use Spanish Christian names. Although the people of Honiton referred to Juanita as Spanish, there was not an ounce of foreign blood in her veins.

Juanita had a twin sister, Alice, who married a vicar. She also had three elder sisters and two brothers. One brother, Henry, was in the same college at Cambridge University as solicitor Tom Phillips, who became Juanita's husband. The couple were married at St John's Church, Wembley, in September 1906.

Juanita was just 26 when she arrived in Honiton.

"She had to build her constituency," said Mr Simpson. "She was an outsider.

"What impresses me about her is not her power, but what she did with it. She didn't win office for the sake of it. She was a lady who got things done. She was an enthusiast for causes. She liked the fight."

The second talk on the life of Juanita Maxwell Phillips, which will focus on her theatrical career, will take place tomorrow (Thursday, September 10) in Meadow View Chapel, King Street, at 10.30am. All welcome and admission is free.