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Cécile Nobrega obituary


My mother, Cécile Nobrega, who has died aged 94, was an accomplished classical composer (her piece Twilight has been sung by many national choirs), poet, sculptor and educator.

In the 1990s, she started a charitable organisation, the Bronze Woman Project, with the aim of raising a public monument to womanhood. It took its name from a poem she had written about motherhood. After years of planning and fundraising, in 2008, a 10ft statue of a mother and child, sculpted by Aleix Barbat, representing women, particularly those from the developing world and the descendants of slaves, was erected in Stockwell Gardens, south-west London.

Though anonymous, it is the first statue of a black woman in Britain, and was unveiled in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, and the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the first Caribbean immigrants to Britain on the Windrush.

Cécile was born in Georgetown, Guyana, daughter of Canon WA Burgan and his wife Imelda, and was a gifted child who wrote music and poetry from an early age. In 1942 she married Romeo Nobrega. She trained as a teacher and started two schools, a kindergarten and a vocational school for teenage girls. She won several awards for her music and wrote plays, one of which, Stabroek Fantasy (1956), set in the Stabroek market of Georgetown, had record runs in Guyana and was adapted as Carib Gold for a Jamaican pantomime.

In 1969, after losing an employment case against the Guyana government at the Privy Council (which remains a point of reference in employment law), Cecile emigrated to the UK. She retrained at Hockerill College, Hertfordshire, to teach music, art and language through drama, and worked in Hertfordshire and Brent, north London. She was active in the National Union of Teachers and in the adult literacy programme, and campaigned against placing misunderstood children, often those from ethnic minorities, in ESN (Educationally Subnormal) schools.

She also joined the writers' group PEN, the International Alliance of Women and the Commonwealth Countries League, which gave her the opportunity to travel and meet like-minded influential women. At conferences of the IAW in New York, Kenya, Greece, Japan and India, she expounded the need for some monumental recognition of womanhood. After Romeo's death in 1994, she threw her energies into her quest for this monument.

With the Bronze Woman statue in place, Cécile slowed down, but did not stop. She gave up driving, the computer and the piano, but remained active with Lambeth Pensioners, and practised tai chi.

Cécile is survived by three children, Keith, Eve and me, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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