Sylvia Cummins

12th June 1954 – 25th October 2022

It is with deep deep sadness that we have to announce the sudden death in service of Sylvia Cummins, librarian with the Schools Library Service since 10th June 2002.

Sylvia’s funeral was held on Tuesday 29th November at City of London Crematorium.

Sylvia joined the Schools Library Service in 2002, having previously worked for Haringey public libraries.  It was two days before her birthday and just prior to the start of the World Cup 2002 and, not being a football fan, immediately found herself keeping the service going whilst other members of staff, including the head of service, took toil in order to watch key matches.  She took it all in her stride but got her own back when Wimbledon started!   Over the years proved to be a dependable, warm, kind and considerate colleague and became a friend to us all. Her quiet ways belied her assertiveness and drive, and she excelled at encouraging others in the workplace to achieve and learn more.  A most superb listener, she was the person most of us turned to when needing to share a confidence or seek advice.  She knew so many secrets which she divulged to no-one.

She has been a key member of staff for over twenty years, instrumental in the day to day running of the library and latterly taking sole responsibility for managing the stock of the Schools Library Service and seeking out all the weird and wonderful resources that support the teaching of the curriculum.

As one of her sisters said, she did absolutely adore her job.  In the very dim and distant past she worked in the private sector briefly, but her heart was in public service, working with her community.  Education, libraries and bringing history to life were all her passions. She loved the incredible history, art and culture of the East End and was quite the ambassador for this in the service. Even whilst the borough was focussing on getting young people to look outside of Tower Hamlets, she was a voice that reminded us that people can still be allowed to be proud of where they live and grew up.  Last year she won for us a Heritage Lottery Grant to create local history resources for children, and these suitcases, along with all the other resources she has sought out, will be her legacy to the children of this Borough.

A staunch believer in equality and social justice, she has been a lifelong Labour voter and trade union member, and loving gardening, crosswords, walking and reading, had great taste in movies, had an allotment and was a member of a variety of walking groups and reading clubs.

Sylvia is survived by a brother and two sisters and their families.  Alongside her friends, they feel bereft by the suddenness of her death and the huge space she has left in their lives.


Sylvia seemed so fit and healthy, and she was the one who always encouraged us to eat fruit instead of biscuits at teatime! (Alison Rogans)

I worked with Sylvia earlier this year on the local history pack and found her so lovely and supportive to work with.    (Linda Barker)

Sylvia’s quiet, calm way of working, and encouraging others was quite unique, and will be keenly missed. She always had time for others, and to pass on very sound advice from her depth of reading and experience. I cannot imagine the SLS without her. (Giles Harrison)

Sylvia was a dedicated public servant, knowledgeable about her service, a local history enthusiast and a kind and calming presence. It was a pleasure to work with her.  (Tamsin Bookey)

She helped to develop the Service to Tower Hamlets schools because, like the rest of us, she believed in the value of what we were/are doing.  But I think I value her most for her calm and generous personality which contributed to the close-knit atmosphere of friendship which prevailed/s in the workplace.  (Judith Collins)

9 Replies to “Sylvia Cummins”

  1. Sue Dearie

    I remember most Sylvia’s welcoming smile, her depth of knowledge, her enthusiasm for local history, and her ability to find just what you need. Her sudden loss was a real shock, and she will truly be missed by her friends and colleagues.

  2. Julia Munn

    We are so sad to hear this shocking news. Sylvia always greeted us with a friendly smile when we passed through the library on the way to the music store, and we will really miss her gentle presence there. Passing on sympathy and condolences to her family and friends from all at THAMES Music.

  3. Amanda Bentham

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Please pass on my condolences to Sylvia’s family. I got to know Sylvia a little through our union chats – sharing Unison and NUT / NEU news and talking Labour movement politics when our paths crossed in the PDC. One weekend a few years ago I bumped into Sylvia and a friend in an east London gallery showing photos of Hackney in the 70s and 80s, and she shared some of her own fascinating experiences and stories of living in the area. She was a warm and humane person and will be greatly missed by Tower Hamlets.

  4. Richard Desjardins

    I knew Sylvia back when she worked in Haringey – a group of us parents set up a toy Library at St. Ann’s Library, a small backstreet library in Tottenham. Sylvia helped us in all sorts of ways, smoothing things with the Local Authority, making sure our space was given to us, letting parents and children use the staff loo! She was on the Toy Library Committee and could never do too much for us. When the library was under threat of closure she was of course central in the campaign to keep it going. We won that fight and it is still going today, as is the Toy Library. God bless you Sylvia and rest in peace.

  5. Sharifa Khanom

    Sylvia was amazing person, who lived her life to an standard that we all aspire to live by. Inquisitive, kindness and nonjudgemental.

  6. SLA Team

    At the School Library Association we would like to send sympathy and condolences to all Sylvia’s family and everyone in Tower Hamlets SLS. Sylvia’s dedication was obviously so valuable to young people and her colleagues. She will be missed and our thoughts are with you all.

  7. vikki Lowther

    Sylvia was a kind and quiet person. She will be missed by everyone who worked with her, we will miss her warm smile and welcoming attitude. Condolences to her family at this sad time.

  8. Pauline Smith

    So shocked and saddened to hear of Sylvia’s sudden passing. I remember greeting her when she came for her interview at the Library.
    I was privileged to work with Sylvia and learn the experience and skills she held. Sylvia was always the first to share in the team work to be done and the work was quickly done when Sylvia found ways to get it all done and dusted!
    Memories of Sylvia were a blessing in my life and I learnt so much from the quiet and assertive way she had of doing things. A great loss to her family, friends and of course the library

  9. Elizabeth LeMoine

    I came into contact with Sylvia when I did some work repairing items in the library’s costume collection. She was always calm, positive, professional, confident, encouraging and generous. A pleasure to interact with, it is with great shock and sadness I’ve learned she has been taken so early and so suddenly. A great loss to her family, colleagues and the community.

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