Lilian May Willis was born on May 23, 1915, in Thornton Heath, Surrey. She married Don Ross, who had worked as a manager at London’s Dorchester Hotel. In 1938. When he became Steward at Marlborough College, the newly-wedded couple moved to Marlborough.
A big city person, Lilian confessed to being anxious about moving to Marlborough she felt she was in an unknown land, but soon put roots down deep and never wanted to leave Marlborough.
Life was not easy in those early days. With the outbreak of war, Don joined the RAF. After his demob at the end of the war, he became too infirm to work – their son Andrew’s early memory of him as a young lad is of a man who sat permanently in an armchair.
Lilian had to combine bringing up two young boys, Alistair and Andrew, with caring for a sick husband and attempting to eke out a limited income. She did admirably, taking on a series of secretarial jobs before going to work as PA to Bob Pelham. Bob had founded Pelham Puppet’s in Silverless Street and Lillian was an ideal person to fit into the philosophy of ‘make-do and mend’ that permeated the firm.
In the era of post-war shortages, all the early puppets were made from recycled materials. The local scrap-yards received many visits from Bob, Lilian’s rooted common-sense made her indispensable at the Pelham factory. Amidst all that creativity her cool-headed ability to pick up everything was vital to the growth to international fame of this remarkable company.
In 1977 Lilian became one of the Directors of Pelham Puppets.
Lilian’s family and working commitments did not prevent her becoming involved in the wider community. The number of organisation that benefited from her verve and enthusiasm is too numerous to mention.
She became President of the Chamber of Trade. In 1975, she was co-opted onto Marlborough Town Council and, within 18 months, had become Mayor. She went on to become mayor for a second time in 1983-84
Lilian aged 97 died in 2013 in Wootton Bassett Care Home after playing a role in Marlborough over 40 years.