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Jill Theiss in De La Warr Pavilion (photo: DLWP).

Jill Theis, saviour of the De La Warr Pavilion

Jill Theis, who died in March aged 90, will be remembered for her many contributions to public life, both when she served on Rother District Council and subsequently, but chiefly as the prime mover in saving the iconic De La Warr Pavilion. Cllr Sue Prochak, deputy leader of the council, pays tribute to her friend and fellow politician.

I first met Jill Theis when I joined the local branch of the Liberal Democrats and then got to know her well after she helped me get elected to join her serving on Rother District Council. She served on Rother from 1983 to 1999.

She was one of those remarkable people who enhanced life with her humour, wisdom and generosity. It was such a privilege to have known her. She was the gold standard for being an effective and respected councillor.  She did so much for the communities and residents she represented in Catsfield and Crowhurst villages.

I relied on her wisdom and advice in so many ways. I admired the way she would diligently sort out residents’ problems and also quietly seek out the right people to achieve her goals. This was never more effective than in the restoration of her great passion, the iconic modernist building, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

Way back in 1983, she found the building ‘magic,’ although it had been ‘bog standard municipalised’. Never deterred by the massive task ahead of achieving the much-needed restoration of the building, Jill played such an important role in getting the right people to support the project. She became a good friend of Esther Mendelsohn, the only child of Erich Mendelsohn, one of the original architects.

Jill, right, and Sue on the campaign trail when Sue was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the 1992 general election (photo: Sue Prochak).

There were so many significant local and national players Jill managed to entice in support of the restoration: Cyril Sweet, who was the quantity surveyor of the building, gave the first donation to the trust Jill set up and introduced patrons such as Sir Denis Lasdun, Sir Hugh Casson and Lord Rayne. The Earl and Countess De La Warr introduced other people of influence. In 1990 Lord Polumbo, then chairman of the Arts Council, visited and spoke at a lunch.

There is so much more to this story and so many more key players involved in the long journey. Jill’s son Patrick, a successful architect, will I am sure be able to recount more detail as Jill relied on his advice over the twenty years of her dedication to the restoration project.

This was all against a background of antipathy from local residents. Maybe they quite liked the flock wallpaper and concrete bar. However, in 2000 residents showed how they really felt about the building as 5,000 of them signed a petition to prevent the building being taken over by Wetherspoon’s. This was stopped by one vote in the Rother Council meeting.

Jill’s vision and skill was rightly rewarded with an MBE for her services to local architecture, and as well as leaving this enormous legacy, she was a person who made a difference to people’s lives. I was honoured to have known her.


Guardian obituary

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Posted 19:46 Wednesday, May 6, 2020 In: Obituary

1 Comment

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  1. Sunbear

    Wow!!! I knew nothing of this threat to the wonderful De La Warr Pavilion, and would like to know more. An excellent obituary.

    Comment by Sunbear — Wednesday, May 6, 2020 @ 22:33

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