Tributes have flooded in for leading Grenfell campaigner Clarrie Mendy who has died aged 61. Described as a “true force of nature” by the Mayor of London Saddiq Khan and “indomitable” by David Lammy MP, Clarrie was at the forefront of the campaign to secure justice for victims of the disaster that claimed the lives of 72 people in 2017.
Diagnosed as terminally ill with Motor Neurone Disease two years ago, she often said she was its 73rd victim following the discovery of dangerously high levels of toxins around the site of the tower by government scientists in 2019.
Clarrie became involved in the Grenfell campaign after her two cousins, mother and daughter Mary Mendy and Khadija Saye, perished in the blaze at their home on the 20th floor.
She set up Relative Justice for Grenfell and Humanity For Grenfell to bring together survivors and the bereaved and anyone else affected, taking their plight to the very top of government.
A month after the fire she organised an ecumenical service for her cousins and three other victims addressed by the then Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, followed by a multi-faith remembrance of Grenfell to mark the beginning of the Notting Hill Carnival.
Clarrie secured an even bigger stage when 1,500 people, including Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry, attended a national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral later that year.
“My sister was not one to take no for an answer or suffer fools gladly,” said her younger sister Nelissa. “She was a formidable fighter for truth and rights and we will never know how many people she rescued from dark places.”
Clarrie Mendy was born in Hackney to a Gambian father and mixed-race English mother, the seventh of 13 children. The family moved to Mornington Terrace, Camden Town, London, and she attended the local St Michael’s CoE primary and St Marylebone secondary schools.
Displaying an entrepreneurial spirit early on, she won a place at the prestigious London Business School, going on to launch the Roots International Homecoming tours and festivals that over the years saw hundreds of people travel to Gambia to experience African life and culture. Later, she chartered the first ever direct flight from the Caribbean to Africa.
In another first, she teamed up ‘70s reggae icon John Holt with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra for a sell-out event at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000.
Despite the debilitating nature of her illness, she gave evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry, last attending it in June. In 2019 she witnessed the start and finish of a 500-mile sponsored bike ride from Portobello near Edinburgh to Portobello Rd, west London. At the closing ceremony she raised the issue of air pollution and soil contamination thrown up by the blaze, which she said was being ignored by the authorities despite the emergence locally of chronic conditions like the “Grenfell cough”.
She died peaceafully in her sleep on December 5 at her home in Belsize Rd, Kilburn. Nina, her only child and mother of her two grandchildren, Alexander, two, and Aida, four, said, “Mum fought for justice all her life and down to her last breath. Her legacy will be to never give up the fight.”
Funeral arrangements are to be announced
This article first appeared in the Camden New Journal and Westminster Extra on December 10 2020