Country's oldest charity shop volunteer passes away aged 104

Ethel Davey celebrates her 100th birthday at Scope in St Albans.

Ethel Davey celebrates her 100th birthday at Scope in St Albans. - Credit: Scope

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved great grandma believed to have been Britain's oldest charity shop volunteer after she passed away at the age of 104.

Born on July 30 1917, Ethel Davey, nee Kettle, grew up near Clacton in Essex and after leaving school served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

She married her husband Ken in Watford on September 2 1939, and soon after the couple moved to St Albans, where they had three sons: Eric, Alan and Peter.

She worked locally at Nationwide Building Society, and after retiring Ethel joined the team at Scope in The Maltings when the shop first opened on October 1 1996, volunteering for a few hours a week and offering customer support on the shop floor.

Shop manager Clair Marshall, who joined in 2016, said she had many wonderful memories of the late and very great volunteer: “It was clear from the start that Ethel was loyal, hard-working and a big hearted person. I was totally amazed that she was 98 years of age and sitting at my till on the busiest day of week, working the till and talking to customers with her infectious enthusiasm. I had never met someone with such vitality before.

Scope volunteer Ethel Davey.

Scope volunteer Ethel Davey. - Credit: Scope

“I could see that she was well-loved by the volunteers, customers and community for her cheerful kindness and interest in people. However, Ethel was not a woman who suffered fools gladly, with a no-nonsense attitude towards both life and customers.

“Ethel always gave her best, with a joy for life that inspired me, determined to live life wherever it took her. When her daily routine took her near Scope, she would always pop in for a cuppa and a chat, with astute commentary on the people and things she met. She refused to let anything stand in her way, from stubborn customers to bad weather to a worldwide pandemic.

Ethel Davey celebrated her 100th birthday with a visit from a Pearly Queen.

Ethel Davey celebrated her 100th birthday with a visit from a Pearly Queen. - Credit: Scope

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“During the first snowfall, when I wasn’t expecting any volunteers, I was surprised and grateful when Ethel appeared, shopping trolley in tow."

Even when Ethel stepped back from volunteering at Scope after turning 100, she retained an interest in shop happenings and would always remember team members’ children and important life events.

“I will always remember Ethel announcing that she’d been invited to a Mad Hatter's party, and she’d decided to go as the Mad Hatter. She asked if the shop had any hats for the costume and was absolutely delighted when my friend loaned her his hat!

Ethel Davey in her Mad Hatter hat.

Ethel Davey in her Mad Hatter hat. - Credit: Scope

“She preferred to let other till users handle any card transactions, ringing the bell and announcing ‘card!’ to get someone to help her, which turned into a long-standing shop joke. She would always tease me, gently and kindly, about my hearing issues (I am partially deaf), because by that point, her hearing was also not as sharp as it used to be – she’d joke that we were two peas in a pod.

“Ethel was always grateful for her longevity, but never took it for granted, finding the positive in everything and able to laugh at herself, others, and life itself. We surprised her with a cake and party for her 100th birthday, and colleagues from other Scope shops across the country sent her birthday cards. She was so happy and overwhelmed by the best wishes from people she’d never met. I’m not sure she realised how many people she touched and how highly she was regarded.

"Ethel said the secret of a long life is: 'Getting out there and meeting people. Keep working, keep meeting people and keep making friends.' She certainly did that.

“To me, Ethel embodied Scope – both the St Albans shop, and the aims and goals of the charity. She was an unforgettable character, who will be dearly missed by shop team, friends and customers. I’m not sure she realised how many people she touched and how highly she was regarded.

“We were devastated to hear that she passed away on Monday January 31 at 104 years young, but celebrate her achievements and legacy. As Ethel would say 'I’ll be seeing ya'.”