Dame Shirley Porter was born in 1930 to Sir Jack Edward Cohen and Sarah Fox. Jack Cohen founded the British retail supermarket chain Tesco, and Sarah Fox was a tailor’s daughter. Shirley Cohen and her family lived in what was previously a council house in Hackney, in London’s East End. She attended the Warren School for Girls from 1939-1945 in Worthing, Sussex. Following this she attended a finishing school in Switzerland, and spent a year studying at St Godric’s Secretarial & Language School in London. Shirley Porter and Leslie Porter married in 1949 and had two children together – a son and a daughter.
Dame Shirley Porter started her career fairly late in life, but enjoyed many years of public service in the United Kingdom. Initially, she served as a magistrate, and by 1974 was elected as a Conservative Councillor for the Hyde Park Ward of Westminster City Council, London. Several years later, she headed up the Council’s Environmental Committee, where she focused her attention on cleaning up the borough’s streets, with initiatives such as anti-littering laws and recycling operations. Such was her popularity at the time that she was elected as the Leader of the Council in 1983. Among her other projects were the Plain English Campaign and the Say No to Drugs Campaign. In 1990 Dame Shirley Porter was elected Lord Mayor of Westminster.
Anti-litter campaigns were a major focus of Dame Shirley Porter’s initiatives. In fact, litter was her bugbear and this is what originally inspired her to enter the political arena to make a positive change. She was spurred to action following a visit to Leningrad, Russia, where the cleanliness of the city made a deep impression on her. After joining the Clean Up London campaign, she managed to get many businesses and individuals on board. Several other campaigns ensued in later years, including the Cleaner London Campaign, and the Cleaner City Initiative. Additionally, Dame Shirley Porter worked tirelessly to alleviate the problems associated with the Soho sex industry in the early 1980s.
Nowadays, Dame Shirley Porter lives in Israel. She continues working with her philanthropic organization – The Porter Foundation – which she and her late husband established in 1970. Among others, The Porter Foundation was responsible for founding the Porter School of Environmental Studies at TAU (Tel Aviv University). Dame Shirley Porter has also committed herself to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Porter Senior Citizen Centre, and the Council for a Beautiful Israel. The Daniel Marcus Nautical Centre was also commissioned by the Porter Foundation in loving memory of her grandson, Daniel Amichai Marcus.