When Helen McCrellis left the old Technical College in Ballymoney in the early 1970s with a string of passes in a commercial course, she was thrilled to land a job at her local supermarket.
Trading under the name Wallace McClure, one of the most respected businessmen in the area, Helen was tasked with clerical and book-keeping duties - something she had been well trained for.
Fast forward more than forty years from the day she first began – March 1973 – and Helen has now called it a day, leaving with many happy memories and the knowledge that she made the right choice of job.
Helen’s present employer, Mr David Smyth with whom she has worked for the past 12 years, paid a glowing tribute at her farewell at the Linenhall Street premises on Friday morning.
Mr Smyth told the Times: “Helen was a very reliable, trustworthy person and was also very good with the customers.
“While I am happy that she has now retired and will be able to spend more time with her family, she will be missed big time.
“She opened up the shop for years and I don’t think she ever missed a single day. Helen was a very dependable person.
“Helen also had a world of knowledge about the shop and the fact that she is so well-known and respected in the community made her presence in the job all the more valuable.”
Initially an independent store, it was later taken over by VG and later Super VG, but was for years best known as Wallace McClure’s or the VG. It now trades under Smyth’s Convenience Store also housing the Post Office which is due to transfer to Mr Smyth’s other shop at John Street sometime next year.
Married with two children, Helen is looking forward to visiting her three month old grand-daughter in Co. Tyrone and simply taking life a bit easier with her husband, Sam, who is now in his third year of retirement.
But she will retain many memories in those 40 plus years. Working for four bosses, Colonel Christie, James Gault, Alan Brown and latterly Mr Smyth and his son, Sam, Helen reflected on some of the more challenging times including incidents during the Troubles when the street was targeted with incendiary devices and when the store was only allowed limited opening during the Loyalist Workers’ Strike.
But those were only a blip in what has been a rewarding and satisfying time meeting thousands of people an helping ensure the shop ran smoothly.
“I do think back to the people who worked with me and the customers many of whom are not around now. I miss them a lot, but such is life,” Helen said.
She added: “When I came here Linenhall Street was buzzing with big name shops but sadly that’s not the case now. Still, it’s always been a joy to work here and of course I’m sorry to leave.”
Helen’s duties behind the clerical desk and the counter are over but she has in her home a lasting memory of the shop – a carrier bag with the name Wallace McClure on it. The bag is merely of sentimental value but its rarity is enough for Helen to make sure it stays with her always.