Five decades of volunteering...and counting

Pat pictured with her grandchildren.
Pat pictured with her grandchildren.

2012 was a busy year for Stranocum lady Pat Crossley....! Not only did she celebrate her 70th birthday she also completed an impressive 50 years of volunteering.

Since 1962 Pat has worked tirelessly for numerous charities, and raised thousands of pounds in support of a variety of causes. She has helped to raise a staggering £250,000 for the MS Society, collected for the RNLI for over 40 years, met some ‘interesting people’ including the Queen and Prince Philip, Princess Diana, Princess Anne, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and even jumped out of a plane - all in the name of fund-raising and helping others.

However despite her dedication and commitment over the last five decades, Pat remains humbled by her achievements and prides herself in simply following the Latin motto of her home city, Belfast, ‘What shall we give in return for so much’.

Looking back over her unrelenting service to the local community, Pat has paid homage to the Belfast Royal Academy where she studied and developed her love of volunteering as far back as 1959.

Speaking to the Ballymoney and Moyle Times, Pat explained: “It all began in the constitution of the Old Girls’ Association of the Belfast Royal Academy. Its aim was to unite former pupils of the Academy and to engage in social, philanthropic and educational enterprises and this resonated with me. I felt compelled to give my bit back to the school I loved and where I had spent many happy years.

“The year I left school I started as a volunteer and became the Old Girls’ Association Honorary Secretary, finishing as their President some 25 years later. Living in Belfast, I also became a member of International Voluntary Service where each weekend, along with others, we worked with young disabled people in the North and South of Ireland, forming close friendships, some of which remain important to me today. This is where my lifelong interest in supporting people with disabilities originated. One of the early highlights was building cliff paths at The Holiday Fellowship in Ballycastle which later became known as Corrymeela.

“When I was in my late teens I became a leader of the Junior Section of the Boys Brigade and enjoyed the physical and practical activities associated with this organisation. At the same time I loved my role as Primary Sunday School leader in my local congregation, Fortwilliam Presbyterian.

“It was around this time that I began my hospital career in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and went on to become the medical records officer of the Royal Maternity Hospital.”

In 1965 Pat’s life changed when she met her future husband Norman, and the couple married the following year.

Pat continued: “Volunteering continued when I met and married Norman, he shared in my passion for caring for others. We moved to Lisburn and joined First Lisburn Presbyterian Church. We both became deeply involved in the church working with young people and I became the Sunday School Leader, member and later President of the Young Womens’ Group and was founder of the Church Friends (befriending the elderly members of the congregation). Each Christmas Eve Pat visited bereaved members of First Lisburn congregation who had lost loved ones during the year and gave a single red rose as a token.

“It was here that we experienced pain when several major bombs severely damaged our beautiful 300-year old church. The most damaging just three months before a Flower Festival which I organised. However the show went on, entitled ‘Signs of Hope’, and even more people visited enabling us to send sizable donations to the Jerusalem Eye Hospital and the Share Centre in Co Fermanagh. During the Festival of Flowers, the BBC programme ‘Songs of Praise’ was filmed from our church and I was privileged to be invited to be interviewed in my garden and choose my favourite hymn (“Lord of All Hopefulness”).

“In addition I agreed to be the Honorary Secretary of Lisburn Mental Health Club, and organiser of their Lisburn Beacon House Club. I became part of the newly formed Ladies Committee of the Ulster Independent Clinic and became involved in the local branch of the Northern Ireland Council for Orthopedic Development where I had the opportunity to work alongside my husband Norman who was Chairman of the Development Appeals Committee. NICOD has since become the Cedar Foundation, continuing to support and empower children and adults with disabilities throughout Northern Ireland.

“It was here that I worked with 22 ladies who met each week and made handicrafts and sold them at an annual coffee party. We also took on large scale catering for events at Lisburn Council and Hillsborough Castle, a ball at City Hall, an evening supper garden party at Killyleagh Castle and weddings which generated a tremendous amount of money, raising around £10,000 annually for NICOD.

“It was during this time that I also trained with the Marriage Guidance Council in England (now known as Relate), served on various Presbyterian Church Committees including the Board of Social Witness, joined the Irish Council of Churches, and also began collecting for the RNLI.”

Always keen on gardening, writing and cooking, and having recently become mum to Adrienne in 1974, Pat miraculously found time to have hobbies and even entered competitions.

She explained: “I won £500 for writing an article on Motherhood 38 years ago and won several cooking competitions over the years. However my most important role was being a wife and mother and I couldn’t have done it all without the dedication and support of Norman. We did so much as a family for and with the community.

“Sometime later we built our dream house in Hillsborough and created a garden to accommodate our beloved alpine plants. I also enhanced my passion for gardening by becoming the Show Secretary of the Alpine Garden Society, a post I still hold some 30-plus years later”.

In recognition of her outstanding service to the Society she was awarded the ‘Award of Honour’ in 2012. Pat and Norman won three Farrer Memorial medals for exhibiting the best plant at the Ulster Alpine Show, held annually in April. The Scottish Rock Garden society also recognised Pat’s contribution to alpine gardening and recently awarded her Honorary Membership of their Society.

During the 1980s the Crossley family was on the move following Norman’s relocation for work and headed to Stranocum.

“We had many happy years in Lisburn and were honoured by the local Council with a Mayor’s Reception and presented with a Borough plaque when we left. However our move to Stranocum opened many new and rewarding doors for us as a family. Norman was the accountant in a Japanese venture in Ballymoney and I threw myself into even more charitable work.

“I joined the Ballymoney Branch of the MS Society some 30 years ago when we first moved to North Antrim, becoming the Hon Secretary and Welfare Officer, which is now the role of Support Officer, and so far have helped the branch to raise £250,000. I also personally raised over £9,000 doing a parachute jump at the grand old age of 67.”

Never one to rest on her laurels, Pat was the first Honorary Secretary of Gracehill Ladies Golf Club, she also became a Lay Assessor for Nursing Homes in the Northern Board area, she was elected as a North East Board Member of Stranocum Primary School – now Bushvalley Primary School - where she still sits on the Board of Governors and currently serves as Vice Chairman. She was ordained as an elder in First Lisburn Presyterian Church 38 years ago and was co-opted in Bushvale Church when she and Norman joined this congregation. For more than 20 years Pat has enjoyed arranging the flowers in Bushvale Church Sunday by Sunday.

Pat’s flower arranging talents are also exhibited annually in June at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, in Belfast. Pat has shared her love of flowers by giving illustrated talks on alpine flowers, gardening and her travels to church groups, horticultural organisations and other groups across the length and breadth of the province, for some 40 years.

She also developed a passion for peace building and was selected for Peace I in 1995 with the Ballymoney Local Strategy Partnership. She currently serves as a Board Member of the North East Peace III Partnership. Pat had a longstanding involvement with the Irish Summer Institute, a group of senior American clerics and legislators which supported peace-making for whom Pat arranged a programme of speakers and facilitated networking opportunities as well as visits to interesting sites around the North Antrim coast.

Pat’s international connections reach to the East as well – she coordinated a tour of North Antrim for a group of Russian senior church officials, the first Russian church delegation to Ireland, with representatives from the Russian Orthodox church, Baptist church Moscow, and Lutheran church Estonia. Pat and Norman hosted a reception for the delegation and local clergy and community representatives in their Stranocum home. Sunday morning worship was a highlight with the Russian group attending local Catholic and Protestant services.

Special lasting memories of this trip were the moving moments of sharing the Lord’s Prayer in many different places and traditions and sensing that together we were saying “OUR Father...”

However despite the painful loss of her husband in 2004, Pat vowed to continue her work in his memory and has since received many volunteering accolades, including the RNLI silver badge for exemplary service, the MS “shining star” – the highest award for a volunteer in the MS Society and the first person in Northern Ireland to receive this honour. Pat has also previously served as Vice Chairman of the NI MS Society and nationally as a trustee, and at the end of her term of office she was given an award for outstanding service on the Board of Trustees. She was the 16th awardee of the Jack Pinkerton Endeavour award given by Rotary International Ballymoney, to name but a few.

She concluded: “Unfortunately November 2004 was a very sad time for me as Norman died following a four-year battle with cancer and I never thought I’d get over the void he left behind. He was always enthusiastic and encouraging in what I was doing and this is the best way to remember him. The only time I ever missed an MS committee meeting was the day Norman died - but I’m sure he would have excused me for that!

“Many people feel that celebrating my 70th birthday means I should slow down a bit now but it’s Norman’s fantastic legacy that keeps me going and I vow to continue my work as long as health and strength permits.

“All that I do is not for any reward but satisfaction that I’m helping others. To me, a simple ‘thank you’ means more than anything else “Throughout my 50 years of volunteering I have met many wonderful people and made life-long friends. However despite all my church, community and charity work, one of the most important roles today is being granny to my two beautiful grandchildren Niamh and Karl.

“I just hope one day they will look back and say ‘granny you were a busy lady!’ and they will be as proud of me as I am of them.”