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County Durham's first female Lord Lieutenant prepares for first day
SUE Snowdon, County Durham’s first ever female Lord Lieutenant, speaks to Duncan Leatherdale as she officially starts her new role as the Queen’s representative.
TODAY (March 8) will be the beginning of a new chapter of Sue Snowdon’s busy life, and it is a challenge the former shop-keeper’s daughter is relishing.
Speaking at the Crook farm she shares with husband Keith, 62-year-old Sue displays the passionate and bubbly personality that has seen her succeed in all circles of life, from her early career as a primary school teacher to her later life as a magistrate and one of the founders of a now flourishing food festival.
She takes over the Lord Lieutenancy from North East industrialist Sir Paul Nicholson and is determined to ensure the role plays a key part in the future of County Durham.
Sue is reckoned to be the 30the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, who are appointed by the Crown to keep the monarchy informed of the issues affecting the area, arrange Royal visits and promote honours.
And she is anticipating a busy schedule.
She said: “It is always a huge occasion whenever the Royal’s come to town.
“Last year was a very successful one for the Royal Family, they have not been this popular since the Second World War and I am eager to build on that.
“I think the Royal’s do have soft spot for County Durham, I know that Prince Charles in particular has a great love for Weardale and Teesdale and he was a big hit when he visited Auckland Castle last year.”
Auckland Castle, the centrepiece of Bishop Auckland, is familiar territory for Sue and is the scene of arguably her greatest triumph – the Wear Valley Food festival.
But before we discuss her role as a bastion of community spirit, it is important to look back to 1989 when Sue was given just weeks to live.
Sue, whose father was well-known in Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland as the proprietor of Hanselman’s stores, launched herself into a career as a primary school teacher in the Chilton and Ferryhill areas.
But her career came crashing to an end when a medical being taken to clear her for a new role as a deputy headteacher unveiled a life-threatening problem.
Sue said: “The doctors said my aortic valve had completely perished.
“I had no idea, I felt fine, but they said I would be dead by Christmas unless immediate surgery was carried out.”
That was 24 years ago, and while Sue still needs medication and regular check-ups, her metal valve has kept her not only healthy, but also enabled her to be busier than ever.
She said: “I was devastated at the time because it meant the end of my teaching, there was no way I could carry on after such a major problem, I simply wasn’t allowed.”
But instead of ruing the end of her dream job, Sue got busy and became involved in the Butterwick Hospice which had recently opened in Bishop Auckland.
She said: “I lost both my parents to cancer so have always wanted to give great support to any charity that helps people with the disease.
“I was overwhelmed by the hospice, and when they said they wanted me to be their fundraiser manager I was privileged to say yes.
“From the beginning I said I wanted the hospice to be in the paper every week, and that’s why we started focussing in big events.”
And in 2001, in just a six week period, Sue and her team from the Bishop Auckland Town Centre Forum, which had been set up by the then MP Lord Derek Foster to promote the run-down town, pulled off their masterstroke.
Sue said: “As well as raising money for charity I wanted to do something that would promote local produce, and that’s where the food festival came from.
“It has been incredible, that first year I was worried no-one would show up, but then I saw a wave of people coming across the marketplace towards the castle and I knew then that it would work.”
From 6,000 visitors in that first year to 30,000 last year and a successful hand over to Durham County Council, Sue and her team put Bishop Auckland on the culinary map.
And it’s that promotion of County Durham that Sue wants to make her top priority in her new role.
In her first official duty as lord Lieutenant this morning (March 8), Sue will give a speech at County Hall for International Women’s Day in which she will outline her beliefs for Durham.
Sue said: “We have so much in this county to be proud of and I want everyone to know what wonderful work is being done here.”
She will be lord Lieutenant until her 75th birthday on April 1, 2026, so husband Keith had better be prepared for a busy 13 years.
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