MARY Butterwick was already 60-years-old when she opened the John Butterwick Day Care Centre in Stockton, in 1984.

Since then, Butterwick Hospice has gone from strength-to-strength with a £1.2m purpose-built hospice e opening in Stockton along with a separate children’s hospice in the town and another vital hospice in Bishop Auckland.

As well as launching the multi-million pound charity, which has given invaluable help to thousands of very ill people and their families, Mrs Butterwick has rightly been lauded as an inspiration.

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And yet she was already deep into middle age and living an ordinary if happy life as a loving wife and mother before she even began the work that made her so well-known in the North-East.

Mrs Butterwick, who grew up on Teesside, met and married the love of her life, John, during the Second World War. She had ignored what she knew would be the disapproval of her mother by joining the Land Army and helped the war effort by working as a driver.

It was on the train back home to Thornaby at the beginning of a fortnight’s leave that 18-year-old Mary Wood met soldier John Butterwick. Three months later the young couple were married at Stockton Parish Church.

The couple went on to have four children, Keith, Carol, Susan and Julia and were living in a nice life in a nice home when, one terrible day in 1979, Mrs Butterwick’s life was turned upside.

She came home to find John very unwell and he was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Mrs Butterwick was taken into a room by a nurse and told to "go home and forget him".

Shocked by such insensitivity and feeling that she was not being treated as human being Mrs Butterwick’s strong Christian faith was tested to the limit.

She did not forget John after his death or the terrible hospital experience and decided to devote the rest of her life into helping people with life-limiting illnesses and their families.

A tea factory worker at the time, she sold the family home, bought 10 Hartburn Lane in Stockton and started offering the kind of care that she strongly believes our very sick people deserve.

It seems old age has barely dented her resolve.

A spokeswoman for the hospice, Jackie Firth, said: "Mary still attends the hospice in Stockton each week when she can, to spend the day with staff, volunteers and patients.

"She has never lost her love of caring for people and still adds her special character and caring ethos to everything she does. Even at 90 Mary is still keeping an eye on things at the hospice and keeps everyone on their toes.

“We just want to send Mary wonderful and happy birthday wishes and greetings from everyone across the charity.”

The Northern Echo has no doubt all our readers will want to say, a Happy Birthday too.