AS she dives headfirst into her latest role, Barbara Broadbelt can take pride in having made quite a splash during a lifetime of service to others.

By being appointed the new District Governor of Rotary North East, Barbara has completed a unique “Mr and Mrs” double-act with her husband Mel.

Mel was District Governor in 2002, making them the first husband and wife combination to have held the distinguished post in the history of an organisation that stretches from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north, to Guisborough in the south.

‘Service about self’ is Rotary’s principal motto and it fits Barbara perfectly.

Her passion has been saving lives – first as a trainer of swimming teachers, and then by travelling the world, working for the Royal Lifesaving Society.

And, now, her year as District Governor is destined to be spent striving to save as many lives as possible by encouraging every one of the North-East’s 54 Rotary clubs to fund a defibrillator and prevent people dying from heart attacks.

“Even if we saved one life, it would make the year really special,” says Barbara, who lives in Fishburn with Mel, a member of Sedgefield Rotary.

Born in 1948, and brought up in Billingham, it’s fair to call Barbara a water baby. She was taught to swim by her grandma at Cowpen Lane swimming baths and has loved being in the pool for as long as she can remember.

Her mother, Olive Atkinson, now 94, was the first person to be awarded the MBE for services to lifesaving. Her father, George, played for the ICI water polo team before qualifying as a referee in the sport.

Barbara was brought up as a volunteer for the Royal Lifesaving Society and recalls helping out as a teenager when her mum and dad founded the first beach lifeguard club on Seaton Carew seafront.

After briefly working at ICI, Barbara followed in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a swimming teacher, starting her career back at Cowpen Lane baths, before moving on to Billingham Forum when it opened in 1967. She must have been good at her job because she went on to train swimming teachers for 30 years.

Barbara then received a phone call inviting her to turn her hobby as a volunteer with the Royal Life Saving Society into a paid role.

She became national co-ordinator of a community first responder scheme, and began developing public access to defibrillators, in a role that has taken her all over the world.

Having succeeded Jacqui Molyneux as District Governor of Rotary North East, her aim is to work with the North East Ambulance Service to develop the network of community responders and defibrillators.

“It’s time that’s so important – in 85 per cent of heart attack cases, swift access to a defibrillator can save a life,” says Barbara, a founder member of Durham Elvet Rotary.

“The irony is I never wanted to join Rotary in the first place. In fact, I fought against it, but I somehow got drawn in.”

Now she has her chains of office, Barbara is determined to make a difference. A defibrillator in a lockable box costs around £1,500 and she’s determined that Rotary will buy as many as possible.

In the meantime, instead of settling down to retirement, this remarkable woman plans to continue her work around the world with the Royal Lifesaving Society.

The latest emphasis is on the training of lifeguards on beaches and swimming pools, and she’s as enthusiastic about saving lives now as she was as a teenager, patrolling the seafront at Seaton Carew.

Truly service above self.

IT was nice to catch up with former Northern Echo columnists Mike Amos and Sharon Griffiths over socially distanced drinks, cheese scones, and a natter in my garden last week.

I’m pleased to report that the husband and wife are enjoying retirement in what Mike would call fine fettle, and I am belatedly in proud possession of a signed copy of his autobiography Unconsidered Trifles – Memories of a Jobbing Journalist.

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As any Northern Echo reader knows, Mike was far more than merely a jobbing journalist. Over more than 50 years, he tapped out more words than is good for anyone’s fingertips, conjuring up tales that no one else could have got anywhere near.

Indeed, I’m on record as saying that his longevity, wordsmithery, passion for getting out and about, and quirky news sense, combined to help him make a bigger impact on The Northern Echo than any editor in the paper’s 150-year history.

Without reading a page, I already knew the book was sure to be not just a cracking read, but a social history of North-East life right down at the grass roots.

Call it natural curiosity or unashamed ego, all I’ve have time to do so far is to check the index for references to my own name.

That led to me skimming the bit about how Mike, as news editor at the time, interviewed me in the pub for a reporter’s job in the early 1980s.

I was taken on, despite being described as “a bit of a half-shandyman”, though the reality is that I asked for an orange and lemonade before stumbling back to the office having done my best to finish three pints of beer.

Suffice to say – and at the clear risk of upsetting Sharon – I’ll be taking Mike to bed with me for the next few weeks, and I have no doubt it will be an enjoyable experience.

More extracts and memories will no doubt find their way onto this page in the weeks to come. And when I get to the end, I’ll toast a truly great newspaperman, and North-East character, with an orange and lemonade – or even half a shandy.

FINALLY, the “new normal” has led to The Queen attending a Zoom meeting to see a new portrait of herself being unveiled.

The portrait, by Miriam Escofet, was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a “lasting tribute to Her Majesty’s diplomacy”.

It’s quite a good likeness but I was more interested in the plush carpet in the room where The Queen is seated.

I’m convinced it’s the one I smeared with a dropped beetroot and pureed pea canape during an editors’ gathering at Windsor Castle to mark the new millennium 20 years ago. Sorry Ma’am.

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