Barbara Butcher: still working at 87
Barbara Butcher was a remarkable woman, whose service to the local community would be difficult to equal. Incredibly, at 87 she was still working almost full time, reporting and filing stories for the Kent Messenger Groupowned Kentish Express in Ashford until her death-although she officially retired almost three decades ago.
Notebook in one hand and cigarette in the other, she was a formidable sight when chasing hard news stories. But she was also a reporter of great sensitivity when dealing with complex reports on her newsbeat of Wye and Kennington where she was known, trusted and respected by literally hundreds of contacts.
Over the decades she was involved in numerous volunteer roles, including the League of Friends of William Harvey Hospital, the Dog Training Club, Kent Men of the Trees, Neighbourhood Watch, The Bedlington Terrier rescue and re-homing service and the diabetes charity, the Paula Carr Trust.
As a student at Kent College, Folkestone, before the war, a woman reporter who spoke at her prize day inspired her.
Throughout the war she worked as an ambulance driver in Folkestone, Wales and finally with the 1st Battalion Home Guard. During those times she met a foreign news journalist at Broadcasting House in London and that decided her ambition to write.
In 1945 she was accepted by Kentish Express editor Sir Charles Igglesden and was sent on her first story – the fire at the now long-forgotten Folkestone pier.
She quickly rose through the ranks to become chief reporter and then editor of the Tuesday Express. There were few subjects she did not report on, including sport where she was a hockey expert. Perhaps her favourite tales were about dogs. It was a passion for which she had national recognition as a show judge at Cruft’s.
She may have officially retired at 60 but continued part-time ever since, finding her own stories from a wide circle of contacts and keeping the words flowing from her ancient typewriter.
Miss Butcher was a legend in her own lifetime having earned the respect and affection of the community during six decades of reporting Ashford and district news. That remarkable service was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours when she was awarded an MBE for her outstanding services to the community.
It was reported that her charity efforts over the years had been outstanding but none gained her more respect than when – at the age of 83 -she signed up for a sponsored bungee jump. She was first in the queue to volunteer for the 200 feet drop in the Wye Charity Challenge to raise money for the Demelza House Children’s Hospice.
She was the oldest working journalist in Kent, apart from Lord Deedes of Aldington, who supported the application for her to receive an honour.
After 59 years, the doyen of local journalism may have left us but she will long be fondly remembered.
Kentish Express editor Brian Lewis paid tribute to Barbara: “Only recently this extraordinary woman told me on the eve of her 87 birthday: ‘I am going to buy a computer’.
“Barbara had hammered out thousands of stories on an ancient typewriter all her working life. Yet here she was still working, still thinking ahead and deciding it was time to catch up with the computer age- all at an age most of us will never see! “Her motivation was breath-taking. She took her own pictures – and woe betide any new Kentish Express reporter who strayed into her territory.
“She was an inspiration and an institution.
Anyone who can bungee jump in their 80s and tell anxious onlookers that it doesn’t matter what happens at that age is worthy of respect”