Pat Crossley pictured beside a floral arrangement depicting the RNLI colours in Westminister Abbey celebrating 200 years of saving lives at seaPat Crossley pictured beside a floral arrangement depicting the RNLI colours in Westminister Abbey celebrating 200 years of saving lives at sea
Pat Crossley pictured beside a floral arrangement depicting the RNLI colours in Westminister Abbey celebrating 200 years of saving lives at sea

Pat clocks up 145 years of charity work and is still going!

Stranocum lady, Pat Crossley marks a huge milestone having volunteered with the RNLI for 60 years, Alpine Association for 45 years and MS Society for 40

Volunteers are the cornerstone of charitable organisations in Northern Ireland….but for one Stranocum lady helping one worthwhile charity was not enough.

This year Pat Crossley is marking a huge milestone having volunteered with the RNLI for 60 years, Alpine Garden Society for 45 years and MS Society NI for 40 years.

Aged just 21, Pat started helping out at the RNLI in 1964 and last week was a special guest at the organisation’s 200th year celebrations in London.

“This year is a huge milestone for the RNLI, but it also marks my 60th year with this wonderful organisation. I became their Flag Day organiser in 1964 and have been arranging Annual Flag Days every year since,” she explained.

“Among special memories for me was receiving my Gold Lifeboat Badge 10 years ago at a ceremony in the Barbican Centre, London, and just last week being present at the 200th Anniversary Service of Thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey along with over 1,500 lifeboat crew members, lifeguards and fundraisers. It was also in the presence of the Lifeboats Patron for 59 years, the Duke of Kent with an inspirational address by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

However it was the Princess Victoria disaster in 1953, when Pat was only 10-years-old, that lead her ‘to do something to help Lifeboats’: “Little did I think that an illuminated news item on a building in Belfast on 31st January 1953 would be something that would have such an impact on my life.

"We were travelling home having been at the pantomime in Belfast’s Grand Opera House to celebrate my mother’s birthday, when we read the horrific news of the Princess Victoria disaster.

"My dad, a long time supporter of Lifeboats, returned home to listen to the news. Having heard the Donaghadee lifeboat was involved in the rescue mission, Dad decided we should go down to Donaghadee where we spent holidays every year.

"I remember the rough seas and the eeriness as we walked down the pier. We later saw the lifeboat, the Sir Samuel Kelly, returning with some casualties. In those moments as a 10 year old, I said to my Dad I wanted to do something to help Lifeboats when I was older.

"We knew all the crew at that time and the Cox Hugh Nelson had always been a hero of mine. The death toll of 133 included the Deputy Prime Minister of N.I Maynard Sinclair and MP for North Down Sir Walter Smiles, the great grandfather of Bear Grylls."

But this was only the start of Pat’s passion for charitable work thanks to encouragement from her parents, Church Minister, school...and Princess Anne.

She continued: “I just felt this was something I wanted to do, and listening to a Sermon in our church, the Minister quoted the City of Belfast Motto, Pro Tanto Quid Retribamus - “what shall we give in return for so much?” taken from Psalm 116, further endorsed that I should volunteer in some way as my parents had done.

"Also at my school, Belfast Royal Academy, we were told the importance of volunteering. I also remember in the school’s 200th anniversary year, when I had completed 25 years as Hon Secretary of the Old Girl’s Association and became their president, Princess Anne said to me about the importance of volunteering, she was visiting the school in her role as President of the Save The Children Fund.”

However Pat’s love for helping others and her strong community spirit didn’t end there and she soon became involved in other organisations. While working in a Belfast Hospital she was invited to become the show secretary of the Alpine Garden Society following her love for gardening. And 45 years later she’s still there.

"Collecting for RNLI started it all, and continued during my early married life in Lisburn and Hillsborough. Along with Norman, my husband we were both involved in the Northern Ireland Council for Orthopaedic Development, now the Cedar Foundation. Norman became chairman of the Northern Ireland Appeals committee of NICOD as it was known, whilst I was a committee member and later president of the Lisburn/Hillsborough branch.

“Locally we ran coffee mornings, did catering at events and ran a Ball in the City Hall Belfast. Much money was raised during those busy years.

"I was working as medical records officer in a Belfast Hospital, as well as my voluntary commitment with NICOD, Hon Secretary of the Lisburn Branch of N.I Association of Mental Health, and was invited in 1979 to become the show secretary of the Alpine Garden Society. It is a position I still hold to this day, 45 years later.”

1974 was a significant year for Pat, not only becoming a mother but she was also ordained as an Elder in First Lisburn Presbyterian Church: “Fifty years ago we were blessed with the arrival of our only daughter Adrienne, and a year after her birth I was ordained as an Elder in First Lisburn Presbyterian Church. Next year I will celebrate my 50th anniversary of that significant occasion, both because I was a woman and only 33!

"Life was good. As well as working full time, a wife and mum, I was deeply involved in church and my voluntary commitments. I eventually gave up work and subsequently trained for three years to become a Marriage Guidance Counsellor, now Relate."

However it was travel and her ‘green fingers’ that led Pat further into the world of flowers and all things horticultural.

“During my time in Lisburn I attended flower arranging classes led by a talented lady, Mrs Betty McCrory, who shared her gifts freely, but was a hard task master, but I adored her and learnt much from her. She was a member of First Lisburn Church, and arranged the flowers there week by week, and when she had done this task for 25 years I was invited to organise a Flower Festival in her honour.

"As plans developed for this daunting task our Church was bombed and 17 of the stained glass windows were blown out. However with determination we went ahead with the Festival and the community supported it tremendously.

"We were also able to give substantial funds to two charities, the Share Centre and the St John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem. During this time I started giving Flower talks to organisations all round Northern Ireland, and got much pleasure from travelling, especially in the months preceding the Annual Alpine Flower Show.”

Unfortunately, life doesn’t stand still and as family commitment changed, Pat found herself relocating to Ballymoney where she became a valuable member of another worthwhile charity, the MS Society.

"At the time Adrienne was about to commence grammar school, Norman had taken up a new job opportunity in Ballymoney as an accountant for the first Japanese Corporation to come to Northern Ireland. So sadly we had to leave our much loved home and garden, Church, voluntary commitments and friends, and moved to Stranocum.

"Norman and I were welcomed into a new church family and were both co-opted as Elders. It was here I was asked to join the Ballymoney branch of the MS Society - there was not a branch of NICOD in the area - and I was keen to pursue my voluntary work with the disabled community.

"Subsequently I became their Hon Secretary, a post I still hold today after 40 years, along with being the branch support officer. This has involved practical involvement with MS members as well as fundraising.

"I have been on the Northern Ireland Council of MS twice, been their vice chairman and also a trustee of the National MS Society. Over the past four decades the MS Society has become a way of life with members like a family.

"As a branch we have run fundraising events, including a floral demonstration by the world renowned flower arranger the late Rev McMillan, and a unique Fashion Show, which was preceded by a magnificent fork supper. These and other events including an Annual Service of Thanksgiving and street collections enabled us to send £10,000 annually for MS Research.”

However, in 2004 life took a sad turn after Pat’s husband was diagnosed with cancer: “During my time with the Society my husband Norman was diagnosed with lung cancer, a disease he bore with fortitude and great strength of character over a five year period, working almost to the end of his life.

"He encouraged me to continue with all my involvements, and I was helped by friends and Adrienne. Norman had asked that donations in lieu of flowers should be given to MS, and £2,000 was donated, a substantial amount 20 years ago.

"I was totally overwhelmed when just a few months after Norman’s death the Rotary Club of Ballymoney awarded me the Jack Pinkerton Endeavour Award in recognition of committed service to the community.”

But, in true Pat-style life going on and, to mark her 70th birthday, she decided to reach for even higher goals including taking part in a fundraising skydive and abseil.“I decided as I was nearing my 70th birthday, I would fulfil a long held dream to walk part of the Camino de Santiago, and so I completed the last 100 kilometres through the most wonderful but at times difficult countryside. As I stood outside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela along with hundreds of other pilgrims I felt a great sense of personal fulfilment and enrichment which has remained with me to this day.

"I also decided to do some personal fundraising for MS, and did a 13,000ft skydive. Whilst it was scary, the biggest thrill was seeing Adrienne and my friends all standing waiting for me, it was the experience of a lifetime! The final total raised for MS was £9,500.

"A further fundraising effort for MS, which was not quite so enjoyable, was abseiling down Belfast Castle, but again a large amount was raised.

“And shortly after this my daughter and I decided to take part in the Cancer Research 1/2 Marathon Night Shine Walk in Central London. We raised over £4,500 in memory of Norman."

Over ‘a lifetime of volunteering', Pat has witnessed many highlights including visiting No 10 Downing Street twice and having lunch with the late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. However despite 60 years of commitment and loyal service to the RNLI, Alpine and MS, Pat, now 81, believes her biggest achievement is being a mum and granny!

“My No 10 visits were a memory I will never forget. Another wonderful occasion was to be invited to a lunch in Portrush Golf Club in honour of what turned out to be her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip‘s last visit to Northern Ireland. I had the honour of being seated beside Prince Philip and enjoyed a scintillating lunch time conversation!"I have so many memories over a lifetime of volunteering. I am so grateful to my parents for starting me on this path, for the encouragement and support from Norman over our 38 years and the support in my sunset years when I married Gordon.

"Today I continue to be encouraged by my fantastic daughter Adrienne - when I mention an idea to her, she always says -“go for it mum!”

"Yes, I still have a busy life, and am grateful for the gift of each new day, and to use it as best as I can for as many as I can. These words of Martin Luther King mean much to me - “what are you doing for others?” and this should be a constant reminder that a spirit of volunteerism is necessary for a successful life and society. Luther King communicated this message not to deride people for failing to serve, but to be a gentle reminder of its importance.

"I am grateful to have so much energy, and a strong faith. For me it is trying to make a difference to people’s lives - no matter how small - that matters most.“However in all my titles and roles in life the most important is being a mum and granny – now that really is a privilege!”

Praising Pat, Kirstin Bews, RNLI community manager, said: “For a volunteer to selflessly dedicate their time for over 50 years is just incredible and we want to thank Pat sincerely for the huge contribution she has made and continues to make to saving lives at sea. Lifeboat crews and lifeguards are known for their courage. But none of their incredible rescues would be possible without the commitment of fundraising volunteers like Pat and the kindness of the public. Since 1824, the kit, training, lifeboats and fuel they’ve needed to save lives has been funded by generosity.”

Stewart Finn, the NI Director of the MS Society agreed: "Pat Crossley is brilliant, a real force for good, always focussed on the community and pushing us in the right direction. Her dedication is impressive, infectious and inspiring.

“Pat doesn't just stop at lending a helping hand – she's taken fundraising to new heights, literally! Abseiling and skydiving, she's fearlessly soared through the skies to bring in loads of cash for vital MS services, support and research.

“From being a member of the Northern Ireland Council to her role as a Support Volunteer and everything in between, Pat has been a steady hand guiding the MS Society through the decades. Stewart Finn sums it up, saying, "Our volunteers but especially Pat are the anchors we need, ensuring we keep pushing forward and making a real impact for people affected by MS." With Pat in the mix, the MS Society in Northern Ireland is in good hands – 40 years and counting.”

Martin Rogerson, director of Shows at the Alpine Garden Society, added: “Pat does a marvellous job organising our annual Ulster Show and has done so for more years than I suspect either of us would like to admit and I know the same applies to her activities in the local society group. Nothing seems to dent her spirit which makes my job of organising all our national shows so much easier. I know it’s an overused phrase these days but she is a national treasure.”

Aged just 21, Pat started helping out at the RNLI in 1964 and last week was a special guest at the organisation’s 200th year celebrations in London.

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