IN Combe Martin she is perhaps best known for organising the carnival for many years and work for numerous good causes... In Ilfracombe she is still addressed as Matron after working as a nurse at the Tyrrell Hospital and around the district for 36 year
IN Combe Martin she is perhaps best known for organising the carnival for many years and work for numerous good causes...In Ilfracombe she is still addressed as "Matron" after working as a nurse at the Tyrrell Hospital and around the district for 36 years...But wherever you go in this corner of North Devon, many people will know Jean Rumson-Waltho - in fact, several will have been delivered by her!"My husband Trevor always tells me I should write a book," said Jean, who is now 76, but continues to work hard for charities and causes in Combe Martin and across the region. In almost four decades with the carnival committee she held every post from treasurer to chairman!That is not to mention her present work, fund-raising for the Children's Hospice, on the village hall committee, as chairman of Friends of Combe Martin Health Centre, an annual shoebox appeal for Romanian orphans - the list goes on, although Jean insists she is taking it easier these days.It is almost four months since she had a major operation for bowel cancer and while all seems to have gone well, doctors have insisted she slows down a little."That's why I had to give up so much of it, but I still want to do whatever I can," she said."When you look back on it, I suppose it's already been a life and a half, but life is for living and I am determined to carry on and do as much as I can."It is perhaps this attitude and two terrible disasters which fate entwined with her life which attracted her to the nursing profession and kept her there for almost four decades.As a child Jean was a patient at Sydney House in Torrington, and was there on a terrible night in 1942 when it was destroyed by fire and five young boys perished. Ten years later she was one of the first medical staff on scene at the horrific Harrow rail crash when more than 100 people lost their lives after three trains collided.Jean Waltho was born in Ilfracombe on June 16, 1931, to a busy family of fishermen and spent much of her time living with her aunt, uncle and six cousins.She met Trevor when they were both 14 and after leaving school worked as an usherette at the Scala Cinema which used to stand opposite the garage in Ilfracombe High Street, while waiting to become old enough to begin nursing training.This was in London and she was there in 1952 when an urgent alert went out appealing for doctors and nurses who could get to Harrow and Wealdstone because there had been a train wreck.The memories of the second largest crash in British history, in which 112 died and 340 injured, still live with her, along with inspiring examples of dedication."The US Air Force were stationed nearby and they came out to help," said Jean."And I have never seen people work as hard as that; they were magnificent."Night callsTrevor went on to join the Merchant Navy while Jean became night staff nurse at the Tyrrell in 1953 and also relief midwife, later becoming relief district nurse and the sister at the Tyrrell casualty department."It wasn't unusual for me to get a call in the middle of the night to go out to Bicclescombe Maternity home and deliver a baby, as they were always short of midwives," she said."In fact I had a card a month ago asking me to a 50th party for one of the first babies I delivered!"And between all of this I had three children, too."In 1984 Jean trained as a Macmillan cancer care nurse, staying seconded to the Tyrrell, but was also given charge of the Lynton hospital due to her experience.In 1989 she was invited to Buckingham Palace for her actions during the rail disaster and services to the community, getting the chance of a private chat with Princess Diana and Prince Charles."She was smashing, she asked me about nursing and also chatted about Devon. She said how did we cope with all the visitors we had each year?"Jean's charity work covered many things, from raising money for equipment at the Tyrrell to later - and still - doing the same job as chairman of the Friends of Combe Martin Health Centre.Trevor was a member of the Combe Martin Miners archaeological group and Jean gave her support to them, as well as setting up the village Contact Club for mums and children when there were no such facilities, which ended only last year."I just enjoy the charity work and like doing it," said Jean. "Even as a child I saw where there were needs - I thought things could be better, but you need somebody to stand up to the bureaucrats."When I retired from the health service the managers said they were glad, because it was people like me who always rallied the troops!