TRIBUTES have poured in for former Lyme Regis Mayor and community champion Barbara Austin after her sudden death.
The six-times mayor and mother-of-five passed away in hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning, aged 80.
Mrs Austin, the unofficial First Lady of Lyme Regis, was also deputy mayor three times and remained a town councillor, while also volunteering for dozens of community groups.
Mrs Austin gave a lifetime of service to the community and was honoured for her tireless work with an MBE.
She was born, married, lived and worked in Lyme Regis all her life.
Mrs Austin battled ill-health for several years and died at Dorset County Hospital following a lung infection.
She was dedicated to the community until the end, most recently as secretary and treasurer of the Over 70s Christmas Lunch and chairman and secretary of the Christmas Lights Committee.
Son Richard said: “People know how much effort and endeavour she put into the community, but maybe some don’t know how much she put into her family.
“She really was the centre of the family.”
Mrs Austin was born one of four children on March 5, 1932 in Colway Mead and grew up in Anning Road.
She got to know future husband Norman, a postman, while he was doing his rounds and they married in 1952 at St Michael’s Parish Church.
They brought up their family, Jane, Richard, David, Kerry and Adam, in a three-bedroom house in King’s Way, which Mrs Austin ran as a bed and breakfast in the 1950s and 60s.
She worked in Woolworths in Broad Street, Boots the chemist, and held down other part-time jobs.
Norman died in 1994, just as she was about to become Mayor of Lyme Regis.
“We thought for a moment she might turn down mayor but I’m glad she didn’t,” said Richard.
Mrs Austin was the first Lyme-born woman mayor and served from 1994 to 1997 and again from 2003 to 2006, with Sheila Applebee as her mayoress.
Current Mayor Sally Holman said: “The loss to the council of Barbara’s long experience and wise counsel will be keenly felt.
“She will be missed and fondly remembered by many people for her work in the community and always putting the interests of Lyme Regis first.”
While Mayor, Mrs Austin applied for a royal visit and met Princess Anne when she opened the coast works in 2007.
She was a member of the Lyme Regis/ St George’s Twinning Association and made several visits to Bermuda.
She was honoured with the Freedom of the City of London when the towns were twinned and attended one of the Queen’s garden parties as Mayor.
She was sponsor governor of St Michael’s Primary School and a room at the King’s Way Children’s Centre was named after her in 2009.
She was a Club for Young People trustee, chairman of senior citizens group Action Forum for Lyme Regis and Uplyme, and president of Lyme Regis Football Club, Save the Children and the Junior Band.
As well as organising many one-off fundraisers for local causes, she organised the Easter Bonnet Parade, ran the Christmas Thrift Club at the Ship Inn, sat on the Joseph Weld committee, was a trustee of Marder Bequest Houses in Coombe Street, and a volunteer at the Town Mill and RNLI shops.
She was made MBE in the Queen’s 2010 New Year’s Honours List.
Owen Lovell worked with her on the twinning association, Over 70s Lunch, Marder Bequest and the town council.
He said: “Barbara was a lady of the town and highly respected.
“She rolled her sleeves up and raised money for all sorts of good causes.”
She leaves five children, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Her funeral will be on January 10 at 11am in St Michael’s Parish Church.
SENSE OF DUTY
LYME Regis Town Council has paid tribute to the former mayor’s sense of duty and pride.
Speaking on behalf of the council, town clerk Mike Lewis said staff and councillors were saddened to hear of her death.
He said: “Although her health had been a concern for some times, Barbara’s characteristic selfless determination to continue her long-standing involvement with many good works locally, whilst also keeping abreast of council business, was an example to all.
“Her sense of duty and pride in the civic traditions of Lyme Regis set a high standard for others to follow.
“She is on record recently as stating that her six years as mayor were some of the most memorable years of her life and her popularity in the role of Lyme’s First Citizen is a testament to the high regard in which she was held in the town.”