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Farewell to Barbara: Veteran journalist has died at 87

The Kentish Express has paid tribute to Barbara Butcher, Kent’s second oldest working journalist, who has died following more than 60 years of serving the community.
Ashford edition chief reporter Mike Bennett remembers the veteran reporter whose final contribution to the paper appears in this week’s village pages.

As news of the sudden death of Barbara Butcher filtered out, tributes started flowing in for 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 Group-owned Kentish Express in Ashford, Kent, although she officially retired almost three decades ago.

  • Barbara receives her MBE last year
    for outstanding services to the community
  • Miss Butcher was a quite remarkable character. Notebook in one hand and cigarette in the other she was always 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. The list is almost endless.

    Before the war as a student a woman reporter who spoke at her at prize day inspired her to become a writer.

    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 and even covered sport where she was something of a hockey expert.

    Perhaps her favourite tales were always 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 keeping the words flowing from her ancient typewriter.

    After 59 years the doyenne of local journalism may have left us but she will long be fondly remembered.

    As a journalist 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 Barbara Olive Butcher of Upper Bridge Street, Wye, was awarded an MBE for her outstanding services to the community.

    In January 2003 The Queen’s official representative Lord Lieutenant Allan Willett dressed in full ceremonial uniform for the impressive investiture at Eastwell Manor watched by 30 of her closest family and friends.

    Former film actress Janine Greaves read the citation outlining her worthy contributions that said simply: “Miss Butcher has played an important role in her community and has become a well liked local personality”.

    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 terrifying 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.

    At the ceremony Countess Mountbatten of Burma reaffirmed her reliability and acknowledged her contributions to Kent newspapers and local charities.

    There were so many tales that before pinning on her medal Mr Willett commented “This is simply a remarkable story.”

    In her acceptance speech modest Miss Butcher said the honour was appreciated as it brought together friends from half a century of work in the area.

    She said: “I am specially glad to welcome the Countess whose wedding I reported in 1946 and who through the years has given me the opportunity to report many of the events in the life of the Brabourne family”.

    Kentish Express editor Brian Lewis paid tribute to Barbara this week.

    He said: “Only recently this extraordinary woman told me on the eve of her 87th birthday: ‘I am going to buy a computer’.

    “Barbara has 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 catch up with the computer age. And all at an age most of us will never see!

    “Her motivation was breathtaking. 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 her 80s and tell anxious onlookers that it doesn’t matter what happens at that age is worthy of respect.

    “Barbara would have been humbled indeed if she had known just how much respect she accumulated over those many, many years.”

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