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Tributes paid after death of blind journalist and NUJ activist

Tributes have been paid to a journalist who was made a member of honour of the National Union of Journalists and refused to let blindness hold her back.

Mary Beilby, pictured left with guide dog Arro, was a former regional press journalist who worked at papers in Derbyshire including the Derby Telegraph, before becoming a freelance.

She held positions in the the Derby and Burton branch of the National Union of Journalists since 1986, as secretary then later treasurer and was made a member of honour by the union last year.

Mary, a mother of seven, died in hospital last week at the age of 76 after suffering from kidney and bowel problems, as well as heart trouble.

Steve Hall, managing director and former editor of the Derby Telegraph, said: “I first met Mary about 30 years ago when I was a trainee reporter on the Ilkeston Advertiser.

“We’d often share a press bench covering meetings of Erewash Borough Council. As I struggled with my shorthand, she’d be tapping away with her Braille machine. I’m sure her notes were more comprehensive and more accurate than mine. Her guide dog would nestle under the desk.

“She was an inspiring individual who made light of her disability but, most of all, she was a first-class journalist and a very active member of her community.”

Mary lost her sight in her 40s but had a computer which was able to speak and she trained her family pet Jessie to be a guide dog.

She also wrote a book about a later guide dog, Arro, called That’s Not A Dog.

Mary was secretary of Erewash District Trades Union Council for 13 years and was a member of the Labour Party.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: “For years Mary, was a familiar and much respected figure at our conferences.

“She was thrilled when she rightly received a standing ovation from delegates at Southport last year as she was presented with Membership of Honour, our highest accolade, to mark her unwavering commitment and sterling service to the NUJ and the wider trade union movement.”

She leaves daughters Susanna and Alice, and sons Peter, John, Tim, Patrick and George.

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  • August 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I too remember Mary Beilby from my newspaper days in the Erewash Valley.

    It is quite a coincidence that the locality in the 1960s/1970s had two distinguished blind journalists (and both were active NUJ members).

    Stapleford-based George Miller, who sadly died some years ago, was the other person to overcome such a difficult handicap. I remember that the tapes from George’s braille machine used to virtually cover the press bench and the surrounding area, particularly at parish council meetings in cramped surroundings.

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