Margaret Ritchie

An obituary for Margaret was published in the November edition of the Settle-Carlisle Journal.  Unfortunately limited space meant that David Ward's full tribute had to be truncated.  Accordingly we are publishing the full text here:

 

Margaret Ritchie 1945 – 2013

The untimely passing of Margaret Ritchie takes from the Settle & Carlisle scene one of its longest-serving but largely unknown dedicated supporters.

   Margaret joined me at Euston in 1975 as my Personal Assistant when I was Passenger Marketing Manager for the London Midland Region of B.R.  Our geographical responsibility covered Euston to Carlisle and all lines to the West including Birmingham, Cambrian Coast, North Wales, Liverpool Blackpool and the Cumbrian Coast and also lines East to Manchester and as far as Skipton to Carlisle.  We also had passenger marketing responsibility for St. Pancras to Leicester, Nottingham and Derby.  It was therefore a huge area of influence but the Settle & Carlisle soon became a major item in our work.

   Margaret’s first involvement came with the planning of the celebrations for the Centenary of the Settle & Carlisle line in 1976 and she travelled on the special train from Euston.  This was quickly followed in 1978, firstly with the inaugural preserved steam-hauled run on the line pulled by No 4771 Green Arrow which she helped to plan, and then with the memorial service at Appleby for Bishop Eric Treacy attended by no less than 4,000 people, five bishops and four of Eric Treacy’s favourite locomotives which hauled two trains conveying guests to the service.  This was a most ambitious programme and one of the largest ever involving the Settle & Carlisle line.  Margaret’s involvement was to brief and look after Mrs. Treacy and her two sisters and see that they were in the right place at the right time for the various events.  The inaugural run with Green Arrow was dedicated to Bill Harvey who had restored the locomotive at Norwich and Margaret subsequently typed and edited his biography and manual on steam locomotive preservation.

   Margaret’s next involvement was at the naming ceremony at Penrith on 3rd May 1979 of Class 86/2 locomotive No 86240 Bishop Eric Treacy, where she again looked after Mrs. Treacy, who performed the naming, and then Margaret and Mrs. Treacy were given a cab ride to Carlisle on the locomotive; followed by lunch back in Penrith and a dedication of a  memorial seat to Eric Treacy adjacent to his grave in Crosthwaite church yard. Over twenty years later Margaret was at Appleby when the nameplate from 86240 was put on display at the station and rededicated by the Bishop of Carlisle – Graham Dow.

   When preserved steam locomotives started to operate over the Settle-Carlisle in May 1978, Margaret was actively involved not only in helping the planning of the special trains but, despite a busy workload, she was also persuaded to take on the job of Secretary for the Steam Locomotive Operator’s Association for several years.  These trains, which increased up to a maximum of 48 Cumbrian Mountain Express trains in one year, played a significant part in raising the public profile and revenue opportunities for the line, and were a significant influence on the decision to keep the line open.  Margaret travelled on many of these trains and it was not unknown for her to walk through a corridor tender for a short spell on the footplate.  Many years later she was privileged to be given a cab ride   on a Eurostar at a much higher speed.

   When B.R. was reorganized into Business Sectors, Margaret became Customer Service Manager for the Special Train sub-sector of InterCity.  Here she was involved with every special train which operated over the B.R. network.  She quickly proved to be a most reliable Train Manager or Train Hostess.  For these duties she had to be trained and certified as proficient in Personal Track Safety, the stringent fire regulations and complex fire equipment in sleeping cars, the operation of the air brake and buck-eye couplings.  The duties of Train Manager involved long and often unsocial hours and required enormous stamina.  They could involve two or three consecutive nights in a sleeping car and reorganizing itineraries when trains or circumstances became out of course.

   Passengers could also sometimes be unreasonable in their demands or complaints and here Margaret exercised one of her greatest strengths i.e., she had the ability and personality to put a difficult person right without the person concerned realising that they had been put right.  Many of these special trains travelled over the Settle – Carlisle Line including the highly successful Luxury Days Out from Kings Cross to Carlisle which often loaded to 378 full dining passengers with the trains including three kitchen cars and nine first class open saloons – usually Class 90 electrically-hauled to Leeds and Class 47 hauled over the Settle & Carlisle.  For her work on special trains, Margaret was given the rare honour of an InterCity excellence award for customer service and an invitation to the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

   At the privatisation of B.R., Margaret decided to go back to her first love – being a Personal Assistant – and she became successively P.A. to the Franchising Director – John O’Brian, Chief Executive of the Strategic Rail Authority – Mike Grant, Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority Richard Bowker followed by David Quarmby.

   When the Strategic Rail Authority was wound up, David Quarmby organized a unique retirement event on the Bluebell Railway for Margaret to which he invited her six previous bosses.  She thought that none of them would turn up, such was her modesty, but they all did so for the full day which involved a celebration lunch, a footplate ride for Margaret on the SR U Class locomotive 31806 and tea in the former GNR director’s saloon.  It was a superb send-off for Margaret after 46 years railway service.  However, much to Margaret’s surprise, only two days after her retirement celebration, Richard Bowker rang her up and said that he had been appointed Chief Executive to the National Express Group and invited her to come out of retirement as his P.A. which she agreed to do for one year – this eventually stretched to nearly two years.

   When Margaret finally retired she took on the job of Administrative Officer for the Settle & Carlisle Railway Trust and Company Secretary for Settle & Carlisle Properties Ltd for four years until cancer treatment limited her abilities.  In her work for the Trust she was closely involved in putting the Trust on a sounder financial basis  (she found 20p  down the back of a sofa - ed), the changes in the use of Kirkby Stephen station building and the restoration of the Stationmaster’s House – Ribblehead.  During this period she sent over 7,000 emails and received a similar number; claiming no expenses for this work and her travels to and from the line and to meetings.  Her last project was arranging the opening ceremony in April for the refurbished Stationmaster’s House, Ribblehead, in which she had taken a great interest and contributed furnishings.

   Margaret never attained any high educational qualifications but she rose from a copy typist at the age of 15 in the railway offices at Glasgow, where her supervisor said that she would not ‘say boo to a goose’, to the top of her chosen career during which time she was involved with royalty, captains of industry, senior government officials and even a Prime Minister.  She got there because so many people realized her inbuilt ability, reliability, commitment, versatility and personality which enabled her to succeed in any environment and in any company.  She was a perfectionist in everything that she did – always elegant in her personal appearance and kept a welcoming and tidy office.  Above all she was discreet, generous and modest;  shortly before she died, when I was recalling to her some of the highlights of her life, she said to me “I am a nobody”.  Some ‘nobody’! and certainly one who made a real difference to the Settle & Carlisle Line  and to the overall railway scene over a period of nearly 40 years.

   Margaret’s funeral was held at the Linn Crematorium in Glasgow on 8th October.  It was attended by a large number of her former colleagues and friends;  the funeral was conducted by Bishop Graham Dow, former  Bishop of Carlisle, who had become known to Margaret through their work on the Settle & Carlisle Railway Trust.

David Ward

Last updated by Richard Morris on 13/01/2016