Andrea Davies, Trustee of Suffolk East Federation of WIs, meets an inspirational WI member, Margaret Baxter.
Top honour for WI’s Maggie
November 1, 2018, will be an important date for long-time WI member Maggie Baxter. That day she will receive the British Empire Medal for her service to communities in both Africa and the UK, and in particular Stowmarket Newstalk for the Blind.
Maggie’s name was put forward to the Cabinet Office by a group of people who have known her for many years in a wide range of community projects in England and Zimbabwe. The medal will be presented at Euston Hall by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Lady Euston, Her Majesty’s representative in the county.
Maggie was born in Cheshire of Scottish parents and educated in Worthing in Sussex. She had her first taste of Suffolk on manoeuvres with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during the war.
Her husband had served in Bomber Command but after they married in 1950 they moved to Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, where he took up a civil engineer’s job. They went on a three-year contract, fell in love with Africa and stayed for 33 years. Some of the engineering skills must have rubbed off because not only did he qualify as a narrow gauge steam railway engine driver but so did Maggie, and their certificates are proudly displayed at her home.
She was a member of the Rhodesia WI and when she returned to the UK she enjoyed time on the speaker circuits for Norfolk and Suffolk, giving talks about her life in Africa and on Joyce Grenfell whom she much admires.
Having always enjoyed amateur dramatics, Maggie has used her warm, clear voice in her work with Newstalk for the Blind, bringing news to visually impaired people in the Stowmarket area. A fortnightly edition is committed to a memory stick and sent to subscribers. Royal Mail make no charge for the postage.
Margaret also ran the Holy Fools Troop for 15 years here in Suffolk. This was one of the leading Christian clowning groups in the country and the members performed in prisons such as Highpoint and Hollesley as well as churches in Suffolk, taking the sermon slot.
Still performing in local productions her tributes to Joyce Grenfell, “George, don’t do that dear”, and Margaret Rutherford “The Owl and the Pussycat” are legendary.
She didn’t shy away from more serious roles though and was a governor of Bosmere Primary School in Needham Market for almost 20 years, as well as writing plays for youngsters with learning disabilities. She also wrote for the Needham Market Newsletter with news from the school under the guise of Bosmere Bear.
Her family is thrilled about her medal. As her daughter Jane says: “We are extremely proud of all the work she has done for every community in which she has lived, both in the UK and in Zimbabwe.”
What a joy Maggie is to talk to! In spite of sight and mobility problems, her ready smile, twinkling eyes and a warm sense of humour make her a true example of inspiration from our WI membership.
For more information about the WI, visit www.sefwi.org.uk
Margaret Baxter has led an extraordinary life of service to the community.