Obituary: Community stalwart Betty Emmerson MBE, dies aged 92
- Credit: Matthew Usher
A great-grandmother who was made an MBE after working tirelessly for the Royal British Legion for more than 60 years has died at the age of 92.
Betty Emmerson first hit headlines back in 2011 when she became a recipient of the honour as part of the Queen’s New Year honours list.
Speaking at the time, Mrs Emmerson, then aged 80, said she was "astounded" by the honour and kept the news from everyone, including her family, until it was announced.
She added: “It was such a shock. I was astounded. I've kept the letter hidden in case anyone saw it. I'm quite embarrassed really.”
During her six decades of service, she held virtually every role in the Royal British Legion (RBL), including secretary and treasurer of the Wells branch, chairman of the women's section, and from the 1960s was a dedicated Poppy Appeal collector.
A lifelong resident of Wells, on the north Norfolk coast, Mrs Emmerson was the fifth child of six born to Georgina Arnold in the seaside town on March 10, 1930.
As a teenager, she joined the Women's Royal Army Corps but her time in service was cut short when she was medically discharged with tuberculosis in 1950.
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This was a time that would influence the rest of her life.
While recuperating at home after being invalided out of the Army, Mrs Emmerson's first visitor - bearing fruit and flowers - was a welfare officer from the then British Legion.
Touched by their kindness, she decided in that moment that she wanted to be part of the Legion and did not hesitate when she was asked to join at the age of 19.
Over the next 60 years, she held roles as standard bearer, branch secretary, branch treasurer, branch chairperson, No 3 Group secretary, No 3 Group chair, Norfolk County secretary, Poppy Appeal collector, Poppy Appeal coordinator and fundraiser.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Mrs Emmerson worked for British Road Services, Howells Butchers, and Grays of Wells.
Soon after, in the 1960s, she began to organise many jumble sales. These continued well into the 1970s and the cakes she baked to sell at the sales are said to have “sold out in minutes”.
Her family said: “Betty will be remembered for her legendary cake decorating skills and it is estimated that she made and decorated over 2,000 celebration cakes for friends, family and members of the community.
“Many will remember the basket of cakes that Betty made for numerous raffles raising thousands of pounds for various charities.”
In 1971, she began working at Wells Cottage Hospital where she was the secretary until her retirement in 1995. When the future of the hospital came under threat during the eighties, she campaigned repeatedly for the hospital to stay open.
The seventies was also the time that she began organising larger craft fayres on the town’s Buttlands and in the Maltings – among the first of this type of event in Norfolk.
And in 1978, along with her late husband John Emmerson and 10 others, she formed the Wells Community Association committee. Through endless tombolas, dances, and other fundraising events they raised £25,000 to transform the disused Maltings building into a community amenity.
Once the funds were raised and the building was handed over, the voluntary work continued.
The founder trustees gave up their free time to clear the building of rubble and bird mess. Following its transformation, Mrs Emmerson became the booking secretary as well as managing the bar.
Among other organisations to benefit from her support were The Friends of Wells Cottage Hospital, Heritage House, Wells Carpet Bowls Club, Wells town council, Parish Church Council, and the Wells and District Lions.
Her family added: “Betty’s love for her home town of Wells-next-the-Sea was embodied by her charity and volunteer work in the community.
“It was not all work though as there were many fun events too, including numerous carnival floats, talent shows and even a charity football match.
“Soon after being made an MBE, Betty was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Even as her condition progressed, Betty's zest for life and love for her family, her friends, and Norwich City Football Club were ever present. She also enjoyed a trip to Carrow Road in 2019.
“Her last days were spent recalling happy family events and singing old favourites such as We’ll Meet Again and, of course, On the Ball City.”
Mrs Emmerson made the papers again for a final time earlier this year when she celebrated her 92nd birthday at her favourite chippy.
Her family promised her they would fulfil her wish of having a fish and chip restaurant close its doors and serve just her, with loved ones by her side.
Families from Cambridge, Leeds and Norwich gathered inside French’s in Wells where they tucked in to make her bucket list dream come true.
Betty Cynthia Emmerson married John Emmerson in 1951 and had four children, nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
She died on May 4 at Bilney Hall Care Home, in Dereham. Her funeral took place at St Nicholas Church, in Wells on May 26. Donations in her memory to The Royal British Legion and Dementia UK via www.northnorfolkfuneralservices.co.uk