Seaside town's 'unofficial first lady' who gave a lifetime of service
Tributes are being paid to a stalwart community champion and former mayor who has died, aged 80.
Family, friends and colleagues are due to attend a funeral for former Lyme Regis mayor Barbara Austin at a service tomorrow.
Mrs Austin leaves five children, the eldest of whom is well-known Westcountry photographer Richard Austin.
After being voted mayor of the seaside town six times and deputy mayor three times, she became known as "the unofficial First Lady of Lyme Regis".
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Mrs Austin gave a lifetime of service to the West Dorset town, volunteering for dozens of community groups – and she was eventually honoured for her tireless work with an MBE in the Queen's 2010 New Year's Honours List.
Her son Richard recalls: "I took my mother to Buckingham Palace for the occasion in a black Land Rover Discovery, which I cleaned up to look like a new pin – and we were allowed in through the gates because of her poor health.
"The amusing story was that when we left – perhaps because my mother looked a bit like the Queen sitting in the back of the official looking vehicle with her white hair – we were mobbed by Japanese tourists taking photos. I am sure that to this day there are proud people in Japan showing their friends pictures of my mum coming out of the Palace and saying they'd seen the Queen.
"She certainly deserved the MBE for all the community service she did over the years. My mother was born in Lyme Regis, christened here, married here, and she will be buried here – and there probably aren't many people today who can say that.
"She loved Lyme Regis – and everyone liked her – she usually came top in the voting poll. Probably because she was a person who would just roll up her sleeves and get on with things.
"She was so well-known and loved in the community – but also she was a great family person.
"There wasn't much money around when we were growing up – and yet we never wanted for anything," said Richard. "She even converted a bedroom of our little council house to use as a bed-and-breakfast place in summer – even though there were seven of us living there. And it says something that all the people who stayed with her became friends for life.
"My father Norman was a postman in town for 45 years and was also very well known. But he died in 1994 when she had just become mayor-elect for the first time. His death shook my mother and we thought she wouldn't take up the post. Both the family – and the community – were glad that she did."
Current mayor Sally Holman said: "The loss to the council of Barbara's long experience and wise counsel will be keenly felt.
"She will be missed and fondly remembered by many people for her work in the community and always putting the interests of Lyme Regis first."
Speaking on behalf of Lyme Regis council, town clerk Mike Lewis said staff and councillors were saddened to hear of her death: "Although her health had been a concern for some time, Barbara's characteristic selfless determination to continue her long-standing involvement with many good works locally, whilst also keeping abreast of council business, was an example to all."
Barbara Austin leaves five children, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Her funeral will be at 11am in St Michael's Parish Church, Lyme Regis, tomorrow.