RNLI volunteers and staff recognised in King’s New Year Honours

Six RNLI volunteers with 189 years of service between them – including the current longest-serving lifeboat crew member, and a shop volunteer of 26 years who has helped generate more than £1M – and an RNLI staff member and former volunteer who has dedicated 50 years of his life to saving lives at sea, are among those who have been recognised by His Majesty The King for their incredible contribution to the charity as it approaches its 200th anniversary on 4 March.

During 50 years of unbroken service, James Michael ‘Mike’ Keggen, 69, has undertaken a wide range of roles at Port St Mary Lifeboat Station in the Isle of Man – the birthplace of the RNLI – including crew, mechanic, helm and coxswain, a position he has held since 2001.

In this time, he has been called out on more than 300 shouts on three generations of all-weather lifeboat. From 1994 to today – the time covered by the RNLI’s digital statistics, Mike has crewed 140 rescues, come to the aid of 124 people and saved 13 lives. For his dedication to saving lives at sea over half a century, Mike will be made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Mike said: ‘I was shocked and very proud to find out that I was going to receive this great honour. It makes me look back on my time at the RNLI with pride, the lives saved and the families kept together.

‘You don’t think of it like that when you’re doing this work, it’s just something you do, but I’m very honoured and made up to be thought of for the award.’

Mike Keggan Port St Mary RNLI volunteer. Image: RNLI/Port St Mary

Also in receipt of an MBE is volunteer shop manager at Tenby, Doreen Mortimer, who has generated more than £1 million in the last 11 years alone and whose dedication has made her shop consistently the second busiest in the UK and Ireland.

During 26 years with her local fundraising branch, Doreen’s tireless devotion to the RNLI’s cause has seen her volunteering for up to 50 hours a week during peak periods despite being 89 years old.

Doreen said: ‘I was absolutely gobsmacked when I found out, and very honoured of course – not in a million years did I expect anything like this.

‘Really, it’s all thanks to everybody I’ve worked with. I’ve led a team here for 15 years but without the volunteers, I’d be nothing. This award is a thank you to everyone who’s helped at the shop.’

Determined to continue giving her time to the organisation she calls her family for years to come, Doreen doesn’t plan to step down any time soon.

She said: ‘The RNLI has kept my grey cells going and hopefully it will continue. To me it’s always been my family and an important part of my life, one I may have to give up eventually, but not for now while I’m still able.’

Tenby volunteer Shop Manager Doreen Mortimer. Image: RNLI/Nigel Millard

While on leave from the Merchant Navy in 1975, David Hastings helped his aunt at a lifeboat day and 48 years later, he is still volunteering his time to help the RNLI raise money to save lives at sea in the North East.

Branch secretary of Durham RNLI fundraising branch, David has helped the branch raise nearly £500,000 since 2000 and was a pioneer of the fundraising innovation ‘Betty’s 5p pots’, through which he has raised £220,000 in 5ps alone.

Thanks to his dedication, the scheme has become a nationwide success, and now he is set to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his efforts.

David said: ‘I don’t fundraise to be recognised, but it is nice to be. It makes me proud to look back on what I’ve achieved in my time with the charity, and this award is recognition for everyone who has helped in those achievements.

‘There’s so much we volunteers can give to the RNLI and there’s so much giving time to the RNLI has given to us as volunteers. I’ve put the effort in, but I’ve also got a huge amount out of being part of the RNLI family.

‘When you have a passion and enthusiasm for something it doesn’t feel like hard work.’

Starting as one of the first helms when the RNLI established a lifeboat service on the River Thames in 2002, Ian ‘Barney’ Barnaby went on to join the volunteer crew at Torbay RNLI in 2014 after moving to Devon.

To date, he has attended 471 shouts, aiding 234 people and saving 14 lives, but it is his contribution to the wider RNLI and Brixham community where he has left the greatest mark.

His energy and input have enhanced welfare and social engagement at Torbay RNLI and helped generate more than £105,000 in donations through Barney’s Kilimanjaro Challenge, which will help fund and equip a new D class lifeboat for Torbay RNLI.

Comprising six challenges between May 2022 and February 2023, the fundraiser was a last hurrah before the oldest crew members retire over the next few years and included skydiving, endurance swimming, cycling, rowing, driving, and climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Barney, in receipt of a BEM said: ‘It was a complete shock to receive the letter saying that I was going to receive an honour.

‘None of us do what we do to receive recognition, however, I obviously feel very proud for myself and my family, but also for everyone at RNLI Torbay, we are incredibly close-knit and have achieved great things as a team. 

‘My 21 years as crew, both at Tower and Torbay, has been immensely rewarding and I feel privileged to be part of such a fabulous organisation.’

Also set to receive a BEM is volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) at Porthdinllaen RNLI, Ken Fitzpatrick.

First joining the RNLI at 17 years old in 1967, Ken has since given 44 years of his time as both a volunteer and staff member in various roles at the station: crew, mechanic, coxswain and now LOM.

During this time, the crew has launched 942 times, aided 910 people and saved 120 lives.

Ken said: ‘I’m hugely proud of the work I have done with the RNLI, the institution has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. The RNLI has always been part of me, it’s a big family and this award is for everyone involved in that family here in North Wales.

‘It came as a huge surprise to find out I was being honoured in this way I never expected it. You don’t do this work for reward.’

2023 has been a big year for the 75-year-old. As well as receiving a BEM, he was also Bard of the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Senior Staff Fleet Engineer David ‘Davey’ Wallace will receive an MBE 50 years after joining the RNLI in the now-closed Seaham Lifeboat Station in 1973, 11 years after the Seaham lifeboat RNLB George Elmy capsized with the loss of five of its crew and four fishermen onboard in 1962.

As his ‘earliest memory’, the disaster had a profound impact on Davey, who was seven years old at the time, and has led to his 50-year career with the RNLI.

The engineer is described as an ‘unsung hero’ of the RNLI who always puts volunteers first, travelling at short notice across the UK and Ireland to share his practical expertise and vast knowledge.

One of his proudest moments, said Davey, was to get shore-based crew recognised as such. He said: ‘They used to be called shore helpers and I worked hard to get them recognised as crew.’

Davey said: ‘It’s a great honour – it’s an honour for my family and all the time and effort and missed birthdays and events they’ve put up with – and all the people who I’ve worked with and who’ve helped.

‘It felt like yesterday I started and I’ve loved doing the job – it’s never felt like work. I’ve been blessed that all the time I’ve been here I’ve been out on the coast dealing with volunteers. That’s what makes the job so enjoyable and the RNLI what it is.’

RNLI Chief Executive, Mark Dowie said: ‘It is wonderful to see these six individuals recognised as we commence the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, each representing different roles across the charity which all make a significant contribution to saving lives at sea.

‘It is particularly poignant to see recognition for our longest standing seagoing crewmember in the Isle of Man, which is where our founder Sir William Hillary came from.

‘It is our people who make the RNLI one of the UK and Ireland’s most treasured institutions. All six recipients will be too humble to claim this recognition in their own right. For them it is all about the teams they volunteer and work with and the wider RNLI family which I am honoured to be part of. My congratulations to them all in this extra special year in the RNLI’s lifesaving history.’

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