Lollipop lady Rhona joins Andy Murray in New Year Honours list

Rhona Ritchie is in the New Year's honours list having served as a lollipop lady for 40 years. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
Rhona Ritchie is in the New Year's honours list having served as a lollipop lady for 40 years. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL
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A LOLLIPOP lady of over 40 years and a social enterprise founder are among the Lothian stars set to join tennis ace Andy Murray on the Queen’s New Year Honours list.

As Murray prepares round off his second Wimbledon win and Olympic gold medal with a knighthood, unsung heroes from across the region are also set to be recognised.

Josh Littlejohn, seen here with actor George Clooney, will be awarded an MBE. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Josh Littlejohn, seen here with actor George Clooney, will be awarded an MBE. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Among them is 69-year-old Rhona Ritchie, who is set to receive a BEM (British Empire Medal) for her services to education after a 43-year stint as lollipop lady for pupils at Pumpherston and Uphall Station Primary School.

Mrs Ritchie, who retired in August, received a letter from the Cabinet Office about a month ago with the good news but has had to remain tight-lipped until now.

She told the News: “I was shaking like a leaf – I was pretty stunned. Obviously I’m very honoured, I’m getting quite jittery now.”

A mum-of-three who lives in Uphall Station with her husband James, Mrs Ritchie explained she was only ever meant to be a temporary lollipop lady while her predecessor, Mrs Wardrope, was on sick leave.

However she quickly grew to love the job and after two years standing in took on the role full time in 1975.

She added: “It worked out when I had my own children when they were small as I was getting the same holidays as they were getting from the school.

“I just continued after hey left school and the years just disappeared.

“I really miss it. I obviously had a routine because you had to be out at certain times so it’s all very strange now.

“It was just lovely getting to know the kids, it was a right lovely atmosphere. I had some lovely stories – I could probably write a book! I just loved working with the kids.”

And it’s not the first time Mrs Ritchie has been recognised for her work after a special nominated last year saw her invited to the Queen’s annual garden party.

While she awaits her BEM presentation, Rhona joins a long line of other charity stalwarts, health workers and community activists from across the Capital in this year’s list.

Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn – responsible for Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent visit to the city – will be handed an MBE.

Mr Littlejohn is receiving the award for his services to social enterprise and entrepreneurship in Scotland thanks to his tireless work with Social Bite to help the homeless.

The chain he helped found offers “suspended coffee and food’’, which means customers can pay in advance for a coffee or any item of food from the menu and a local homeless person can go into the shop to claim it.

About a quarter of its staff have experienced homelessness.

Mr Littlejohn said: “I’m honoured to receive this award in recognition for my work with Social Bite.

“I would like to dedicate it to the hundreds of homeless people Social Bite works with in Scotland who are marginalised from society and have no stake in the economic system.

“I’m relatively young but I hope to dedicate the rest of my working life to helping people who have been excluded from the system.

“By working alongside the amazing Social Bite team – and other charities – I hope I can play my part in eradicating homelessness from Scotland and spread the social enterprise business model further afield.”

As reported by the News, Social Bite has launched a £500,000 fundraising bid to build Scotland’s very first homeless village on Granton’s waterfront just off West Shore Road.

The settlement will comprise ten purpose-built homes to provide a safe living environment for up to 20 homeless people each year.

It has earned the backing of Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, who joined around 300 of the most influential people in Scotland to sleep rough in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square to raise funds for the project.

Another MBE will be given to Jacqui Pestell for her services to botanical art education in Scotland.

A talented artist and inspirational teacher, the 54-year-old has travelled all over the world to extend the public outreach of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

Having originally trained at Trent Polytechnic and Goldsmiths in London, majoring in textile and fashion, then education of art and design, Ms Pestell has been director of botanical illustration since 2007.

Commenting on her MBE, she said: “It is such a lovely surprise.

“It’s fantastic to see the botanical illustration work that we do at RBGE being recognised in this way.

“Botanical illustration is as much of a joy to learn as it is to teach so spreading these skills and inspiration has been a great passion for me.”

Since her initial appointment as RGBE artist in residence in 1997, Ms Pestell has continued to develop her skills as a teacher and botanical artist.

International acclaim came in 1999 when she represented RBGE as an artist at the Kunming International Garden Exposition in China in 1999, exhibiting in both Beijing and the UK.

At the same time raising children with her husband Donald, Ms Pestell continued her involvement with botanical painting and teaching at RBGE elsewhere in Edinburgh and also carrying out commissions for private individuals.

Paying tribute to her dedication, RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne said: “Jacqui’s inspiration, leadership and skill make an enormous contribution to maintaining this country’s astonishing standard of botanical art.

“As a practitioner she is exceptional and her remarkable drive to encourage and train the next generation of botanical artists will ensure that this scientifically important and aesthetically valuable art form will thrive.”

Joining Ms Pestell on the list is Edinburgh Macmillan nurse Fiona Haston, who will receive a BEM for services to healthcare and charity.

A clinical nurse specialist based at Western General Hospital, Ms Haston’s focus lies with head and neck cancer.

Her BEM comes just over a year she won the Service Improvement Excellence category at the 2015 Macmillan Excellence Awards.

Ms Haston was presented with her award by athletics legend Roger Black in a special ceremony held at The Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham.

She was congratulated at the time for her “hard work, skill and dedication” and for “going the extra mile to provide high-quality, safe and patient-centred care”.

Olympic rower Katherine Grainger – Britain’s most decorated female athlete – is to become a dame for her services to rowing and charity.

The 41-year-old now has five medals, including gold from London 2012 and silver from each Olympics dating back to Sydney 2000.

Speaking from their home in Edinburgh, her mother Liz Grainger said: “She is very down to earth and modest, so I doubt she will want to be called Dame Katherine or whatever.

“We always said to her that if there was to be anything in the honours list not to tell us in advance, to tell us at Christmas then we wouldn’t be tempted to tell people or anything.

“So, in fact she waited until we had the whole family together and then told us, so we haven’t known for terribly long but it was very exciting.”

She added: “She has battled down barriers for most of her career, which I think is what is being acknowledged now that she was in so many firsts.

“First world champion back to back, first under 25s. I think she is leaving women’s rowing in a very strong position.”

Mrs Grainger said her daughter would “like to give something back to sport”, adding: “I think she feels that she’s been very lucky and she would like to pay back to some extent.”

Her husband, Peter Grainger, added the family was proud of their daughter’s rowing achievements and her “significant contributions” to charity work.

He said: “She has seen women’s rowing hugely develop in her time.”

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk