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Town mourns death of RNLI and museum stalwart honoured by the Queen

PUBLISHED: 08:43 06 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:58 06 March 2019

Sheringham lifeboat and museum stalwart Mary Blyth.
Photo: Cowper Johnson family

Sheringham lifeboat and museum stalwart Mary Blyth. Photo: Cowper Johnson family

Archant

A Sheringham woman who was made an MBE for her unstinting work for the town’s lifeboat and museum has died aged 93.

Mary Blyth meeting the Duke of Kent when he officially opened Sheringham Museum in 2010. Photo: ARCHANTMary Blyth meeting the Duke of Kent when he officially opened Sheringham Museum in 2010. Photo: ARCHANT

Born in Harrow on the Hill, London, Mary Blyth grew up in Kensington and, with her two brothers, was taught to box and shoot by her ophthalmologist father, who also tutored his daughter in knife-throwing and archery.

After war broke out in 1939, the young Mary – who didn’t attend school until the age of 10 - was educated at home by a governess and, in her teens, she helped out at a local kindergarten.

While studying history at Newnham College, Cambridge, she met her future husband Harry Cowper Johnson and, after marrying in Cambridge in 1949, the couple moved to London, where Dr Cowper Johnson completed his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

They moved to Norfolk in 1955 after he took at job as a junior houseman in Norwich and settled in Sheringham the following year when he became a GP at the town’s surgery on the corner of Augusta Street.

Mary Blyth with fellow Sheringham Museum trustees Denise Lattaway and Chris Wildee  outside the former fishermen's cottages in Station Road, which were sold to fund the new Mo building on the seafront.
Photo: ARCHANTMary Blyth with fellow Sheringham Museum trustees Denise Lattaway and Chris Wildee outside the former fishermen's cottages in Station Road, which were sold to fund the new Mo building on the seafront. Photo: ARCHANT

The couple quickly immersed themselves in community life, with Dr Cowper Johnson being made honorary lifeboat doctor and Mary supporting the RNLI on land by founding Sheringham Ladies Lifeboat Guild and selling souvenirs from a suitcase at the seafront station.

As a doctor’s wife, she took an active role in her husband’s practice and helped him set up a family planning clinic at the surgery while juggling bringing up their own three children with running a nursery from the family home in The Boulevard.

Mrs Blyth was a governor at Beeston Hall School and Sheringham Primary School for many years and, in the 1980s, was a driving force behind plans to open a museum in a row of former fishermen’s cottages in Station Road.

She was Sheringham Museum Trust’s first chairman when it was moved to a larger site on the seafront, later becoming life president of the popular venue.

Mary Blyth as a young woman in 1945. 
Photo: Cowper Johnson familyMary Blyth as a young woman in 1945. Photo: Cowper Johnson family

Her passion for both the museum and the lifeboat continued throughout her life; she was awarded the prestigious RNLI silver medal and, in 2005 was made an MBE for services to the community.

In 1993 - ten years after the death of Dr Cowper Johnson - she married the vicar of Stalham, Gwyn Blyth, and was widowed for a second time in 2006.

She is survived by her two daughters and two sons, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Mrs Blyth’s funeral will be held at St Peter’s Church, Sheringham, at 2pm on Friday, March 15. No flowers by request, but donations welcome to Sheringham RNLI and Sheringham Museum.

Mary Blyth (right) pictured with Sheringham RNLI charity shop staff and volunteers when the High Street shop made a record  £137,000 profit in 2009.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLMary Blyth (right) pictured with Sheringham RNLI charity shop staff and volunteers when the High Street shop made a record £137,000 profit in 2009. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

‘A beacon to us all’: tribute from Sheringham RNLI operations manager Brian Farrow

Mary was a stalwart of Sheringham RNLI, serving almost 60 years in several primary roles.

She was always a force for good and, with the help of others, she set up our first shop in the lifeboat station using a suitcase on a small trestle table. Inevitably, she became the first volunteer lifeboat shop manager.

Wherever you go in our town of 7,000souls you will find people who met Mary in their daily lives, it could be through her reading with their children at school, being served by her at the museum or lifeboat shops, or pinning a flag on them during Flag Day.

Local history enthusiast Brian Alton handing over Co-operative Street butcher Reg Pope's 1939-40 ledger to Mary Blyth in 2005.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLLocal history enthusiast Brian Alton handing over Co-operative Street butcher Reg Pope's 1939-40 ledger to Mary Blyth in 2005. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

She inspired us all with her no-nonsense, can-do attitude and her down-to-earth positive philosophy.

She served on the branch committee with distinction, always promoting a common sense approach and supporting the volunteer ethos in everything she did. She led by example and was a beacon to us all.

‘A remarkable woman’: Mary Blyth remembered by Sheringham Museum chairman Tim Groves

Mary’s leadership, knowledge and passion for the preservation of Sheringham’s unique history was evident to all who came into contact with her. She knew everyone and everyone knew and loved Mary.

Through Mary’s link to Sheringham RNLI, the Museum and that body developed a special relationship with many of the crew working on the restoration of the lifeboats under the guidance of Tony Sadler.

Mary was always there to help with fundraising, welcoming the Trust to use her garden for summer events and making phone calls to people she knew could help or put a word in the right ear.

I doubt if Sheringham Museum would have developed into the strong independent museum it is now without the foundation that Mary helped put in place, much is owed to her.

Sheringham will miss her but will always remember her as a very energetic and remarkable woman.

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