Local Hero – Charles Billingham

What a delight it was to be contacted by outgoing Mayor, Val Gill, to tell me about a local gentleman, Charles Billingham, who had recently been honoured for his ‘Lifetime of Commitment’ to Macmillan Cancer support, a commitment which has spanned over 40 years. As 2011 marks Macmillan’s Centenary Year, it seemed wholly appropriate to meet up with Charles, and to find out more about his remarkable contribution to this special organisation.

Supported by members of the Macmillan committee and Rotary Chairman Bryan Morgan (Bridgnorth Rotarians are long-term supporters of Macmillan), the story unfolded: Having watched his father die of cancer, Douglas Macmillan was so moved by the pain and suffering, that in 1911 he founded the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer, to help make sure no one else would have to go through the experience alone. In 1932, Ruth Hurn became one of the first paid home helpers, visiting cancer sufferers around York. The Society started giving grants for care, help and advice at home and convalescent breaks. In Macmillan’s words, no one should be excluded; “I want even the poorest people to be provided with the latest and best advice, for avoiding, recognising and dealing with cancer when it exists.”

“Charles’ passion clearly shines through; he has worked tirelessly.”

Today, Douglas’s legacy lives on. Macmillan is a huge source of support for people living with cancer and a major source for improving cancer care. And it is through the work of people like Bridgnorth man Charles Billingham, who was officially appointed as the County Organiser way back in 1968, that the organisation can reach out to sufferers and their families. Charles’ passion clearly shines through; he has worked tirelessly – always as an unpaid volunteer on top of his normal day job – to co-ordinate and inspire fundraising and care around the area. He does this with a charming sense of diffidence and modesty which is clearly infectious.

There are currently 2 million cancer sufferers throughout the UK Macmillan now supports 38 nurses in Shropshire, who provide palliative care, practical advice and support, while Macmillan can offer financial help and benefits. However, the need is constantly growing; there are currently 2 million cancer sufferers throughout the UK, and it is estimated this will rise to 4 million in 10 years time.

For many years Charles was supported locally by Dr Mike Dalton, Dr Agnes Campbell, June Cowell, and her late husband Don; recently Chris Adams and Anita Grubb have joined the group to continue to push the important role that Macmillan plays within our locality. One of the most touching initiatives to be introduced by Macmillan locally is the ‘Tree of Thought’ at Christmas.

Just as Douglas Macmillan’s legacy remains, so must Charles Billingham’s as, at 85, he winds down his involvement. Chairman of Macmillan Bridgnorth, Chris Adams, said: “It’s very important that Charles’ work is recognised; the high fundraising effort from Shropshire is a legacy to him. This award – which came as a complete surprise to him – as did being featured by What’s What as a true local hero – is fitting and appropriate to someone who has given so much for others.” The Bridgnorth Macmillan Committee is keen to welcome new members. Please call Anita on 01746 265798.

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