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A former mayor, councillor and businesswoman who admits to having Banbury emblazoned on her heart has been awarded the town’s highest honour.
Rosemarie Higham Stevens became an Honorary Burgess at a celebration in a packed Banbury Town Hall on Thursday 31 August.
She is only the fourth person to be awarded the honour and joins Maurice Humphris, Jack Friswell and George Parish on the prestigious list.
At the presentation, friends, family, former colleagues and admirers paid tribute to Mrs Higham Stevens
“This is not something that is awarded lightly. It is given for a long and distinguished history of service to Banbury. It is the equivalent to the Freedom of the Town.
“Rosemarie is a Grimsbury girl who worked in a tough world. She doesn’t give in easily – if at all. She is a local girl made good – a tough cookie with a heart of gold.”
“Her lifetime achievements are exceptional.
“Many people will find it hard to believe that she could run a successful business and find time to do so much for the town she loves.”
Rosemarie was born in 1942 and lived in Manor Road, Banbury. She attended St Leonard’s School where George Parish was a classmate.
She got the fundraising bug at the age of seven when she raised fifteen shillings for the Horton Hospital. (15s in 1949 would be equivalent to around £30 today).
“I learned from my grandma at an early age to always help those less fortunate than myself.”
Rosemarie took over the family coal business at the age of 26 and was the first woman to receive a National Coal Board Diploma.
During the miners’ strike in 1984 she worked day and night to source coal from around the world for her regular customers – and BBC’s Panorama made a programme featuring her business.
Rosemarie pioneered CCTV in Banbury. She raised the funds and Banbury became the first town in the country to have colour CCTV.
She was chairman and president of Banbury Chamber of Commerce and her presidential evening was filmed by ITV.
She was elected a CDC councillor in 1995 and became chairman of the Banbury Crime Prevention Panel. She led campaigns to raise £20,000 to fit security locks at the homes of pensioners, and £4,500 to buy the police an identity kit to help track down a rapist.
Rosemarie chaired Victim Support and raised money for a safe house in Banbury for the victims of domestic violence.
She joined Jack Friswell in campaigns to raise funds for a scanner at the Horton Hospital, for the hospital chapel, the Brodey Cancer Centre, Banbury Museum and the Lady on a White Horse statue.
She raised money for a window appeal and for replacement stonework at St John’s Church.
She became a town councillor in 2000 and as mayor in 2003 she raised £20,000 for local charities – the highest amount ever raised by a mayor.
Rosemarie is still active in Banbury.
Every year she sponsors the Banbury Flower and Produce Show. She loves flowers and often opens her gardens to the public to raise money for charities.
To celebrate her 70th birthday, she organised a concert in St Mary’s Church that raised £17,500 for Help for Heroes.
“To become an Honorary Burgess is a great honour. I’m proud to be a local girl who has helped good things happen in Banbury. It has been a privilege to have been part of the town I love. I’ve said before – Banbury is emblazoned on my heart.
“Banbury is a wonderful town with a remarkable history and we should never stop working to make it even better.”
“I love Banbury and its people, I was proud to represent the town and I’m proud to be the first woman to become an honorary burgess.”
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