Ribble Valley’s ‘Mrs Mayoralty’ Hangs her Last Civic Chains

Published: 14th December 2022

Olwen heap retirement portrait
Mrs Mayoralty’ Olwen Heap is hanging up her civic chains after 39 years at Ribble Valley Borough Council.

Ribble Valley’s ‘Mrs Mayoralty’ is hanging her last civic chains after a shining 39-year career in local government.

Olwen Heap spent an ‘idyllic’ childhood in Downham and attended Clitheroe Grammar School.

She started work at Ribble Valley Borough Council in 1983 aged 17 after undertaking the first year of a BTEC Business Administration at Nelson and Colne College, which she subsequently completed while employed as a junior clerical assistant in the chief executive’s department.

Over the years, she has seen significant changes to the council’s administrative practices, particularly the switch from handwritten to online minute-taking and recordkeeping.

Olwen said: “In those days, the chief executive, Michael Jackson, was always called ‘Mr Jackson’ and councillors were always called ‘Councillor’.

“Female employees were not allowed to wear trousers and in common with other workplaces at the time smoking was allowed.

“There were no computers and minutes were taken by hand, dictated into a Dictaphone and typed up by a typing pool.

“Modern administrative systems have improved the job significantly and made it much quicker and more efficient.”

Olwen took up the role of mayor’s secretary and committee clerk in 1989, since which she has clerked hundreds of council meetings and organised numerous civic events that have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity.

And noted for her gracious manner, unflappable personality and forensic knowledge of civic protocol, past mayors have been quick to sing her praises.

Howel Jones, who was Ribble Valley mayor from 1990-91, Olwen’s first year in the post, said: “I was excellently supported by Olwen's painstaking background work and careful arrangements, and during the following years I came to regard her as a mine of information on civic matters.”

Howel’s wife, Beverley Jones, who was mayor from 2009-10, said “every council should have an Olwen.”

“Her briefings were clear and accurate and her willingness to advise and assist with the planning of fundraising events was greatly appreciated. Howel and I wish her a long and happy retirement,” she said.

Mary Robinson, who was mayor from 2005-06, said: “From dress codes to civic protocols, Olwen’s knowledge and application of mayoral matters was legendary. She was fantastic to work with and I wish her the very best in her well-earned retirement.”

And the borough’s current mayor, Stuart Hirst, said: “Olwen has given a working lifetime’s dedicated and professional service to the council’s mayoralty and committees and we wish her a happy retirement.”

Ribble Valley Borough Council chief executive Marshal Scott said: “Olwen is our longest-serving employee and her dedication to public service has been exceptional.

“Her knowledge of the council and its committees is unsurpassed and she will be sorely missed.”

Olwen added: “At a time of constant change and uncertainty, there is still a place for mayors as non-political ambassadors for their boroughs.

“Each mayor is unique and wants to achieve different things during their civic year. Some want to visit schools or workplaces, while others want to focus on fundraising.

“They are all different and I have enjoyed working with each and every one of them.”

Olwen, who retires at Christmas, is looking forward to spending more time hiking and undertaking city breaks with husband John.