THE inaugural Herefordshire Heroes winner says the award will finally allow her to draw a line under her lifesaving exploits – 60 years on.
Rita Thirlwall came to the rescue when she pulled her drowning four-year-old sister out of the River Wye and up a 15ft bank to safety.
“The adrenaline was going,”
said Rita, who was just 14 at the time. “It was like when you see a woman lift a car to save her child.”
Now a great-grandmother, Rita, who lives in Kings Acre, Hereford, unfortunately never received a certificate promised to her at the time by the Hereford Times when this newspaper covered her heroic rescue in 1953.
However, receiving a Great British Florist bouquet from Hereford Times editor Fiona Phillips has put that right.
And, all these years later, Rita still remembers what happened as clear as ever.
“My sister Valerie was playing with us when our ball went over the bank,” she recalled.
“Because she was only young she followed, falling down the bank and into the water.
“The river was about 15 feet deep at that point. I saw her head go under twice – once more and she would have been a goner.
“But I jumped in, got her out and ran her home dripping wet.”
The sisters are still close and Valerie, who now lives in Worcester, told Rita that she saw her young life flash before her eyes as she was struggling to stay afloat.
It is miraculous that Rita was even there to save her; aged two she had fought off scarlet fever, and aged three whooping cough, both diseases which, at that time, were fatal for many infants.
• Every month the Hereford Times and The Great British Florist will join forces to celebrate someone who deserves recognition.
Whether it’s a lifesaving act like Rita’s, or someone whose selflessness has made a real difference to the lives of those around them, the Hereford Times wants to hear about it, so their good deeds don’t go unrewarded.
If you want to nominate a Herefordshire Hero, send in your story to fiona.phillips@ herefordtimes.com.