St John honours 72-year stint

Margaret Taylor has served St John for 72 years.

Margaret Taylor got a haircut in her tweens and it led to a life-long association with St John, spanning 72 years and counting.

It’s been an enjoyable journey. She’s been to all manner of car crashes and medical events and even volunteered at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974. And she’s met some great people.

Margaret, 81, has been living in Ashburton for the past 10 years with partner Ray Gudex, but spent most of her time with St John in Timaru, where she last week received a long service medal for her 72 years service to the organisation.

It’s not her first accolade, she has won numerous service medals including a St John Voluntary Aid Detachment badge, and is an officer of The Order of St John.

Now a member of the St John Fellowship, Margaret has regular catch up sessions with others in the fellowship. She will also be fronting up for St John annual appeals and street collections.

St John is a whole different ball game now but good for character, she said.

The organisation became part of her family, she said.

Margaret, when living in Timaru with late husband Lionel, was the head of the Rhodes Nursing Division for many years.

She still remembers the first crash she attended, a car accident on the Lewis Pass while she was living in Culverden.

It involved two young men in a vehicle going from Greymouth to Christchurch and while they were both medically okay, heading to the crash scene not sure what she would encounter was a nervous time.

It was often not as bad as you thought, she said.

Nowadays communication was better with ambulance crew kept up to date on route. There was also more extensive training, modern medical techniques such as CPR and ongoing wellbeing support.

She was 12 years old when she joined St John Cadets at Sumner, learning ambulance work and nursing. She was encouraged to join by her hairdresser who was a St John Cadets leader in the Christchurch seaside suburb.

The weekly lessons in the early-1950s involved practising bandaging and perfecting the Holger Nielsen technique, the preferred method of artificial respiration before CPR.

In her 81 years she has only spent four years away from the organisation; while nursing at Burwood Hospital and then when living at Blackball on the West Coast, but she reconnected as volunteer with the ambulance service in the early 1960s when she and Lionel and their young family moved to Culverden. They had four children.

Margaret was part of an on-call roster where if medical help was needed, those on call would get a phone call and meet at the St John rooms.

There was no waiting at the station like now.

Culverden was a big area and if there was an accident on the Lewis Pass, it could end up taking a good part of a day to take patients to Christchurch Hospital, she said.

In the mid-1960s Margaret and the family moved to Timaru, where she has spent most of her time with St John. It involved annual nursing, ambulance service examinations and plenty of public duty with community and sporting events, including motor racing events at Levels International Motor Raceway and the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, in 1974.

St John were seeking volunteers from outside the city to be on site to help with the medical needs of spectators to the games and Margaret and three other female volunteers from Timaru jumped at the chance.

They slept in a campervan owned by one of the crew, based at a camp ground in Riccarton, and spent two days helping out at the then-brand new QEII Stadium, specially built for the games.

The volunteers mostly dressed cuts, bruises, bumps and scrapes with the occasional headache, she said.

They were there when Timaru-born runner Dick Tayler won gold in the 10,000m event narrowly beating his closest rival by two seconds.

It was a thrilling couple of days, she said.