The ultimate ‘gong’ of Companion of Honour (CH) was bestowed upon Mary Peters in the New Year Honours List.
The only medal she sought with all her passion was that Pentathlon Gold in Munich 1972. The rest were bestowed on a woman whose contribution to athletics in particular and Northern Ireland in general has been priceless.
The honours have come thick and fast - the MBE in 1975; the CBE in 1990; she became Dame Mary Peters in 2000. And in between she was made a Freeman of Belfast and of Lisburn and recently ended her five-year stint as Lord Lieutenant of Belfast.
Yet, the only signs that she ever lived in Portadown are in her old school, a picture of the greatest day of her life in Munich, and her name on the list of head girls in 1956.
Mary said, “I am thrilled to receive such a prestigious honour, being one of only 65 ‘Companions of Honour’ – 45 in the UK and the rest throughout the Commonwealth. It was totally unexpected. When I was a young girl at Portadown College, I never dreamt of being honoured in such a way and being in such prestigious company.”
The living CHs include the Queen, Professor Stephen Hawkin, Sir David Attenborough, Lord Seb Coe and Dame Judi Dench. And among those who have passed on are – Winston Churchill, author John Buchan, Bramwell Booth founder of the Salvation Army, author Graham Greene, poet Walter de la Mare and actor Sir John Gielgud.
Mary is the first Northern Ireland woman to receive the honour, with two men having achieved it – Hugh Pollock, the Ulster Unionist politician in 1936, and J.M. Andrews (1943).
Mary was in Portadown was back in October when she joined with tenants of Carrick Eden Grange to help them celebrate the 25th anniversary of the building which she opened in 1989.
Said Mary, “Everything I have done in my interesting life has been a gift so there was no need for recognition. I have been so privileged. Through my charity, The Mary Peters Trust, I have given our young sportsmen and women support to realise their dreams. By representing ‘Her Majesty’ as Lord Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast for five years, I thought at the time, that was the ultimate Honour and so I am privileged, amazed but delighted to accept this honour.”