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I really loved serving Queen and country... it's in my DNA

Published 06/07/2016

Ruth Patterson relaxing at home in east Belfast with her pet dog Paisley
Ruth Patterson relaxing at home in east Belfast with her pet dog Paisley

Ruth Patterson (60) is a Belfast councillor. While most people in Northern Ireland will know Ruth as something of a political firebrand given her opposition to the restricted flying of the Union flag over the City Hall, she has had a very varied series of jobs outside of the political arena.

Born in Dungannon, she recalls working as a receptionist in an optician’s as a young girl but her first major career was as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital where she began training in 1974 during the blackest days of the Troubles.

She says: “When I was getting dressed in the nurses’ home in the morning I would have heard of a shooting or bombing the night before and then found the injured on the ward when I went on duty, often guarded by police officers.

“I saw a lot of awful things in those days. It was not like now when anyone who is involved in a traumatic situation is offered counselling. Then we just had to get on with our work.”

It was a career she loved but she gave it up to rear her young family — she had four children “just steps and stairs”. “I felt that was the right thing to do at that time,” she says.

 She later joined the UDR, serving in Belfast for what she describes as “three very happy years.”

She says: “These were probably the happiest times of my life. I really enjoyed serving Queen and country. It was in my DNA, I suppose.”

But again she was forced to give up the job because of family commitments after her marriage broke up. “I didn’t have any family living in Belfast at the time. My UDR duties were mainly at night and that couldn’t work with bringing up a family”.

A series of jobs followed, including working as a school dinner lady — “great because my children were then at school and I got the school holidays off as well”.

She says she was willing to turn her hand to any work going. “I am very resilient and I did what I had to do to bring up my children. It was never easy as a single parent but it had to be done.”

She joined the DUP in 1998 after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and was first elected as a councillor in 2001.

“I think women are particularly good at being councillors because they come at problems from a different perspective from men. They know about things like being a single parent and wondering where the next meal will come from. What might seem like a tiny acorn to some people is a huge mountain to others and women readily appreciate that.”

There was a very public spat with the party when former special advisor Emma Little Pengelly was parachuted into the South Belfast Assembly seat after sitting DUP member Jimmy Spratt retired on health grounds. Ruth denies that she fell out with the party but felt aggrieved at not being informed of the decision before it was publicly announced. She had hoped that another colleague would have obtained the seat and possibly given her a job.

 She also lost her job as a receptionist with charity Cancer Focus after a tweet which led to her arrest and that hurt her deeply. “I loved my work there and had great colleagues at the charity. We had good times together and I had really good friends. It was a lovely place to work and I really miss it. My biggest regret in life is losing that job.”

Ruth’s only income now comes from her council work and she admits that even with the children grown up, it does not lead to many luxuries.

 She will retire from the council when her term ends in 2019.

“I still love all the jobs I did and I would not change anything. I have had a very varied collection of jobs in my time and they were great,” she says.

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