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PM May honours Samaritan Dorothy for 40 years service

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 14/10/2016

Dorothy Cooper was shocked to receive a phone call from the office of Prime Minister Theresa May
Dorothy Cooper was shocked to receive a phone call from the office of Prime Minister Theresa May
Dorothy Cooper was shocked to receive a phone call from the office of Prime Minister Theresa May

A pensioner who survived Hitler's Germany to make a new life in Belfast - where she became Northern Ireland's leading Samaritan volunteer - has been honoured by the Prime Minister.

Dorothy Cooper (88) receives the Points of Light award today for her outstanding work volunteering with the charity for more than 40 years.

Dorothy was born in Germany but has lived in Northern Ireland since 1965.

She started volunteering with the Samaritans in 1974 in Omagh and has been helping them ever since.

In that time, Dorothy has taken more than 6,000 calls, trained 1,600 new members of staff and raised more than £20,000 for the Belfast branch of the Samaritans, where she has been volunteering since 1979.

Her inspiration for volunteering with the Samaritans started when she was still at school in Germany.

After the Second World War ended in 1945, farmers had been unable to work their fields so food was scarce.

However, when the school term started, students were given a meal every day for the entire year.

"It was so nice and it came from the Quakers in North America. And I thought then, and I think now, what a thing to do for a country which was definitely in the black books everywhere. I mean, Germany had a lousy reputation at the time. And I thought, I want to pay this back one day," she said.

"And this is what I did when I heard about the Samaritans... I feel good about what I was doing for the very reason that somebody has been so good to me and my friends at school so many years ago."

After she finished school in Germany, Dorothy went into nursing and in 1950 went to London to be a nurse through the British Ministry of Labour.

"I could quote some passages from Shakespeare, but I wouldn't know how to find the next railway station. Practical things were missing and it was very crummy when you were first on the ward," she said.

After some time in London, she met her husband and in 1965 they moved to Omagh. They relocated to Belfast 14 years later, where she has been living - and volunteering with the Samaritans - ever since.

Dorothy said that volunteering can be rewarding, but is also very difficult.

"Sometimes you can make somebody find another way from taking their own life. Not that all the calls are like this, but some of them are," she explained.

She added that it isn't a job you can shrug off when you get home.

"It's not something that you forget like when you work in a shop… you do take it with you. And what you also take with you is occasionally you manage to make somebody think differently at the end of the call from at the beginning of the call, when they think there is nothing else," she added.

When she found out she was receiving an award from the Prime Minister, Dorothy said she didn't realise what had happened, but felt honoured.

"I was a bit amazed about it. Very much so. Apparently I had a call coming in and I didn't realise it came from Number 10 Downing Street because I don't often get calls from there," she laughed.

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