Former nurse completes 102nd charity walk on 102nd birthday

  • Video report by ITV News Journalist Mark McQuillan

A 102-year-old retired nurse has completed her 102nd charity walk on her birthday.

During lockdown, Joan Rich set a goal to walk 102 laps of her local park before her 102nd birthday on September 11.

Following in Captain Sir Thomas Moore’s footsteps, the former auxiliary nurse and Second World War veteran wanted to raise money for the NHS she worked in for much of her life.

Joan Rich completes her charity walk Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Using her frame, or pushing her wheelchair, Mrs Rich walked a 560-metre route from her home in Felixstowe, Suffolk, around Allenby Park, and back.

When she completed the challenge, she had raised almost £25,000 for NHS charities.

Overall, the centenarian walked more than 35 miles.

Children and staff from the local infant school accompanied Mrs Rich on her final charity walk.

Current and former members of the military police form a guard of honour for the former nurse Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Members of the Royal Military Police gave her a guard of honour as she completed her feat.

Mrs Rich was one of the first people to visit the park on April 22 when it reopened after shutting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A local resident had mowed “NHS” into one of the lawns during lockdown and it inspired Mrs Rich to complete the challenge.

A local resident mowed ‘NHS’ into the lawn of the park during lockdown Credit: Ian Pope

“It was enjoyable walking in the fresh green of the park, but hard work sometimes,” she told the PA news agency.

“You really just have to stick at it, like life really.

“One person can make a difference if they set a goal and persevere. I hope the children who play here (in the park) know that.

“I hope they achieve things that bring them sunshine in their hearts when they look back on their past.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me with kindness in the park and to all those who have donated – a big thank you.”

Her daughter Diane Rich, who accompanies Mrs Rich on the walks, set up a JustGiving page for the venture.

She told PA: “It’s not every 102-year-old who has to do a charity walk on their birthday. She could have been putting her feet up and eating cake, but Joan is doing something to support others instead and that’s typical of her.

Joan was cheered on by her daughter Diane Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

“I’m proud of Joan. I think she has had an amazing time. Thanks to everyone here.”

Joan, who was a nurse at Felixstowe General Hospital between 1964 and 1978, said she sometimes had to go to the park during shifts when patients who had absconded from the hospital had gone there.

Mrs Rich also worked at Hillingdon Hospital in west London before moving to Felixstowe in 1964.

During the Second World War, she served with the Royal Military Police and was stationed in Jerusalem, where she helped prisoners of war return to health before being sent home to their families in the UK – including a member of her local bicycle club in Ipswich who was captured at the start of the war.

Mrs Rich, who was born in Meriden in the West Midlands during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, said the sense of community spirit during the coronavirus pandemic had reminded her of that during war time.

Joan Rich served with the Royal Military Police during the Second World War Credit: Diane Rich/PA

While stationed in Jerusalem, she lived close to another Allenby Park – spending more than half of her life visiting parks with the same name.

Local children have put images in their front windows encouraging Mrs Rich to achieve her goal.

Felixstowe mayor Mark Jepson said: “It has been brilliant for the community and she has inspired different generations.

“From the children in the park to the elderly, she’s had messages of support from people of all ages including Sir Tom Moore.

“We are really proud of her.”