A Derry man who joined the St John Ambulance as a teenage cadet and who rose to the order’s highest position is to step down after more than 60 years of service.
Albert Smallwoods, well known in the city for his work with St John, and home and road accident prevention, brings his 61 years of service to an end when he steps down as the order’s President of Northern Ireland on St John’s Day, June 24.
His current term is the second time in his long and distinguished St John’s career that he has held the order’s highest position in the north.
Albert, who joined the local Ambulance Cadet Division as a 13-year-old in 1950, says he has experienced many highlights and seen many changes during his seven decade service.
“It was much different with less rules and regulations, less courses, less certificates to work for and less badges. You did your First Aid Certificate and that was it, that was all you did.
“The organisation now is vast, it is full of courses, child protection, patient handling, patient care, the list goes on and on.
From 1950 until the present day Albert has held almost every position in the organisation, from Cadet right up to local Area Commissioner, to Northern Ireland Commissioner and NI President.
“My biggest achievement was when I was NI commissioner, during the 1990s, was when the team from here won every possible trophy at National competitions in London and in 1996, the team from Northern Ireland became European first aid winners,” he says.
One of his greatest honours, he says, was being made a Knight of the Order in 2001 at St James Palace, London, by the Duke of Gloucester.
His service to St John Ambulance also allowed him to meet Princess Margaret.
“I led a contingent of 24 cadets to a camp in Wales when Wales was celebrating their Diamond Jubilee and Princess Margaret, who was Commandant-in-Chief of the St John Ambulance Cadets visited the camp and I met her and chatted to her,” he says.
Paying tribute to those he had worked with, he said there were ‘lots of people’ over the last 30 years in which he had carried out his administrative and leadership role, but it was those on the ground he admired the most.
“I always appreciate the people out at weekends in all weathers, and at all hours of the night.
“They are the people whom I praise, the people at the grass roots.
“Some of the duties they carry out are not easy, they never know where they are going to be, in middle of fields, up to their ankles in muck, and the training now-a-days is heavy,” he says.