Cllr Heather Humby with Sandown Pier behind her. Picture by Jennifer Burton.
WIGHT LIVING "I MAY be almost 78 years old but there’s plenty more left in the tank," said a defiant Heather Humby, who has given up county politics to crystallise all her efforts into continuing to make Sandown a better place.
Heather, who can certainly class herself as an old Sandonian having lived in the town since she was four although she was born in Southampton, is to stand down as an IW councillor come the May elections but she will be focusing on her battle to retain her seat on Sandown Town Council.
She is currently the only councillor to have continued serving, for an unbroken period, on the IW Council since it was formed in 1995.
Fiercely independent in her politics, Heather served two years as its chairman, her proudest achievement with the authority — wearing the chain of office between April 2002 and April 2004.
She has also acted as a figurehead to welcome the Queen, the late Princess Diana and other royals to the Island over the years.
But the time has come, she feels, for her to stand aside and allow a younger generation to take the baton and run with it for the benefit of her beloved Sandown.
Well, that is her optimistic hope. Woe betide the candidate if they don’t shape up.
Heather said she feels very protective of her town and will have no qualms about 'applying pressure’ if required.
A twice former mayor of Sandown, Heather has been a member of Sandown Town Council, including a long spell as its clerk, for more years than she cares to remember. However, it is a body she remains proud to continue serving on — and hopes to continue serving on — for as long as her health allows.
She has a very simple philosophy when it comes to contesting a local seat.
"I have not knocked on a door for 20 years. If they don’t know what I’ve tried to do in the preceding four years, I’m not going to try to convince them three weeks before an election," she explained.
"I see it as an invasion of people’s privacy. If anything, I think it gets a lot of people’s backs up. To back that up, in the last council election, I won by 550 votes to retain my Sandown North seat."
Heather has been embroiled in the often frustrating world of local politics for 42 years and bar a four-year gap in the mid-1970s to help out with the family business, it has been a constant in her life.
She joined the fold, as an Independent, on the then Sandown and Shanklin Urban District Council in 1971, winning her seat by a small margin.
"That urban council was the best one I’ve ever been on. Just 12 of us and the officers knew every square inch of the area. Small is beautiful," she said, with a longing for her old parochial paradise.
She has also served her constituents’ interests on the former South Wight Borough Council, once as mayor — its first.
"I got into politics by writing lots of letters of complaint to the County Press. One day, someone told me to put my money where my mouth was and I joined in.
"I believe in politics you should be flexible about your principles. Nowadays, no one actually says 'You’ve got a very good point and I’m prepared to change my mind’.
"The enjoyment of being on the IW Council came from working for the community. The best thing I ever did was my weekly surgeries.
"People got to know who their councillors were. It always helped Sandown is nice and compact. People always spoke to me in the street and that’s how I got to hear about many issues affecting the town.
"A lot of things have made me angry over the years and I still seem to be fighting for them — from the state of shops and buildings and the closure of the tourist information centre to the closure of some of our toilets and the taking away of our lifeguards.
"Sandown is a very nice community. There is a lot of community spirit in it but getting young people interested in the town is very hard. However, it is something I will persevere with."
A pillar of the community and a staunch traditionalist, Heather prides herself at looking at the bread-and-butter issues sensibly, backed with a commitment to trying to solve them in her own inimitably forthright style.
Heather sees herself as a very down-to-earth, ordinary person who sees things and keenly gets to the heart of problems.
She believes a lot of her qualities and skills as a councillor could be traced back to her days as a Royal Navy Wren, when she was aged 18, just after she completed her education at the former Upper Grade School, Ryde.
Heather had also gained a useful grounding in the world of work and meeting the community by working at the family stationery shop and restaurant, called Aquarius, in Sandown.
She said she developed a methodical way of doing things as a manifest clerk with Cunard, which gave her the chance to travel the world, including voyages on the Queen Mary and the original Queen Elizabeth liners.
Although single — Heather never tied the knot — you could say she has always been married to the community she serves.
"I can honestly say I have given my all for the town and the people of Sandown and I will continue to do so.
"To be a good councillor you need a love of the community in which you live and the passion to get fully involved in everything it does or wants to do.
"It has been a jolly good voyage and I’m still a member of the crew. I’ve gained some knowledge and experience over the years and I hope I can pass some of it on to others for the benefit of Sandown.
"Now I’m to stand down as an IW councillor, I will still be involved in other organisations and be able to do a few more of the things I like. I enjoy reading and painting, and I love cats."
Always busy, Heather keeps her finger on the pulse as the chairman of the thriving Sandown Forum, which she established in 1996. She is also the life president of Sandown Carnival Committee, president of Sandown Football Club and Sandown and Shanklin Town Band, vice-chairman of the IW branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, a governor of The Bay Primary School, and a member of Sandown TG and the Sandown Partnership.
She has also been a representative on other bodies over the years — far too many to mention.
It is typical of Heather’s just-get-on-with-it outlook that almost anyone else, of much younger years, living her life would be needing stress counselling.
"I’ve seen an awful lot of the world but I wouldn’t swap the Island — especially Sandown — for anywhere else. Wherever you go, it’s still the best place of all."