Sadly, Margaret passed away on June 6, 2016 aged 82. She will be missed by many.
Margaret McKeegan has been a charity activist for over 30 years and in recent years has been noted for her work with military charities. She was born in Great Boughton in 1934.
“It was a garrison town back then.. we had Saighton camp, The Castle, Vicars Cross, Eaton Hall” she says. I asked her about her memories of wartime Chester: ” I can remember going to the pictures and taking two ounces of dried prunes because we didn’t have any sweet coupons left. ” She says that her resourceful mother made cakes using liquid paraffin due to rationing… “you only got 2oz of fat per person!” She laments modern day Chester for its lack of facilities and rise of bar culture, looking back at her youth of dance halls and picture houses.
“I had an uncle who was on the minesweepers and he was captured by the Japanese. When he came home he was skin and bone, it was horrendous. He had nobody, my mum and dad took him in” She was horrified when a visitor offered him a place in a “workhouse” …”Over my dead body!” was her reply .. “But that’s how it was…You got families in Boughton, the bailiffs came and took the beds… People don’t realise how well off they are today”
Margaret pursued a career in nursing, but suffered many family tragedies. ” I’ve had 6 daughters, lost a grandson at 4 in a car accident, that was 1991.. I lost my son in law in 1990.. but I don’t have sons in law, they’re all mine.. He’d been married to my daughter for 17 years.. My husband had a cardiac arrest when he was 33 and had a back operation ” after an accident ” he was an invalid for most of his life..
“We’ve had a lot of tragedy in our life.. but if you look at things, we’re lucky compared to some people… when I look at “my lads” ..blind, they’re only kids.. I’m nearly 82, does it matter? What’s gone on has gone on ..You’ve just got to get on with life, and as long as I’m alive, my lads and girls won’t want.”
Her charity efforts began 30 years ago. ” My grandson had Bronchiolitis and he was in The Countess at the time. On my nights off I used to go and stay with him to give his mum a break.” The last week he was in, the Doctor visited the ward and said he needed to remove the oxygen monitor away because it was needed elsewhere. In the morning Margaret asked why the monitor had been removed and was told the 28 bed ward only had 3 of them. She resolved to help
” I was walking up Liverpool road and called in The Plantation , and spoke to the manager, and arranged a charity night. We raised £1900 to buy oxygen monitors” she says casually.
6 weeks later the secretary rang from me from the paediatrician asking if Margaret could obtain a Blood pressure recorder. “Well that was two and a half thousand, so I got that” ..
“I’d done another charity night for a colleague who’d lost both his legs, and raised a thousand pounds for him.. ” Margaret presented the cheque on her birthday. During a pub lunch at The Dublin Packet was approached by a heart attack victim who was aware of her reputation as a fundraiser. He was struggling with his recovery and in need of a treadmill to improve his fitness. “Tell your physio to ring me and I’ll see what I can do!” she says
“We got that , it was £9500. It just went on from there, different people approaching me ”
8 years ago her grandson was killed on patrol in Iraq, aged 21. Since then she has focused her charity efforts on the military. “I’ve done 14,000 boxes out to Afghanistan and Iraq. I pay for all the contents myself.. I put biscuits, cakes, sweets, hula hoops, chewing gum.. at the moment two Scots have requested Iron Bru. I put that money aside every week. I’ve got a hub up at Fulwood barracks, where I’ve got wheelchairs, mobility scooters, any disability aid. We’ve had 17 mobility scooters…” Recently she helped to furnish the Mercian Regiment’s community room. The Dale Barracks also benefited from Margaret’s generosity. “I hired a rug master from Morrison’s and I spent six and a half hours on the Sunday cleaning the carpet!”
When she heard about a sergeant from the regiment , who had returned with a broken back she stepped in to help to fund a riser chair. “We did a ten mile walk from the pub on the canal up to Tattenhall and got sponsored”.
“It never stops..” Margaret says, but never complains. The Mercian regiment contacted her, needing an orthopaedic bed for an injured 19 year old soldier who had no family. While Margaret planned her next step, the Radio Merseyside “A team” contacted her and asked if they could pass on her details. A lady got in touch offering Margaret the remote controlled bed that used to belong to her sister before she passed away.” I was crying… ” says Margaret. She passed her number onto the army and by the time the soldier arrived back in the UK, the bed was waiting for him.
A well known figure in Chester , she carried the Olympic torch in 2012.” I got meself into trouble because there was no pockets and I was thinking where I could put me cigarettes and lighter… they give you a little bag so I had them round my neck! When it appeared in the paper, my doctor saw it!” she laughs. The same year she met Charles and Camilla at St James Palace where she received a special award. Camilla ” spent 20 minutes with us talking about my military work. She was lovely”
In July she was recognised at the Dee106.3 local hero awards. This was a surprise for Margaret who thought she was being driven to the Wheatsheaf for a two for one meal with her granddaughter! “Nobody had said one word and I knew nothing about it!”
Margaret is unquestioning in her support of the military and showed me several of the thank you letters that she has received from soldiers. “I get the satisfaction that they’re being looked after. That’s what my life is all about. As long as I can give them a bit of comfort..” She says a Major wrote to her describing the great reaction to her gifts, saying that ” it was like watching a ten year old opening his first Christmas presents.. he’s got nobody, he was brought up in an orphanage, he’d never had a letter or a parcel”
The soldier wrote to her saying ” I will never forget you Margaret … I’ve got that many letters I could paper this flat three times over..
“I support them because its their job, they haven’t got a choice.. But, I don’t agree that people have to fundraise the way they do, you shouldn’t have to. They deserve better. We should never have gone in… but they’re sent and they have to go. Who knows what would have happened? We’ve got all these problems with IS, these people are evil… Our lads are all heroes to me, every one of them. My own son did 25 years, it was his son that was killed. To see them on Remembrance day, we always get a wreath… there is always that one person missing, it never gets any easier…”
“I tell me lads everything, its not about me, its about them, if it raises interest that people will help… ,every time I go on Radio Merseyside, it jogs people’s memories that I’m still about and we need equipment for the lads. My whole life , its all I think of.. I go to town and get my milk.. and 4 bags of shopping later, its all for Afghanistan!”
RIP Margaret McKeegan