Olive Clarke has filled many roles and received many accolades, as Jennifer MacKenzie has discovered.

COUNTRYWOMAN Olive Clarke may have lived all her life on two farms in the same parish in rural Cumbria but her work and great commitment to many leading organisations have been felt and extensively acknowledged both county and nationwide.

Mrs Clarke, who was awarded the OBE in 1994, has been a major voice for the countryside - and an early female ambassador and spokeswoman - for many decades.

Among her many accolades, probably the most rare was her direct election to the Fellowship of Royal Agricultural Society in 2012 for outstanding personal achievements and continuing record of service to agriculture and rural life.

She is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Farmers and a Freeman of the City of London. In 1993 she was appointed a deputy Lieutenant of Cumbria and she received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1978 and the MBE in 1979.

Born in 1922 and growing up through the austerity of the 1920s and 1930s, Olive has always had her feet firmly planted on the ground.

A scholarship to the then fee-paying Kendal High School set her on the path she was to take for the rest of her life. “The headmistress Dr Trood was an early disciple for women’s rights.

“She believed women should assert themselves and achieve a place in society - and they would need to be articulate, so she included public speaking in the school curriculum, ” said Mrs Clarke, who believes that lobbying effectively, and with common sense and knowledge of the subject, is the only way to get things done.

An only child, the shy school girl Olive was nervous about public speaking but Dr Trood encouraged her to take part in a debate. Much to her relief, the aloof headmistress gave her strong praise for her performance and told her she could go far and so she persevered.

It was from this encouragement that her love of the English language - both written and spoken - and its great importance began.

When she left school at the age of 16 it was the early days of the Young Farmers movement and she joined Hutton club, the second to be formed in what was then Westmorland.

“We had a president who was very forward thinking and he organised the first public speaking contest. I managed to do well and I still have the certificate to prove it,” said Mrs Clarke.

“To this day I maintain that the Young Farmers’ movement has produced an articulate agricultural community and this is its greatest achievement,” she added.

During an unbroken association, she was the first female YFC county chairman then president and her involvement was rewarded in 2013 with her appointment as the life vice-president of the Cumbria Federation.

A former president of the Northern Counties of England Young Farmers Clubs, she was presented in 2010 with an award for outstanding contribution to the YFC movement.

If the young farmers movement was a passion, the Women’s Institute, to which she was introduced at a very early age, became an “addiction”.

“I attended the inaugural meeting of Old Hutton WI on my grandmother’s knee. I had to go along because my grandmother, my mother and my maiden aunt all wished to be members and they had to take the baby with them,” she said.

During a lifetime in the WI she was secretary of Old Hutton at the age of 18, preside of Preston Patrick at 31 and county chairman of Westmorland at the age of 46. She served at national level on various sub committees of the National Federation. In October 2010 she was appointed honorary president of the federation, the first such honour made since 1948.

Both the YFC and the WI have achieved much for the rural community and Mrs Clarke further extended her work for the countryside through the CLA (Country Land and Business Association).

Mrs Clarke was the first woman chairman, then president of the Westmorland and Furness Country Landowners Association from 1984-1988, during which time she was a member of the national council of the CLA.

She also served two periods of five years on the national CLA legal and parliamentary sub committee in London.

Until October 2019 she served on the Cumbria branch committee. On her resignation she was honoured for her long and diligent service with the CLA when she was presented with a certificate by CLA director general Sarah Hendry who said: “It was an honour to recognise Olive for her long and distinguished track record in Cumbria and beyond, especially for breaking new ground for women and the rural sector.”

In 1972, Mrs Clarke was appointed by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Transport to be chairman of the Transport Users Consultative Committee for North-West England, an independent body dealing with railway closures. Amongst these hearings was the much publicised, emotive, highly charged Settle-Carlisle line with its 25,000 objectors.

Prior to that she served as a Cumbria county councillor, not seeking re-election with her appointment to the transport committee, but continues as a parish councillor on home ground.

Following a lifetime of involvement, she was invited by the Westmorland Agricultural Society and county show in 1986 to be the first woman president in the organisation’s 187-year history. She was subsequently made a life member of the society and a vice-president.

Mrs Clarke served as a magistrate for more than 30 years. She was a deputy chairman of the Kendal and Lonsdale bench and chairman of the juvenile court and chairman of Cumbria Magistrates Association from 1981-1988.

Among her numerous other roles, one she was less likely to talk about was her appointment in 1980 as a general commissioner of income tax. She was subsequently invited by the Lord Chancellor in 1987 to serve on the Cumbria Advisory Committee for Appointment of General Commissioners. She was chairman of Commissioners until 1997.

While Mrs Clarke confesses she has always been a workaholic, as a concession to advancing years, she now gets up in the morning at 6.45am instead of 6am - and this includes Sunday because of the church service being early.

She and her farmer husband Arthur, who died in 1995, were happily married for 48 years. She has two daughters with professional backgrounds in education, each with a daughter and a son, and five great grand children.

The couple met at a dance at Preston Patrick Memorial Hall and were married in 1947. By way of a ‘thank you’ Mrs Clarke agreed to temporarily act as the memorial hall committee’s treasurer - a position she only retired from a year ago after 50 years in office.

For 22 years she was chairman of the Governors of St Patrick’s Primary School, Endmoor. Her retirement in 1992 followed the official opening of the new school and the completion of raising 15 per cent of the total cost of the building which was repaid to the diocese.

Mrs Clarke has taken the WI’s anthem Jerusalem literally. “In the WI we sing Jerusalem and I think this is very appropriate with its wide aspirations, but I firmly believe too in life that we must first build our own Jerusalem on our own home ground,” she said.