AFTER 29 years covering the news and issues of the northern community, Isle of Man Newspapers north and west reporter Sue Woolley has decided to step down.
Hers is a career that has spanned dramatic changes in journalism and in the community she has served.
‘The newspaper industry on the island is entering a new digitalised age and I feel the time is right for me to step aside,’ explained Sue.
Her life in newspapers began in 1969 when she was taken on as a junior reporter by Syd Boulton, editor of the Ramsey Courier.
‘My memories are of working in a very Dickensian-like atmosphere at the back of the Courier shop in Parliament Street,’ she remembered. ‘I had a tiny office with an old style typewriter and a one-bar electric fire. We stayed late on a Thursday night, proof reading and putting the paper to bed. There was a pervading smell of boiling lead and ink. So different to today where everything is computerised.’
Her three-and-a-half years on the paper was a time of upheaval, with the Ramsey Courier being taken over by advocate JJ Christian who engaged in a circulation war with H.L. Dor, owner of the rival Examiner and Times. The Courier became an all-island paper and Syd Boulton moved to the Examiner to become that paper’s north correspondent.
When Sue returned to journalism in April 1983, after 10 years away from the industry, it was to succeed Syd who had died earlier that year.
She recalled: ‘To say Syd was a hard act to follow was an understatement - he was a walking encyclopedia of life in the north and, at first, people couldn’t believe I was taking over his role. It took me quite a while to build up my contacts.’
Sue worked from home and in the early days home was a cottage in Ballaglass, Maughold. Every morning, when taking her daughters to the Dhoon School, she would put a parcel containing her typed stories on the bus and it was collected in Douglas!
She moved to Ramsey 20 years ago, a move that made it much easier to collect stories. ‘People will stop you in the street and give you a story, but probably wouldn’t write it down and post it to you,’ she mused.
Life as a district reporter has meant covering a whole spectrum; weddings, commissioners meetings, royal visits and annual events like horticultural shows. Among her favourite events is the Andreas Root Show, ‘which epitomises much of what I love about this island’. The Cronk y Voddy Ploughing Match is another.
Among the major changes she has seen over her career was the closing of Ramsey Courthouse.
‘I spent many hours in that building, taking notes, and many more hours writing them up.’
Other things that have changed are wedding reports: ‘At one time you could fill half a page describing the bride and bridesmaids’ outfits, now a few lines will suffice. People travel more too – at one time it was newsworthy if someone went to America. These days you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere on the globe where a Manx person hasn’t been before you!’
And if she has any advice to impart it is: ‘Write your own obituary – that way you can be sure you are represented the way you would like to be!’
Away from the job Sue has plenty to keep her busy – she is author of two books, ‘My Grandmother’s Cookery Book’ and ‘Peeps Into The Past’, and plans to pursue her interest in history and heritage.
‘I’ve always enjoyed my work and felt privileged to meet so many people from all walks of life,’ she said. ‘I have felt proud to work for the Manx papers and have great respect for my colleagues because I know how hard they work. I will definitely miss working on the paper – but it will be nice not to have to chase deadlines for the first time in nearly 30 years!’
Isle of Man Newspapers editor Richard Butt has early recollections of working with Sue: ‘One of my jobs when I started as a junior reporter in 1989 was to collect Sue’s copy off the bus in Douglas!’
He added: ‘Sue has been a pleasure to work with and will be a great loss to the company. We value the dedicated work she has done, and she deserves the respect she has earned in the community.’