On Wednesday March 2 Douglas Borough Council celebrated two milestones: Councillor Raina Chatel became the first woman on whom the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Douglas was conferred and the 120th anniversary of the first meeting of the council was recognised.
The honour, in recognition of Councillor Chatel’s long-standing service to the council, the people of Douglas - notably the residents of Victoria ward - her tireless charitable work and her support of young people’s education was bestowed at a special meeting of the council after members unanimously agreed the motion, proposed by Councillor David Christian and seconded by Councillor Carol Malarkey.
Addressing a packed Council chamber Councillor Christian spoke of Councillor Chatel’s exemplary service to the council which began in 1985 when she was first elected to join her late husband George, on whom the Freedom of the Borough was bestowed in 2007, as a councillor for Victoria Ward. With the exception of 1995-1996 when she stood for East Douglas in the House of Keys election Councillor Chatel has served as a council member continuously to the present day, prompting Councillor Christian to comment: ‘She has seen the council progress and been a very positive contributor to a number of initiatives. Take the new Henry Bloom Noble Library, for example: she is a very firm supporter, having been a member of the library sub-committee for many years and deserves a substantial part of the credit for what is acknowledged to be an excellent new facility.’
Councillor Christian said the day’s proceedings had represented ‘another page written in the council’s history.’ Councillor Chatel had ‘welcomed and embraced change’ and he praised her unstinting commitment to three charities close to her heart, Street Angels, Manx Decaf and the Royal British Legion. In closing he said: ‘I can think of no one who deserves the Honorary Freedom of the Borough more.’
Seconding the motion Councillor Malarkey traced Councillor Chatel’s love of reading and support of the library to when she was a small child: ‘When she was only three she’d be reading by torchlight under the duvet…’
Councillor Malarkey went on to refer to Councillor Chatel’s typing skills which led to securing her first job, in the council’s transport department; her strong following in local elections; and her 27-year-long role in the Department of Education.
In closing she observed: ‘Raina’s a reserved, highly respected lady who’s passionate about her community work, her role as a councillor and, above all, about her family’ then, addressing Councillor Chatel said: ‘Congratulations on your well-deserved honour. I and the entire Council salute you.’
In her reply Councillor Chatel thanked her family, fellow council members, council officers and staff and the Victoria ward electorate for their enduring support and spoke of her pride, as an Honorary Freeman of the Borough, in joining ‘an exclusive club’ that numbered among its members her late husband and Sir Winston Churchill. For Councillor Chatel, the honour bestowed upon her had been ‘the icing on the cake’.
The illuminated address was presented to Councillor Chatel by the Mayor of Douglas Councillor Sara Hackman. Created by local artist Colleen Corlett it features references to her immediate family, her time in office as mayor and mayoress of Douglas, her long association with St Ninian’s High School, her charitable work and her guest house ‘The Blossoms’ on Central Promenade.
‘The Blossoms’ also featured in a surprise presentation by the Mayor on behalf of the council to Councillor Chatel, an enlarged photograph of Douglas promenade taken from the air in 1935. The photo was one of a collection of vintage images displayed at the town hall during the council’s participation in Manx National Heritage’s open day programme in October 2015.
Photo - Councillor Raina Chatel is presented with the illuminated address marking her becoming an honorary freeman of the borough by the Mayor of Douglas, Councillor Sara Hackman. Picture Andrew Barton.