PUBLISHED: 16:44 25 August 2015 | UPDATED: 16:44 25 August 2015
As she begins in her new role as the county’s Lord-Lieutenant, Annie Maw explains how she hopes to help strengthen links between the various diverse parts of Somerset
When I last interviewed Annie Maw for Somerset Life Magazine it was 2008 and she was having a busy year carrying out her duties around the county as High Sheriff.
As I squeeze myself into her packed diary today, I realise that life hasn’t slowed up for Annie, but rather it’s stepped up a gear as she throws herself enthusiastically into her new role as Somerset’s Lord-Lieutenant.
Until recently, this office (which dates from the reign of Henry VIII) was held by Lady Elizabeth Gass, who became a familiar face to us over 16 years as she escorted members of the Royal Family on their visits to Somerset.
Speaking to me in her home in Pilton, Annie pays tribute to her predecessor, saying she has been ‘absolutely incredible’ in the role.
“If I ever get half of what she’s achieved done then I will feel proud,” says Annie.
She admits that when she was High Sheriff – an office dating back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order - she was the main beneficiary.
“I learnt so much about the county and it was a great privilege to be allowed to see behind the scenes,” says Annie.
“I had some very eye-opening experiences.
“I met some wonderful people who do boundless good things, volunteering and so on. It’s quite heart warming to know what an active county it is.”
Now she has become Lord-Lieutenant, she has taken on a number of responsibilities.
These important duties include arranging royal visits, presenting awards and medals on behalf of The Queen, representing The Queen at a variety of events, advising on honours nominations and chairing the advisory committee, which recommends the appointments of magistrates.
She also liaises with local units of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force and with the Reserve Forces and Cadets.
The Lord-Lieutenant is supported by a Vice Lord-Lieutenant and a by a number of Deputy Lieutenants and Annie intends making the most of her talented team of 35 when it comes to seeking advice.
“We are moving into the 21st century and the role, if it’s going to be really effective, needs to use their sort of expertise constructively.”
Annie, a former nurse, is a Director and Council Member of the Royal Bath and West Society and is Chancellor of the Children’s University of Somerset. She is Vice-President of the Friends of Wells Cathedral and is a tour guide there.
She is a trustee of several organisations such as the Southern Spinal Injury Trust. A passionate gardener, she is also involved with Horatio’s Garden – a charity that builds gardens for patients at NHS spinal treatment centres.
Annie has used a wheelchair since breaking her back in a horse riding accident, resulting in paraplegia in 2002.
Rescued by Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, she then spent nine months in a spinal unit.
But being confined to a wheelchair has not stopped Annie from playing her part in public life.
“It’s a little bit challenging sometimes,” she explains.
“I am very fortunate indeed and I’ve got a very supportive husband, it’s just that you can’t do things spontaneously in the way that you can when you are not confined to a wheelchair.”
She has a chair on the roof of her car and her secretary in the Lord-Lieutenant office in County Hall saves her a parking space.
“I have wonderful secretaries who are very experienced at organising royal visits!” she says.
Annie and husband Dickie are grandparents and she describes her grandchildren as ‘completely central to my life’.
Annie prepares to explore much more of Somerset, which she describes as very large and very diverse.
“I think it has a romantic name and it’s a romantic county,” she says.
“But it’s fragmented because people in the north, for instance, who are allied to Bristol, are hardly aware of the fact that in their county they have the hills of Exmoor.
“And similarly, people who live on Exmoor have more affiliation to Devon than they do to North Somerset.
“Also Bath, which is very independent, is part of the county of Somerset.
“We need to make sure there is better communication and my feeling is to try to use things like education and farming to strengthen the links between all the extremes of the county because they can help each other.”
Lady Gass retires
Annie Maw’s predecessor was the first woman to be appointed as Lord-Lieutenant of the county – and she was also the first woman to hold the office of High Sheriff of Somerset. During a thanksgiving for her work held at the Cathedral, the Dean of Wells John Clarke described Lady Gass as a ‘hands-on, wellies-on Lord Lieutenant who drove hundreds of thousands of miles across the county to attend events’.
“The energy she has given to her work is combined with a care for people and a formidable memory,” he said.
“It was a delight to many people when, in the New Year’s Honours List of 2014. Lady Gass was appointed Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.”