Pirton church organist who’s played for almost 80 years and Hitchin-born hockey player recognised in New Year’s Honours list

Vera Thrussell has played the organ at Pirton Methodist Church since 1937, when she was 15.

Vera Thrussell has played the organ at Pirton Methodist Church since 1937, when she was 15. - Credit: Archant

A veteran church organist and an Olympic gold medal winning hockey player and have both been recognised by the Queen in the newly released New Year’s Honours list – showing the wide scope the awards cover.

Vera Thrussell has played the organ at Pirton Methodist Church since 1937, when she was 15.

Vera Thrussell has played the organ at Pirton Methodist Church since 1937, when she was 15. - Credit: Archant

Vera Thrussell, from Pirton near Hitchin, receives a British Empire Medal for services to the community in the village.

Vera Thrussell playing the Pirton Methodist Church organ in around the 1950s.

Vera Thrussell playing the Pirton Methodist Church organ in around the 1950s. - Credit: Archant

The 94-year-old has played the organ at Pirton Methodist Church on a weekly basis for almost 80 years, and never commanded a fee.

Great Britain's Helen Richardson-Walsh has been given an MBE for services to hockey. Photo: Ady Kerr

Great Britain's Helen Richardson-Walsh has been given an MBE for services to hockey. Photo: Ady Kerry - Credit: Ady Kerry

She started to play the organ in 1937, aged 15, and was self taught. And, except for a period of work with The Pathfinders in the Second World War, Vera has played weekly ever since.

She has always done so for free, and always donates her fees for weddings and funerals to chapel funds.


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Although Vera has been widowed twice and has suffered from Meniers disease for many years, she has maintained her love of music and of playing the chapel organ.

Speaking about Vera’s efforts, Helen Hofton, a friend and steward at the chapel who put forward the nomination, said: “Vera plays a pivotal role in the worship and fellowship of the chapel, and she has personally kept the chapel alive through threatened closures, major subsidence problems and kitchen and toilet refurbishments. She has always been there and is much loved and respected in chapel.

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“She plays the organ really well and had a wide repertoire of hymns and other music. More recently she has encouraged a boy since the age 12, giving him the benefit of her knowledge of the chapel organ and the music used in worship in a kind and unassuming way.

“But her influence in the village is spread wider than the Methodist community. Her small home is a social hub where everyone is welcomed with a smile and a cup of tea as part of her Coffee Pot Club which has followed on from the Bright Hour Savings Club which she organised for 55 years.

“This unassuming lady has dedicated her life to Pirton Methodist Church, and I felt her long service deserved recognition outside the immediate community.”

To watch an interview about her early life in the village click here.

Another woman to be recognised is Helen Richardson-Walsh, who was born in Hitchin in 1981 and spent her early life growing up in Stevenage.

She was a member of the Great Britain team that won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and receives an MBE for services to hockey.

Helen won her first England cap in 1999, at the age of 17. A year later she was a member of the Great Britain team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, becoming the youngest female hockey player to represent GB at an Olympic Games.

The 35-year-old has featured in three Olympics since and, along with the Rio gold and bronze at London 2012, has won bronze medals with the England team at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games.

In 2008 she began a relationship with her Great Britain and England teammate Kate Walsh. The pair married in 2013, and both adopted the surname Richardson-Walsh.

To view the full list of honours click here.

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