Determination drives Jane to the top

IPSWICH: Jane Chambers has been a battler all her life – beating the odds time and again. Now she’s in the middle of a new challenge as first citizen of her home town.

And as the 61-year-old enjoys her year as mayor, it is clear that the struggles she faced in younger life have helped to drive her to where she is today.

She was born in Clifford Road – but when she was only two-and-a-half-years-old doctors diagnosed a congenital dislocation of both of her hips.

That led to a two-year stay in hospital wearing a “frog plaster” to try to cure the problem.

She remembers this as a tough time: “I was in hospital from when I was two-and-a-half until just before I started school. It was a very long time and things were different then.”

Visiting times, even for children, were very strict in those days – her parents could visit her for an hour three times a week, on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

When she was released from hospital her parents had another battle – to get her accepted into a mainstream school.

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“The authorities wanted to send me to a special school but they fought that and I was able to go to Clifford Road Primary near our home.”

But during her school career at both Clifford Road and Copleston the battles continued.

“I was put in the slow learners’ classes because I had problems walking – but there was nothing wrong with my brain!

“Thankfully one of the teachers at Copleston recognised that my problems with walking did not affect how my brain worked!”

Her treatment meant that at the time she was able to walk reasonably normally, and when she met her future husband at the age of 16-and-a-half he was not aware that she had any problems.

Jane has a steely – some might say stubborn – streak running through her.

So when doctors told her it was not advisable to have children she ignored that advice!

Her son Robert is her official consort during her year in office and she still lives with her daughter Catherine.

She said: “I was given different advice by the doctors, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!”

Her husband, Colin, was a computer engineer with The Evening Star – and she worked for Suffolk social services as an emergency home help.

She said: “I loved that job. It was really fulfilling. I’d be called in at short notice to help out if someone needed urgent help or if a regular home help went off sick.

“I remember one day being told at short notice that I had to get lunch for nine people. I went down to the fish and chip shop. They all loved it!”

This career came an end after Mrs Chambers had an accident and injured her hips again.

It took about 18 months for doctors to fully diagnose the problem – by which time permanent damage had been done.

Ultimately she was left relying on crutches for support – although that has done little to stop her work in the community around the town.

Her husband died in 1993 from cancer at the tragically early age of just 48 after 24 years of marriage.

Health problems have continued to dog her – she was unable to attend the count when she was first elected to the borough council in 2002 because her chronic osteomyelitis (bone marrow inflammation) had flared up.

She might not have been at the count on the night she became a councillor, but over the last eight-and-a-half years she has become one of the most familiar figures in Ipswich.

Last year her workload increased considerably – in May 2009 she was elected to the county council.

And this year she is finding life very busy as the town’s mayor – last year’s first citizen fulfilled 650 formal engagements.

She may need crutches to get around – but there is no sign of Jane Chambers slowing down!

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