40,996,800 minutes of dedicated volunteering work by one family at Rye Harbour
For 2,459,808,000 seconds the Brown family, Steve, Jean and Joe have been associated with the RNLI station in the heart of the village. That is seventy-eight years collectively and continuing.
Steve Brown joined the RNLI in 1989 when he was living in the Harbour. He was very close friends with the Robus family, Keith Robus being one of the first helmsmen. Steve joined as shore crew although he had initially wanted to be on the boat; being colour-blind put an end to those dreams. He became part of a team of drivers who manoeuvered the Unimog tractors to enable a launch to take place. The Unimog is a range of multi-purpose, all-wheel drive medium trucks.
Today Steve drives a Talus tractor which has been specially built for the job and enables the driver to control the vehicle in both directions. It has a turning circle of 10 metres, is 4.5 metres long and is articulated which most tractors are not. Steve went on a course in Wales to see how they were built with Jeff and Chris Robus and was fascinated by their great handling and power.
When Steve joined the RNLI he gained a second family: everyone looks out for each other and there is a great sense of camaraderie. Steve remarked, ‘When you travel around the coast and visit other stations you always receive a warm welcome. It is good too, to see how other stations operate and pick up different ideas.’
His enthusiastic wife Jean, who has been fundraising for the RNLI for over forty years, supports Steve at home and at the station. She is always willing to lend a helping hand and is a great baker, which is a bonus. They are in their turn supported by their son Joe who is in the Navy and when at home is a helm at the station. He joined eight years ago so has a little catching-up to do to emulate them.
Steve recalls that his proudest moment over the thirty years of service was the day he drove the tractor when Joe, his son, was going out to be assessed as a full helm. Steve said, ‘ Having passed out successfully I just hope that he does thirty years now.’
There have been some interesting stories to tell about the shouts and training exercises: none more interesting than the day the tractor got stuck in the notorious mud down at the beach and was totally submerged, luckily without a tractor driver inside. They had to wait till next day’s low tide to recover it.
Steve loves to fish and go clay-pigeon shooting in his spare time, not that he gets a great deal of that with the family’s commitments to the station.
Joe sums it up like this: ’The RNLI has always been a big part of my life as both Mum and Dad have been involved with it since before I was born. Dad has always had a pager for as long as I can remember. So for me to follow in his footsteps and join the RNLI was a natural path for me. The only difficulty now is that Mum has to deal with two people running out of the house when the pager goes off, not just one. Many dinners are abandoned and family get togethers postponed but everyone understands.’
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.