Richard Tollett, the Rye Harbour Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) retired last Friday night after almost 50 years of service.
Richard, 70, started his RNLI volunteer career as a lifeboat crew member in 1968. He then took on the role of Honorary Secretary in 1986 and eventually became Lifeboat Operations Manager in 2004. His colleagues, family and friends from the RNLI saluted his long career at a celebration evening held at the village hall at Rye Harbour.
There were speeches from the incoming LOM, Tony Edwards, his old friend Pete Barnes ex-Littlestone RNLI station, and from Richard himself. Everyone contributed towards a new Canon SLR digital camera as a memento of their friendship.
During his years with the RNLI Richard was involved with 1,130 launches, rescuing 932 people and saving 189 lives, an incredible record.
When asked which rescue was the most memorable Richard replied: “There were 189 of them! Every time a life is saved it is an important and memorable occasion. This is what being an RNLI volunteer is all about.”
Richard did recall a rescue involving a Rye-based fishing vessel, the Irene H, on November 2, 1986. “On arriving at the scene we were confronted with a vessel which was quickly taking on water and the crew were pumping furiously. The pump had run out of fuel and they were trying to fill it with petrol. As two of the lifeboat volunteers boarded the boat, the fuel exploded and two of the crew wearing their fishing jumpers were set on fire. One of the lifeboat crew quickly grabbed them both and jumped overboard to extinguish the flames and they were then picked up by the lifeboat. The rescue took more than 11 hours in total as equipment was flown in by helicopter, casualties evacuated, and the boat secured and towed to harbour.”
Seafarers and the public have a lot to thank Richard for in a long and valuable career with the RNLI and we would all like to wish him a long and very happy retirement.
Photo: Steve Tollett