At 93, age cannot hold back champion charity fund-raiser Graham Bell. Now he is urging others to follow his example. Catherine Scott reports.
Since turning 60 Graham Bell has walked on burning coals, run a marathon, completed a degree and raised thousands of pounds for charity. And now aged 93 the D-Day veteran shows no signs of slowing down.
Since entering his tenth decade, Graham – a former British Steel engineer from Handsworth, South Yorkshire – has been volunteering for Marie Curie in a bid to support local people suffering terminal illnesses.
He is no stranger to asking for money as he has been a fund-raiser for numerous charities since he retired.
“I’ve supported various charities over the years including Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind, British Red Cross, Mind, Sheffield Children’s Hospital, CLIC Sargent – Young Lives vs Cancer – and Age UK,” says Graham.
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“Having been made aware of the incredible work of the Marie Curie nurses, for whom I have enormous compassion and admiration, I decided to sign up as a volunteer so that we can help tackle issues surrounding terminal illness and continue to provide the support and care people need.
“I’ve been drawn to fund-raising since I retired – it’s a great way to meet people, learn new skills and you gain a great sense of satisfaction from the knowledge that the little bit you do can help make a real difference to the lives of others,” says Graham.
“At the age of 93, I still feel I’ve got plenty to give and would encourage anyone – young or old – to volunteer.”
Over the years, Graham has taken part in various challenges including: The London Marathon for Mind when he was 60-years old completing it in an impressive three hours 40 minutes;
Six Sheffield full and half marathons and then a number of Sheffield 10ks, completing his last one at the age of 88-years; The Great Yorkshire Run in September 2012 in aid of Support Dogs; A fire and glass walk in 2018 for the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind and CLIC Sargent which involved walking barefoot over 20 metres of red hot embers before walking over a carpet of razor sharp broken glass.
In 2017 Graham was awarded France’s highest military distinction – the Legion d’honneur – for his part in D-Day.
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“I love everything French so to get that honour was particularly memorable,” he said.
He served for four years in the Royal Navy and was tasked with shooting down the V1 Doodlebug flying bombs.
“I was only 18 and remember vividly all those poor men being shot down on the beaches and just feeling grateful that I was on the ship. You don’t get over things like that easily.”
After the war finished he returned to Sheffield but couldn’t settle, so decided to sign up to a farming scheme for ex-servicemen in Lincolnshire. While there he lodged with a family, whose daughter Mary later became his wife.
“She was only 16 and I was 23 but she said she knew that she would marry me, and she did.”
The couple have now been married 68 years and have three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
As well as his physical feats, Graham has also remained remarkably mentally active, gaining a GCSE, followed by an A-level and then in his early 80s he decided to do a degree, having originally left school at just 13 when war broke out.
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“I used to walk into the classroom and everyone thought I was the lecturer, and I would say ‘no I am one of you.’”
Graham graduated from the University of Sheffield with a 2:2 in combined studies of French, Spanish, Literature and History.
“I was hard work,” he admits. “But I do tend to get obsessed about things. I’m obsessed about football, I used to coach it, and also French. I work with the Erasmus students that come to Sheffield and I also love to just walk around Paris soaking in the atmosphere and looking at the sights.
"Someone said I should write down my life story but it is too time consuming so it will go to the grave,” he says.“I suppose if you live a long time you have a lot of adventures.”
He attends local schools to help children with their reading, supports elderly people at the gym four times per week, trains there himself and still runs regularly.
An avid reader, two years ago he decided to go vegan. “I read lots of books and I am now 100 per cent certain that the only really healthy way to eat is to have a whole plant diet and I feel great.”
Although he admits that Mary was less than impressed. “I’m not sure she’s spoken to me since,” he jokes. “She’s dead against it and so I prepare all my own meals.”
He also likes to keep fit, always having been a keen runner and he has an exercise bike and rowing machine at home as well as attending his local gym. “Then they found out I was 93 they offered me free membership for life.”
Despite living life to the full, Graham still has some outstanding things he would like to do. “I’d like to do another 10k for charity,” he says, “But my family keep telling me I am too old, but I think I have another one in me. I’d also like to do a parachute jump as I’ve never done one before.”
All this week Graham can be found in Morrisons in Rotherham with his trusty collecting tin, this time for CLIC Sargent. “I raised more than £800 last week for children with cancer, I think I have the knack.”
Rebecca Bramley, Marie Curie Community Fundraiser, said: “We’re incredibly honoured that such a community stalwart and veteran volunteer has decided to join our team.
"Graham comes with an astonishing track record of successful fundraising spanning almost 40 years. He was awarded an MBE in 2005 for his charity work and was nominated as one of the Diamond Champions in a national award to mark the Queen’s Jubilee that honours unsung heroes over 60 for their voluntary work.
"His credentials speak for themselves and we look forward to continuing to work alongside such an amazing and selfless supporter.”
If you would like to volunteer for Marie Curie email firstname.lastname@example.org