Former Norfolk County Council chair Hilary Cox is the subject in John Myhill’s latest Stewardship series interview. Hilary explains how her Christian faith gives her the strength to cope with a demanding and, sometimes, adventurous life.
If the greatest problem today is apathy, then the inextinguishable energy of Hilary Cox, to draw people into engagement, is the solution:- A Cromer town councillor since 2002 (she has been Mayor), a North Norfolk District Councillor, and County Councillor since 2009 (she was chair in 2013-2014).
Hilary says modestly that there is a great deal of overlap between her roles: knowledge from one part of her life benefits another part. It was people in need of information that drew her into politics, and she is a great enabler. She dresses smartly, has a flow of interesting conversation and charm: a role model for us all.
Hilary feels that her life has led her to the places where she can be most useful. Following God’s plan, she does what she is called to do. Coming from a military family it is natural that she should now be the county chair of the women’s section of the British Legion. Growing up in the hotel trade it was unsurprising that she learnt an early respect for alcohol, and firmness with those who might misuse it. That combination of good communication skills, energy and modesty explain how she became East Anglia’s “Barmaid of the year” 1970, and National bar steward of the year in 2001 (good looks and charm may also have helped!).
Her mother provided a Methodist background, “Sunday school was a delight”; so that it is not surprising that she later became a Reader and then a Preacher (1994) in the Methodist church. She remains part of the Cromer circuit, getting to know another aspect of local life.
Preacher and bar steward have one great thing in common, they both demand the ability to bring people together, using sensitive listening skills, to provide confidential mediation and counselling, that leads others to mutual understanding and reconciliation. To be an effective local councillor it is necessary to have these abilities to build communities. Hilary gave the example of working to resolve conflict at the Parish council level.
Her wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral, just after the Occupy movement, and with a Methodist preacher, brought three hundred folk from North Norfolk. It is still talked about, bringing new awareness. Hilary tries hard to shop ethically, using the local Co-op because of its Fair Trade goods, and promoting local products like Cromer crabs. She always seeks to widen the horizons of others so that they become aware of the bigger picture.
Hilary lives life adventurously: jumping from a plane to raise money for Cromer football club, trekking to Everest base camp for the most wonderful sunrise on earth, cycling to Cromer’s twin towns of Nidda, Germany, and Crest in southern France. This all illustrates her emphasis on the importance of “touching base with Nature”, as much as her devotion to charitable causes. She enjoys all kinds of music, and wishes she had more time for reading for pleasure; but of course councils and preaching demand a great deal of heavy reading.
Despite all this excitement, Hilary knows how to live simply, sharing the cooking with her husband, enjoying plain food and only indulging in luxuries when they are forced upon her by duty or politeness. She travels by bus and appreciates the work of charity shops.
Christian faith is at the centre of Hilary’s life. Her faith enables her to take up opportunities that feel right, no matter how challenging. If a task is given to her, she knows she will be given the strength to cope with it. Thus her trip to South Korea for the United Women’s Methodist Conference, and her acceptance of hospitality from a stranger on the plane, which took her to the heart of Korean life.
Her faith is also helping with her current struggle to learn scuba diving, so that she can see the chalk reef, which has brought DEFRA and local fishermen into conflict. She overcomes her fear of water by her faith that real experience on her part will enable her to bring the opposing sides together.
For Hilary, worship is “adoration and thanksgiving, anywhere, anytime”. Formal prayers, as those before council meetings, are very important to her. Talking to God and listening are essential for good discernment.
Pictured above with Hilary is Rob Spray, the diver who “found” the chalk reef which is the site she will visit on the dive. He was also in the news recently following the discovery of the petrified forest off Sheringham.
The image is reproduced here with kind permission of Eastern Daily Press/Richard Batson. The copyright of the image remains with Archant and it must not be reproduced elsewhere.
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