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Nicholas Owen meets the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Sarah Goad

PUBLISHED: 20:21 02 June 2011 | UPDATED: 06:03 20 May 2014

Surrey Life's Nicholas Owen meets the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Sarah Goad

Surrey Life's Nicholas Owen meets the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Sarah Goad

Welcome to our new series of interviews by BBC newsreader Nicholas Owen, in which the long-time Surrey resident will be talking to some of the most inspiring people in and around the county. In the first instalment, he meets the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Sarah Goad, at her home just outside Bletchingley

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2009
Photos by Andy Newbold

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There is a lovely old map of Surrey, dated 1823, in the front hall of Sarah Goad's house - a reminder of ancient times in the home of the holder of an ancient office.

Lords Lieutenant go back to the days of Henry VIII, when they were responsible for raising local militia to help the king fight battles at home and abroad. Today's Lord Lieutenant of Surrey still has some military responsibilities, though thankfully most of her work is of a peaceful nature as the Queen's representative in the county.

"It may sound a bit old-fashioned, but I think it is an excellent system," says the current incumbent, who took over in October 1997. "It gives a great sense of continuity with the Crown and the people of Surrey down the years."

It was her husband Tim who first spotted the vital communication explaining that she was about to be offered significant new responsibilities. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, his advisers had to set about finding someone to replace Sir Richard Thornton, who was retiring.

Various soundings were taken, good work noted, and a letter was duly sent to Mrs Goad from Downing Street. It wasn't opened in a hurry, though. Tim Goad scooped it up among a lot of other post one day when they were heading for a house they own in Normandy in northern France. The all-important letter wasn't read till they got there.

Mrs Goad admits to me that she did find the prospect a bit overwhelming at first. "It does take one over," she says. "But it is a great honour. It's a huge privilege and an opportunity to meet all kinds of people and do some useful things." In fact, doing useful things sums up the unstuffy Sarah Goad pretty well.

Born into the landed gentry of Surrey, she lives today in a house close to the one where she was brought up in Bletchingley - although her family, who can trace their Surrey roots back to at least the 14th century, would always prefer the old spelling, without the 't' in the middle.

Her father was Uvedale Lambert, who among other interests was Master of the Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt, and she enjoyed a thoroughly countrified upbringing.

A terrible wartime tragedy came very early in a life that might otherwise seem effortless and charmed. In 1944, a very young Sarah Lambert and her sister went into an air raid shelter in the garden. In a horrifically random incident, a V1 missile, a 'doodlebug' as they were usually called, came down on their house, killing Sarah's mother. Does she have any memories of that awful day?

"I don't really remember much at all... Just that there were some men who had been manning a barrage balloon. They came into the shelter, and got me and my sister out..."

Her father eventually got married again, to an American, and Sarah has many happy memories of visiting Denver, Colorado, in between terms at a boarding school in Berkshire, and later on, working at a publishing house in London.

Now 68, she was 19 when she started at one of Britain's leading publishers, Faber, and she went on working for them up to the birth of her first child. "Early on, I did everything," she recalls, "from making the tea to reading manuscripts and editing." Would-be authors so often get turned down, and she often had to relay the bad news: "Oh yes, I wrote endless rejection letters," she sighs.

Did she ever fancy writing a book herself? "Oh no; there were more than enough manuscripts lying around in bottom drawers." The connection with Faber helps explain one of the great passions of the Lord Lieutenant's life: reading. She loved the library in her father's house, and ever since then, "I have devoured books".

In 1961, she married Tim Goad, and they have a daughter, two sons, and now seven grandchildren. Gradually, she found time to take on other interests.

She has been a governor of both a state and a private school, and a trustee of the foundation that owns Wychcroft, the Southwark Diocesan Training Centre right beside her home, an institution started jointly by her father and the then Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood. For 14 years, she was a trustee and at one stage chairman of a residential care home for the physically disabled in south London. She is also a patron of the Surrey Care Trust.

You have to admire the number of voluntary jobs she has done, especially when you add the fact that in the mid 1970s she became a Justice of the Peace, and has been a magistrate first in Oxted and then Reigate and Dorking.

Today, her official duties include being chief magistrate in the county, chairing the advisory committee that advises the Lord Chancellor on who should become a magistrate, and she has a clear view of what an appearance in court means for defendants.

"It provides what I call a 'crossing point' for some people," she says. "They can choose a right direction or a wrong direction. When sentencing, you try to give them the opportunity to take the right one."

She is critical, as many long-serving magistrates are, of the way that Government policy has tended to take away so much discretion from local courts when it comes to sentencing. She also worries that so few young people are coming forward to do the part-time work of a magistrate.

"Employers are reluctant to spare people the time," she explains. "There is huge mobility of people and jobs now. One or two of those we recommend each year don't even take up the magistracy because their personal circumstances change."

When you consider the long list of voluntary tasks she has undertaken, and the organisations she has helped, it is clear why Downing Street lighted on her for the Surrey Lieutenancy.

Essentially, the post is divided into two parts. She represents the Queen at functions where no royal is actually present. And when a member of the Royal Family undertakes official duties in Surrey, she is there to welcome them to the county, and accompany them while they are in it.

More than that, she plays a key role in arranging the programme of events once it is known that a royal is to make a visit. She describes as "amazing" the amount of "good and hard work the Royal Family does in recognising the efforts of all kinds of people across a broad spectrum of activities". She sees at first-hand how much such visits are appreciated.

As someone who regularly meets the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other senior members of the Royal Family, how does she find them? All are "delightful", she says. I can't resist asking what they call her, and it turns out she is well enough established to be "Sarah".
Her diary is packed with engagements as diverse recently as celebrating the best of business achievement in Surrey, and the launch of new fund-raising by St Catherine's Hospice, just over the border in Sussex, now serving East Surrey following the closure of the Marie Curie Hospice in Caterham.

The requests come thick and fast, though you will hear no complaints from a woman who loves Surrey and delights in what is achieved here. She names two things of great importance that keep the Lieutenancy running smoothly: The backing of Surrey County Council and especially Caroline Breckell, the assistant clerk at SCC headquarters, who does so much of the administration. And finally, the one "essential" factor: "The support of a good husband."

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