THE BIG INTERVIEW: Give something back to society
Alan Nix, 79, was made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, having spent many years working for good causes. The long-time Rotarian lives in Swindon with his wife, Valerie...
“WHEN you get to be nearly 80,” said Alan Nix, “and you realise that the time is running out, as it were, it isn’t how much money you’ve got that matters at all.
“It’s looking back and seeing what contribution you’ve made – what has been worthwhile, what is of substance.
“So I’d recommend anybody, any opportunity they get, to do voluntary work. They should take it because it’s the only thing in the end that’s of any value. Not what you’re paid to do – that’s neither here nor there.”
Alan, who retired 22 years ago, has been heavily involved with countless projects aimed at improving the lives of people across the Swindon area and beyond.
There was the Life Education Centre, for example – a mobile classroom which visited every local primary school and alerted some 150,000 children over the course of a decade to the dangers of substance abuse.
There was his decade as the chairman of the Lawn Community Association, during which it went from strength to strength and the local community centre became the flagship it remains today.
Alan’s other work has ranged from organising Rotary Club charity fundraising events and days out for needy children to membership of the Wiltshire Hospitals cancer steering group.
Today, though nearing 80, he is a trustee of Affected by Cancer (ABC) a local support group for patients and loved ones, and is also a staunch campaigner for Swindon to have its own radiotherapy unit.
Cancer care is particularly special to him because the eldest of his three children, Simon, died of the disease more than half a century ago.
“One of the reasons why I became involved with the campaign to get a radiotherapy facility in Swindon is that we were going to the huts in Oxford with our son 55 years ago for radiotherapy treatment – and people have been doing that ever since.
“They’re still doing it. Getting up early in the morning to get to the Churchill on time, in the hope that the machine hasn’t broken down, to receive some radiotherapy; to then make their way home, perhaps doubly incontinent, and it’s an outrage that they’re still doing it.”
Alan Francis Nix, one of five siblings, was born in East Ham and grew up in Essex. His mother was a housewife and his father worked for a food manufacturer. The family was comfortable by the standards of the day, owning a car and even a television in the late 1930s.
During the Second World War, Alan was evacuated to Pontllanfraith, a mining village in Monmouthshire, which he admits was a culture shock. His first placement, with a neglectful couple, culminated in a starving Alan inadvertently poisoning himself by eating berries he found.
The second, with a Mr and Mrs Francis, was much better. Conditions were basic but the couple were kind.
“There was no electric. It was gas and there was a toilet at the bottom of the garden – and there were big spiders. You knew when it was cold because the windows were frozen on the inside.
“Mrs Francis was baking all the time. We weren’t affected by rationing because Mr Francis had a smallholding with everything on it. Not only all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables but chickens and rabbits.
“We played a lot. We played on the quarries and on the big slag heaps, sliding down on tin trays. We never went anywhere and there were no theatres or anything like that, but the church did put on magic lantern slides which were a highlight.
“I went back after I came out of National Service. I might have been 24 when I went back and it hadn’t changed. Mrs Francis came to the door in the same pinny. I was delighted to see her and I threw my arms around her. She said, ‘I don’t know who you are, but you’d better come in...’.”
In 1952, Alan began his two years’ National Service with the Devonshire Regiment, which included a long stint in Kenya during the early stages of anti-colonial unrest.
In civilian life he joined the family business; his father, having lost his job amid post-war austerity, had bought a Swindon taxi firm.
“He bought it because at that time, in 1950, there were 40,000 Americans in the area building Fairford, Newbury, Brize Norton, Burderop, and they went everywhere by taxi.”
When the Americans left, that business gave way to a new one – a car dealership. Trynix operated from Victoria Road premises previously owned by Desmond Morris’s mother. The future author, TV presenter and surrealist painter had left intricate designs on the walls of an upstairs room.
At 20, fresh out of the Army and with no experience of women, Alan met Valerie, the fellow former evacuee who is the love of his life. He insists he couldn’t have achieved the things he’s done were it not for her.
“It’s a great joy to me that she’s looking forward to the investiture. I’ll tell the Queen if she asks me that the greatest help I’ve had was from Valerie Nix.”
Alan also credits Rotary, which he was sponsored into in 1982 by hair stylist Peter Goldsworthy, with inspiring his public service.
“I’m a dreamer and an enthusiast,” he said, “but I have to have other people who make it work. I have to have other people with the skills to make it happen.”
He is a strong advocate for volunteering, no matter how much or how little time a person has to spare.
He remembers a volunteers’ party at the community centre: “I had a girl come up to me and she said, ‘I don’t know why I’ve been invited because all I do is deliver the newsletter.’ “‘What do you mean, ‘All you do?’ I said, ‘because it’s vital. It’s such a big contribution. Every volunteer here I hope feels that they’re part of a worthwhile project – and they should do.’”