AN inspirational guide leader and retired nurse who has served the Inverclyde community for half a century says it has been 'a privilege'.

Sandra McColl, 66, bowed out after 49 years service to the NHS and was recently awarded her guiding 50 years long service award.

The grandmother spent all of her career caring for people in Inverclyde.

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She said: "It's been a privilege to be a nurse, to be able to look after people when they are at their most vulnerable and support them.

"I would like to think that I did my very best for everyone I visited. It's been very rewarding to be able to go to work every day and enjoy it."

Sandra says she wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember.

She said: "I had memories of an accident at The Glen in Port Glasgow and my dad went to help and I went along with my 'Dr Kildare' bag. It was just something I knew I was always going to be."

Sandra was brought up in The Glen area along with her younger sister Rosemary by their parents Mary and Samuel Kane.

Her dad was a shipwright at the Kingston Yard but he tragically fell and died aged 42 in an accident there when Sandra was only six.

Sandra said: "He went to work on the Monday morning and never came back home. There was no health and safety in those days and no help for my mum. She had to work all hours."

Mary was left to bring up Sandra and her sister, who was only two at the time, on her own.

The family moved to 'Bow Farm' flats when Sandra was 10.

She said: "We moved because where we stayed you could actually see the shipyard where my dad had died. Every time my mum looked out the window she was reminded of what had happened.

"I think at that age you don't realise the enormity of it all. It's not until later in life, when you get married and have children, all the milestones that my dad was missing and my children have missed."

She said her late mum worked all hours to support her daughters.

Sandra said: "My mum worked hard to give us the best we she could, she worked in Aulds and Drummonds, a tin box manufacturers, until she was forced to retire at 60.

"Then she went to work at Marchmont Care Home as a cleaner until she was 86. Nothing stopped her, she was so strong and inspired me."

Sandra attended Jean Street School and Highlanders' Academy before going on to Finnart School.

She said: "When I left school I was one of the first students to complete a pre-nursing course at Reid Kerr College in Paisley. I was still too young to start nursing training, so I worked as a pre-student in the Old Larkfield Hospital before I started at the Larkfield School of Nursing."

After three years training, Sandra landed her first job in the Old Larkfield Hospital. In 1979 she moved to the new Inverclyde Royal and in 1980 she trained to be a midwife at the Rankin Maternity Hospital, staying there until 1986 when she became a district nurse.

She said: "I loved my jobs. I worked nightshift in the community for 15 years helping people when they are at their most vulnerable and needy in the middle of the night."

Sandra was only seven when he joined the Brownies in Port Glasgow followed by the 27th Greenock Guides and that passion has stayed throughout her life.

She married engineer Hugh in 1979 and they settled in a flat in Newton Street before moving to their forever home in Gourock's Duthie Road.

The pair had two daughters Ashley, 41, who is a teacher at Aileymill Primary, and Samantha, 37, an anaesthetist, and later welcomed granddaughters, Islay, Robyn and Alexis.

Sandra enjoys travelling and told how one trip in 2020 just before the pandemic was a poignant moment.

She said:  "I had a good school friend Jean Fleming and we went on a school cruise to Lisbon and saw the Christ the Redeemer Statue as we sailed in. When we were told the real one was in Rio de Janeiro Jean said: 'we'll go there one day.'

"We kept it as a joke and stayed in touch, but she became unwell and was diagnosed with cervical cancer and passed away. She was only 32. I went to see her in the hospital and she said to me: 'you go to Rio.'"

It took over 30 years, but Sandra kept her promise and visited Brazil just two weeks before lockdown.

She said: "When I sailed in and saw Christ the Redeemer, it brought back a lot of emotions. I did it for Jean."

In January Sandra and her husband sailed through the Panama Canal from San Diego to Miami, but she says next trip is equally important - to Alton Towers, Cadbury World and Monkey World with the 27th Greenock Guides.

She said: "I am still young at heart."