Mary Elizabeth Sinnamon was awarded the BEM for services to education and the community in Co Antrim.
Involved in education for 43 years, Mary has also been a member of Rotary for almost 30 years.
The former Downshire School principal said: “Receiving a BEM has been a huge surprise to me and a huge honour.
“I am grateful to all the individuals and teams of people I have worked with over the years who have contributed to me being in this position.”
Starting in 1963, Mary spent the first 14 years of her teaching career in Hopefield Secondary School in Newtownabbey before being appointed to Downshire Community School when it opened in 1977 in Carrickfergus
She served first as its senior mistress, later vice principal and in 1989 was appointed as head teacher - that marked the appointment of the first female principal of a co-educational secondary school in the controlled sector of the (then) North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB).
Following retirement from Downshire in 1998, Mary was recruited to the NEELB School Support Service to work on a part-time basis in the areas of management support and school improvement.
“In any school the job is to create and deliver opportunities for young people and colleagues to develop, thrive and achieve personal excellence, whatever their starting point. The joy comes from watching that happen. Nothing gave me greater pleasure in teaching than recognising and affirming success in others,” she said
“I was privileged in my teaching career to work with teams of creative and professional colleagues and in leadership to have had James Black (Hopefield) and Maurice Jackson (Downshire) as inspirational role models.” As well as setting a course for women to follow in education, Mary has done likewise in the community-charity sector.
Invited to join Carrickfergus Rotary club in 1994, she became its first female member and as club president in 2001/2002 was the first female president of a Rotary club in Northern Ireland.
Mary added: “Incidentally, when I joined the Carrickfergus club, it was one of just five Rotary clubs in the whole of Ireland at that time beginning to recruit lady members.
“Membership of Rotary has been a great pleasure offering me the opportunity to engage with local and international projects and be part of a group of people who, while enjoying each others company, work together to support local projects and charities concerned with the well-being of others in the community.
“It is the scope of Rotary as an organisation, as well as the fellowship, team work, and opportunity for community involvement which engages my interest.
“As Rotary District’s Probus liaison officer it also offered me the opportunity to engage with the Probus community which was a delight and to work with other Rotary clubs to establish 10 new Probus clubs across the province.
“I hope to be able to continue my voluntary work for as long as I am fit and the groups I engage with will have me!”
Extending congratulations to Mary on behalf of club members, Carrickfergus Rotary president Sam Crowe said: “This award is thoroughly well deserved.”