Surprise, Surprise! Blind Billy Baxter receives a prestigious award by the Rotary Club

IT was a real case of “Surprise, Surprise” for inspirational blind former Staff Sergeant Billy Baxter, when he was presented with a prestigious international award from the Rotary Club.

Billy - who lost his sight in the Bosnian conflict - had no idea he was about to be handed the award when his wife Karen took him for a night out at an Ely pub.

But members of Holbeach Rotary Club surprised Billy by turning up at the Hereward, and awarding him with a Paul Harris Fellowship.

Billy, who lives in Ely and is about to move to Llandudno to take up a new post with the St Dunstan’s charity that supports blind ex-service personnel, said: “Words cannot describe the pride I feel in being awarded this Fellowship.”

Holbeach Rotary Club decided to nominate Billy for the award after he twice attended their events.

Former president Helen Scott said: “The award was a complete surprise for Billy; when we arrived we asked if we could join him and his wife, and Billy recognised our voices.

“He is such a unique man, he is such an inspiration to everyone he meets. He came to talk at my charter night, and you could see everyone hanging on his every word, they were in awe of him.

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“He has achieved so much, and he wants to give so much back, he is quite remarkable. He always goes the extra mile, and he embodies the Rotary motto “Service above self.”

The citation on the award reads: “Billy Baxter is hereby named a Paul Harris Fellow in appreciation of the tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.”

Having served as a soldier for 21 years, Billy became blind more than 10 years ago, after developing a rare virus from exhuming bodies from mass graves.

St Dunstan’s inspired him to look to the future. In 2009 he enrolled on a course to develop formal training in public speaking and performance, and earlier this year, Billy was declared the outstanding individual learner for the eastern region for 2011. In 2003 he broke the land blind motorbike record at 165 mph.

Billy is due to start his new job on Monday August 30th, working at St Dunstan’s newest training centre as a rehabilitation and training assistant support worker.

He said: “It is a privilege to be given such a wonderful role in the charity that quite literally saved my life when I lost my sight.

“Quite simply, I have the best job in the world, and I am so proud to give something back. I fully intend to use my performance skills to entertainer the St Dunstaners and continue storytelling.”

Caption: Helen Scott hands the Fellowship to Billy Baxter