MORE than 23 years ago Irene McMillan walked into REACT Engineering’s offices to start working six hours a day as an administrator on reception.
This week she retires having been an outstanding ambassador for the Cleator Moor company and part of the fabric of the business and the community.
REACT managing director Phil Redfern said: “Irene embodies everything that REACT stands for - she is positive, proactive, really cares about what she does, and makes a massive positive difference.
“Irene is the first contact everyone who has worked for REACT over the years has had with the company, including me, and she has always been professional and caring and helps set the tone of what REACT is about.
“Everyone at REACT past and present wishes Irene a long and very happy retirement."
Irene, 62, from Dalry, Ayrshire, moved to Whitehaven in 1987 when her husband Gus took a job with the then UKAEA Constabulary, later to become the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC).
With a growing family, children Kati and Steve, in 1997 Irene was looking for a part-time job.
She saw an advertisement for a receptionist/administrator at REACT which at the time was only three years old having been set up by Pete Woolaghan, Trevor Craig and Steve Knight.
Having got the job, the role naturally grew into marketing and recruitment and Irene quickly built up strong relationships in the community as well as within the business.
Liaising with local schools and colleges both for REACT and for the REACT Foundation, Irene has organised a programme of events and initiatives over the years to inspire thousands of young people about opportunities, especially in science and engineering.
Irene said: “I have loved my time at REACT. It has been a great company to work for and wonderful to see it grow into the very successful business it is today while still retaining that family feel.
“It’s the variety of the work I have enjoyed so much. Working with the kids and the schools has been very rewarding.
“All the primary schools and secondary schools in West Cumbria are fabulous and when you see the kids get so excited about some of the programmes and activities we do it is great.”
Irene has also formed strong links with local colleges, the University of Cumbria, and the likes of Newcastle University and Nottingham University which have led to young engineers gaining opportunities with REACT.
Pete Woolaghan, chairman of the REACT Foundation, said: “Irene has been an inspiration to work alongside in the Foundation. She gives life to our ideas and makes them real on the ground through a combination of determined creativity, resilience and relationships with people that is quite unique.
“Such is her commitment to the work we do with young people in West Cumbria I’m sure we will see her again in a voluntary capacity at some point.
“We are going to miss her terribly but wish her the very best in retirement.”
Irene is looking forward to spending more time with family and friends, including grandchildren Chloe, 15, and one-year-old Kit.
A good cook and baker, she is keen to explore cheesemaking, and is also going to buy a pair of walking boots to see more of the great outdoors on her doorstep.
When restrictions ease she also hopes she and Gus will be able to enjoy travelling abroad to celebrate her retirement. “In the meantime it will have to be cocktails on the deckchair in the garden!” she said.