In February 2017, the stenographic profession and the Institute lost our very own Elisabeth “Betty” Willett. Upon her passing, we decided to put in place a very special dedication to her for all that she did for our profession.
In 1974, Betty was elected onto the Council of the Institute and in 1975 she became the first female President, a position which she held on a further five occasions, once for two successive years overseeing our amalgamation with the then National Society of Stenotypists.
Betty was our most senior member of Council, latterly as Chief Examiner. Her last task at the time of her passing was rewording and setting new exam criteria for potential BIVR members.
Betty was the mother of Council, the Queen of BIVR, and always had members’ interests at heart, including championing (whilst always speaking with quiet authority) for fair remuneration, and being a staunch campaigner for maintaining the Institute’s high standards of transcription.
With the introduction of Computer-Aided Transcription in the 1980s, Betty led the way in becoming a realtime reporter and a captioner for the D/deaf and hard-of-hearing community, very possibly being the first Speech-to-Text Reporter (STTR). She voluntarily encouraged and assisted many members to achieve similar goals, freely devoting many hours of her time, and showed little sign of slowing down.
Betty covered all manner of assignments and travelled, along with her colleague and friend Lindsay Bickers, to many countries, including Venezuela, Finland, Japan, Zimbabwe, Rome and Hong Kong.
Betty received many accolades, in particular being honoured by the Institute with Life Membership in May 2005 and in 2006 being the recipient of the Joseph Maitland Robinson Award for her work as an STTR.
BIVR members, past and present, have a story or two to tell about their interactions with Betty. At the time of Betty’s passing, many people reached out to Leah Willersdorf, our then President, to share their memories of Betty and express that if it weren’t for her they wouldn’t be where they are now.
Through her dedication, passion and commitment to our profession, not only will Betty live on in our hearts but she will also live on in the fingers of many of this country’s shorthand writers.
Council decided to inaugurate the Betty Willett Award for outstanding achievement in the profession and asked the membership to nominate who they thought worthy of this accolade.
Claire Hill received the inaugural award in 2018.
This is what her nominating colleague had to say:
"I wanted to write a detailed appreciation that fully does Claire justice, but I'll just note a few of the reasons that spring to mind about Claire who has:
- the most varied skill set of any reporter I know which has ensured that she is able to work in virtually any arena that the profession serves;
- is constantly striving to improve her knowledge and skills and she is fearless in taking on new tech challenges;
- is passionate about providing her clients with the highest level of service;
- is extremely generous in sharing her knowledge and expertise at a personal level and she has always been keen to participate and give her time and effort to the wider profession over the years despite a very busy schedule;
- manages admirably to balance her kindness and sensibility with well-honed business acumen in a challenging market!”
To add to that, BIVR Council was aware of the work Claire does, how highly thought of she is by her peers, clients and organisations (as can be seen on social media). We mustn't forget the fact that Claire single-handedly organised and hosted the City & Guilds course for current Speech-to-Text Reporters as well as those who were interested in maybe becoming an STTR. Added into all of that goes the fact that Claire is the first (and only, so far) to receive 100% on the QRR (Qualified Realtime Reporter) exam.
Claire couldn’t attend the AGM to receive the award, so our then President, Leah Willersdorf presented it about a month later. Here’s what she had to say upon receiving it:
“Thank you very much for this award. It’s a real honour to be recognised by one’s peers, and knowing the high regard in which we all held Betty, it’s particularly gratifying to receive an award in her name. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there today to receive it in person.
I’ve always tried to keep abreast of any new developments in reporting, whether that be new software, speech-to-text or remote working, and I always try to add value whenever I attend a job, and hopefully make the clients believe that a live stenographer, whether on-site or remote, is always the best option.
I’ve been really impressed with the BIVR in the last few years, I think you’re revitalising a profession that suffers from a real image problem in the wider world, so thank you for your hard work and please keep it up, as we all benefit.
I’d also like to thank all my co-workers over the years, whether fellow reporters, editors or captioners, because the best results are achieved when we work together in pursuit of the same goals.
I look forward to having the award in my hand, and it will have pride of place in my home!
Thank you again.
Andrew Howell is the 2020 recipient.
Here's an extract from his nomination:
"Andrew is truly the most genuine and friendly stenographer in the UK. He is so welcoming and helpful, especially to any new STT reporters. He has a breadth (and years!) of knowledge that is unsurpassed. Andrew is extremely supportive by his very nature. He was extremely supportive in a team environment at the BBC, and remains so in the (competitive) freelance world.
"Specifically, Andrew has helped new reporters by taking the time and patience to explain how different software interacts. He has an encouraging way about him with only positive things to say about everyone, and the industry itself (...) In April 2019, he gave a student a stenography machine - selfless gesture. (...) Andrew has a working knowledge of most types of software, and set up the Facebook Text on Top Users Group page. He is the expert when it comes to all things Stenograph/CaseCatalyst. (...) He takes it upon himself to become a super-user and has many tips and tricks. Andrew doesn't get involved in the politics in the freelance world and remains neutral. Over the years, he has taught and passed on his knowledge of: KLive, OpenWrite, Text on Top and CC, and appeared at BIVR events (he captioned the BIVR Awareness Weekend in 2018), always with smiles, hugs and coffee!"
Due to Covid-19 restrictions Andrew could not attend personally, but he has sent us a photo of himself holding the award and there is that smile.
"I'm thrilled to have received this award. Having my name associated with Betty's is a high honour indeed.
I first met Betty in 1983 when I was a trainee, and straight away she went into Mother Hen mode and looked after me and my interests, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
I remember when I was lucky enough to be able to use the CAT system that Marten Walsh Cherer had bought, and Betty was in the office. I didn't know she was standing behind me, but she was looking at my transcript. She leant over and said, "My dear, best to have a semicolon before that 'however'.”
That moment seemed to me to sum Betty up - always watching and listening and offering advice and support when needed, working behind the scenes and got (sorry I used that word, Betty!) no glory for those efforts.
I hope I can live up to and continue the ideals Betty taught us, especially at these times with the relentless march of technology making our place in the world ever more difficult.
Thank you again for this award. It's the best thing about 2020 by far!"
This year’s recipient is Mary Sorene, a lady whose stenography career spans six decades and is a name synonymous with stenography here in the UK.
Mary began working as a pen shorthand writer at London’s Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) on 29 November 1971, having attained a speed of 210 words per minute. Between 1988 and 1993, Mary branched out on her own and was awarded a Crown Court contract in North London. Mary retrained from pen shorthand to the steno machine and began practising as a freelance verbatim reporter in 1993.
Mary is a member and/or officer in a number of national and international shorthand and reporting associations, including current Chairman of the Incorporated Phonographic Society (the oldest shorthand-writing society in the world), Treasurer of the Association of Verbatim Speech to Text Reporters (AVSTTR), our long-standing Secretary and Treasurer, and a Participating Member of the NCRA. Mary has her own training company to teach our court reporters of the future and is a Certified Reporting Instructor with the National Court Reporters Association. Mary holds various certificates in Education Principles and Practice, as well as having received an Award of Merit from the City of London Business News for Services to Training.
A little-known fact about Mary is that before working at the Old Bailey, she worked for ten years in the secretarial field, starting out as a junior shorthand-typist on 1 January 1962, working her way up to being a secretary to a partner in a firm of solicitors, then into commerce as secretary to the head of a department. Effectively, January 2022 will be Mary’s 60th anniversary of being in the profession of stenography, with November this year seeing Mary celebrate her 50th anniversary in court reporting.
In 1975, Mary married the love of her life, Raymond, who sadly passed away in 2015. They have a daughter, Carryl, and Lola the cat. For the past 12 months, Mary and Carryl have been the proud owners of three other cats (Onyx, Jasper and Sapphire) they rescued as kittens.
Nomination received from BIVR member Amanda Bavin, ASTTR, ACR:
“I would like to nominate Mary Sorene for the Betty Willett Award!! I first met Mary about 20 years ago when I went to her house to sit a BIVR speed test. I was nervous but was met with a smile, a cuppa, toast and jam, and a cat or two.
In my opinion, Mary has done an enormous amount of work for BIVR and for BIVR members, almost too much to mention. Mary's BIVR connections started way back in the 1970s, and along the way she earned an Award of Merit for services to Training. Mary doesn't blow her own trumpet so I found this on her website, along with Mary's usual congratulations of other [student] reporters who have achieved exam passes.
Mary has served on BIVR Council for many years and also AVSTTR Treasurer. She helps with charities such as United Kingdom Council on deafness UKCOD. Mary has represented stenographers and palantypists in countless ways over the years and is ALWAYS independent and promotes EVERYBODY in a positive light with her good humour.
Best known for her role as Secretary, she frantically pulls together the newsletters and nomination forms and keeps the Council shipshape. Mary is also involved with the IPS and has delivered Monday night dictation sessions always with a little humour here and there. She still runs her own business training students.
When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020 Mary didn't sit on her laurels; she immediately set up Tuesday free dictation CPD (Continuing Professional Development) sessions for everyone so that we could all keep some daily working structure. Mary has been truly unselfish in her tireless promotion of us all and the profession, and deserves this long-awaited recognition!”
An extract from Mary’s written response:
“What a wonderful surprise, indeed shock, to be the recipient of The Betty Willett Award. Betty was an inspiration to us all, myself included, and to be thought worthy of this prestigious award is, indeed, a great honour, which I accept with thanks to the proposer and for the Council for agreeing. This is my second honour, the first being given Life Membership some years ago by Betty herself.
Everyone in the court reporting world knew of Betty Willett and what a tough cookie she could be. However, I first met her in 1980 when I was heavily pregnant (with Carryl) and Betty came to the Old Bailey to test a prospective member. Then, in 1987 a request was made in the newsletter for fresh blood on Council. I applied. Betty called and positively purred down the phone. I was co-opted in September 1987 and elected in 1988. At one of the early meetings I attended, Betty was full of delight that through her letterbox had dropped an envelope from me with the suggestion that the information for prospective members be on different coloured paper – pastel colours, one for each, depositions for instance.
I was appointed Careers Officer and when the Institute wished to change its name upon merging with the National Society of Stenotypists (NSS) I was able to help through my counterpart at the Law Society to persuade the Home Office to permit the use of the word ‘British’ in our new name.
When Pat Pratt resigned and a new Secretary was needed, it was Betty who suggested that I would be ideal. Have I been? I think so and it seems so do others!
Although I retired from active note-taking in 2012, I continue to train stenographers, guiding them not just on the keyboard skills but also on the job itself and try to enthuse in them the joy that I have always felt at reaching my goal (first kindled in 1963, when I sat in the public gallery at the Royal Courts of Justice trying to take a shorthand note with an inadequate 70 wpm!) of becoming a verbatim court reporter.”
Roll of Honour
2017 – awarded posthumously to Betty Willett via her daughter, Amanda.
2018 – awarded to Claire Hill, ACR MBIVR, QRR, RPR, CRR, CRC, NRCPD registered
2020 - awarded to Andrew Howell, ACR MBIVR, QRR, RPR
2021 - awarded to Mary Sorene, Lifetime MBIVR, FIPS, CRI