Maria Hewitt is receiving one of the United Kingdom’s highest honors, the British Empire Medal, for her service to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. She will be honored during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years in the monarchy.
But Hewitt described the moment as “bittersweet” because her husband John won’t be there to share the moment with her.
John Hewitt died of COVID-19 in June 2020. Despite her grief, Hewitt went back to work as a nurse caring for the sickest of patients in Glasgow’s ICU wards.
A Tribute to Her Service
Hewitt became a nurse in 2019 after 30 years as a police officer. She started working at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley before taking on a role with the country’s Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, security, and law and order. As part of her assignment, Hewitt traveled to Saudi Arabia to train the country’s first female police officers.
She was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when the pandemic first struck, but she quickly returned to the U.K. to work in the COVID-19 wards for the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC).
The work coincided with the loss of her husband, but instead of taking time off, Hewitt went right back to nursing.
“To lose such a loving husband and such a kind man was a horrific time. After six weeks I went back to the NHS and worked so hard,” Hewitt told the BBC.
“It was a devastating loss for myself and John’s sister and her family. Lots of people asked why I was working and all I could say was, what else can I do? It was a defining moment and such a horrific loss that work definitely really did help me and seeing people survive COVID-19 on the wards, I was so pleased for them.”
Hewitt now works in the dermatology department at the Vale of Leven Hospital in Alexandra. She remembers getting the call that she’ll be honored during the Queen’s Jubilee.
“I got a very nice call from the Cabinet Office saying the Queen had approved the BEM for my service to the NHS during the pandemic. It was some moment sitting in the car by myself,” she said.
“It’s been extra special, however very bittersweet because my husband is not here to share in such an achievement. He would have been super proud of me, and he would be absolutely delighted that my professional life was being honored. When I graduated, he just loved the pomp and ceremony at the graduation. I know that on the day when I receive the medal at Holyrood Palace he will be with me in spirit.”
Angela Wallace, NHSGGC executive nurse director, congratulated Hewitt on the well-deserved good news.
“Despite the grief of losing her husband, she continued to play an important role in NHSGGC’s effort to protect the public from Covid-19 and I am personally grateful to her and the rest of our staff and partners for their hard work and commitment throughout the pandemic,” Wallace said. “Maria’s achievement is also proof that it’s never too late to take up a career in nursing, and I hope her story inspires others to make the switch into this wonderful job.”
Hewitt is one of a handful of Scots that will be honored during the festivities.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this moment “illustrates the outstanding contributions of the people of Scotland who have made a difference to their communities, throughout the country and beyond”.
“The honors highlight their exceptional service to the people of Scotland,” she added. “I am pleased to see that those individuals who worked against the coronavirus pandemic, its far-reaching impact and those working for our recovery, have been recognized. I know we are all incredibly grateful for their selfless actions and it’s right that their outstanding efforts have been acknowledged in this way.”