Rita’s last wish

For horsewoman Rita Meredith (nee Browning) ‘dreams really do come true’ as Rita’s last wish “to smell and see a horse one last time” was granted on a very special day at Calvary Mater Newcastle’s Hospice on Tuesday 9 March 2021.

Rita’s family, friends, Hospice staff, and NSW Mounted Police, rallied together to make the magical moment happen in a very short space of time. Following a call from Rita’s friend, two NSW Mounted Police Officers and their horses, based in Redfern Sydney, were only too happy to make the two-hour, 163-kilmometre trip to make Rita’s dream become a reality.

Senior Constable Graham Lovett and Constable Nicole Harvell, accompanied by their handsome sidekicks, Police Horse ‘Don’ and Police Horse ‘Hollywood’ (son of the famous racehorse Octagonal) spent an hour and a half with Rita out the front of the Hospice on a gloriously sunny day allowing plenty of pats, sniffs and the swapping of stories about the job.

You see, for Rita, it was very fitting the horses were from the Mounted Police. Rita, originally from England, made history in her early 20s. After serving in the Durham County Constabulary for two years, Rita was accepted to the Country’s Mounted Police Unit in 1968, making her the first female Mounted Police Officer in the UK.

Based at Durham Mounted Police, Rita’s first assignment was to help ensure the safety of Queen Elizabeth, also known as The Queen Mother, during a royal visit to Tees-Side. Rita caught the eye of the Queen Mother. Rita’s horse, Backhouse, tried to have a nibble on the fur around the cuff of her royal coat. The Queen Mother clearly unfazed had a chuckle and said to Rita how wonderful it is to have a girl in that job.

Two years later, Rita’s sister, Enid, followed in her sister’s footsteps and joined the mounted police, a unique equestrian double that once again made Rita a celebratory throughout the country.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Rita’s family arrived in Australia and Rita went on to work tirelessly as a foster carer for children with disabilities. However, horses were always close to her heart!

Speaking on the day, Rita was overcome with happiness and simply said,

“It’s unbelievable, I can’t believe it! Thank you.”

Emily Sykes, Rita’s daughter-in-law and registered nurse at the Mater, said “I’m very grateful that someone as wonderful as Rita could get her last wish granted. To see the smile on her face and the love and mutual respect radiating out of both her and the police officers is something I won’t forget for a long time.

“Rita couldn’t believe what all the fuss was about and was very humble about just how important she was to the history of policing and women in general.”

It was a magical day for all involved and the story went ‘viral’ across the world, spreading some happiness through the sharing of this touching moment.

Emily comments, “To see all the well wishes online and strangers reaching out to wish us and Rita all the very best has shown me that there is still good in the world!

“Thank you again to the NSW Mounted Police for making Rita’s wish come true. Rita passed away peacefully less than 48 hours after her visit from the mounties. It truly was one last wish!”

Vale Rita Meredith, 7 January 1946 – 11 March 2021.