Britain’s longest-serving dinner lady is hanging up her apron – after serving a staggering 1.5 million school meals in a career spanning FIVE decades.
Dedicated Sue Dotchin, 66, has been dishing out lunches for 44 years at the very school she attended as a child.
Since 1966 the grandmother-of-three has served 1.5 million meals to more than 10,000 different pupils at Benson Primary School near Wallingford, Oxon.
Incredibly, she has never taken a day off for holidays or sickness in 11,880 days of employment.
The food she serves has changed dramatically over the years, with modern dishes such as Moroccan chicken replacing old favourites like steak and kidney pudding.
She will celebrate her final lunch shift tomorrow with her favourite meal – steak pie and chips followed by jam-roly poly.
And Sue, who lives just yards from the school, had a few choice words for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver over his attempts to revolutionise school dinners.
She said: ”It makes me angry when I hear people criticising traditional school dinners.
”Jamie Oliver is talking a load of rubbish when he says they’re not healthy.
”We’ve been making sure children get a good hearty and healthy meal every day for years.”
Sue attended the 150-year-old school when she was five years old – following in the footsteps of her own parents and even her grandparents.
She left secondary school at 15 to work in a wool shop in the village but returned to the primary school seven years later when she took a temporary job in the kitchens in 1966.
Then aged 22, she initially took the job to be closer to her two daughters Melanie, now 48, and Karen, now 46, who had just started school.
But she enjoyed it so much she was promoted to a permanent position and dished out food to hungry pupils five-days-a-week.
Typical meals when she started in 1966 were steak and kidney pudding with boiled vegetables and treacle sponge pudding.
In the 70s the favourite dish was battered fish and chips and jam roly-poly with custard for dessert.
Sue’s main meals in the 80s consisted of vegetables with turkey roast or chicken breast and ice cream for dessert.
The food changed in the 90s to include healthy dishes such as salad and pasta or chicken curries.
She now serves exotic dishes such as Moroccan chicken with salad and coleslaw, apple and peach crumble with cheese and biscuits or yoghurt.
The food used to be served on heavy china plates but now it is on colour-coded plastic trays.
Sue said: ”The food is a lot healthier these days and the menus have changed significantly.
”But the role is still the same – making sure children have a good meal and enjoy the food.
”My most popular dish is my meat pie, which I make with turkey. The kids seem to love it.”
Sue always takes her holidays during half-term and has never called in sick – despite suffering back pain and excruciating sciatica.
She beats the previous longest serving dinner lady, or ‘midday supervisor’, Jean Artt(corr), 75, who worked for 43 years in Middlesbrough until she retired in January.
Despite taking retirement, Sue will continue to visit the 250-pupil school to work as a volunteer helping children read and teaching children how to bake.
She said: ”I’ll be very sad to leave this job and I expect there will be a few tears, but it’s the right time to move on.
”I’ve loved every minute of my time as a dinner lady. Some of the children I once served now have grandchildren at the school.
”It’s all about the children for me, making sure they are well looked after and happy.
”I remember so many of them and still get stopped in the street.
”I’ve never had a day off because I love my job so much. I always wake up and look forward to coming in.
”I’m looking forward to having more time to spend with my family but I will definitely keep myself busy. I’m not the type of person to sit around doing nothing.
”The most important thing for me has been the environment here. I’m glad I will still be coming in to the school because I think I would miss it.”
Her husband Edward, 70, a retired driver, said: ”Sue’s really loved every minute of her job and I’m so proud of.
”Sue’s a fantastic cook and she starts preparing meals again as soon as she comes home.”
Headteacher Linda Neely said Mrs Dotchin’s achievements were ”unprecedented”.
She said: ”It must be recognised that Mrs Dotchin has gone above and beyond the usual commitment.
”Forty-four years without a day off is an outstanding achievement.
”She cares so much for the children, and knows everyone.”