ONE of Skipton's most loyal public servants, Bill Houghton, has called time on his duties as he prepares to head off for a new life - and a new wife - in Australia.

Bill, 65, of Regent Road, handed over the long-held reins as treasurer at the annual meeting of Skipton Chamber of Trade - one of the many local bodies he has served on.

Bill is due to leave his beloved Skipton in July once his visa is finalised to set up home with his Australian fiancee Ruth Monkley in her home town of Salamander Bay in New South Wales.

Bill has a daughter Julie, 34, who teaches law at the University of Leeds and is soon to move to a new post in Nottingham to further her research into stem cell technology.

Ruth has two children - Debbie, 43, who lives in Australia, and Peter, 41, who lives and works in Bristol.

Bill's whole life changed in 1999 with the death of Eileen, his wife of over 30 years. He met Ruth two years later when they were both members of a small holiday party touring America and Canada.

Bill explains: "Then, last year I went on a world trip and arranged to meet up with Ruth. Later, I was due to set off on a three-week holiday to New Zealand with a friend I first met in Africa, but had not seen for about 38 years. I had managed to track him down over the internet.

"At the last minute he rang to say he couldn't make the trip, so I got on the phone to Ruth and asked her if she'd like to join me. She said yes - we had a fantastic time and the rest, as they say, is history."

The couple announced their engagement at Bill's surprise 65th birthday party and are to be married on November 29 in Nelson Bay, a few miles from Ruth's home. The ceremony will have added nostalgia for Ruth.

Bill, the son of a school headmaster, was raised in Great Yarmouth. He began a 33-year career with Woolworths in Leeds.

Progressing through the rank he became manager of the Skipton branch in 1985, and took early retirement a decade ago. He had until recently run a computer supply, support and consultancy firm Vanton Computers.

Bill first became involved with Skipton Chamber of Trade while at Woolworths and for 10 years was a leading light on the chamber's Christmas lights committee.

He also did a two-year stint as president of the chamber before taking over as treasurer.

Bill was a founder member of the Craven Crime Prevention Panel and Crime Reduction Partnership, and headed the group responsible for introducing CCTV cameras to Skipton.

He has also served on the North Yorkshire Business and Education Partnership, Skipton YMCA and as a governor of Water Street Primary School in Skipton

Bill has witnessed many changes in Skipton. He reflects: "CCTV was particularly important as it has helped to make the town a safer place in which to live and work.

"It is also a great place to live. I shall be very sad to leave, though I am looking forward to a totally new life in Australia. Next year, Ruth and I are planning to tour the whole of the country in a motor caravan."