SHE was one of the greatest sports people ever produced by Britain, an ordinary Leeds lass who achieved the extraordinary.
And now Beryl Burton, the legendary cyclist who dominated the sport for many decades, has been granted the Freedom of the City of Leeds, joining luminaries such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill on the roll of honour.
The posthumous accolade was bestowed on ‘BB’ - as she was affectionately known by her husband Charles - at an emotional ceremony at Leeds Civic Hall today.
Among the guests at the ceremony were Beryl’s husband Charles, her daughter Denise Burton-Cole, and her grandchildren.
Paying tribute to the Halton-born cyclist - who won hundreds of medals including five world championships, and held one title for 25 years consecutively - council leader Keith Wakefield said the “special occasion” was made even more special by the success of the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Depart.
“Given that we now have the highest profile and awareness of cycling, I cant think of a better time to honour the citizen who was the greatest sports person this country has ever produced,” he said.
“Her astonishing achievements have never been properly recognised. Yes she got an MBE and an OBE, but some of her achievements are truly astonishing even in today’s world of top class athletics.
“Through 1967-69, she held both the mens’ and women’s world record.
“All on rice pudding, and all while she was working for a clothing factory.
“We can imagine what it would have been like today? Clearly she would have been recognised all over the world.”
Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the Tory group, paid his own tribute to a “sporting icon”, and councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dems, said her “singular commitment and enthusiasm” would and should be an inspiration to many future generations.
Beryl’s daughter Denise said her mum, who died in 1996,would have been “deeply honoured” to be given the keys to her beloved city.
“Her roots were in Leeds, she was a Leeds lass. We are very proud of her achievements, and very proud that her name will be amongst such great people in history.”
Mrs Burton-Cole added: “BB, as she was affectionately known by our dad, was a woman who never gave up and always gave her best every time.
“You have ensured that my mother’s legacy continues and that her energy and determination will be there to inspire future generations to achieve.”
Councillor Neil Dawson, a councillor for Morley, where Mrs Burton lived for most of her life, said she was “an ordinary woman whose achievements are beyond the extraordinary and will never be surpassed”.