On receiving the news of her MBE for services to the arts and the community in Fermanagh, Toni Johnson commented that she was “humbled” by the nomination.

“It’s very surreal. I never thought that I would get anything like this,” said Toni, adding: “Then I looked back over the time I’ve been involved in the arts and the first festival that I was involved in here was in 1969, which is 50 years ago.”

An advocate for the arts in Fermanagh ever since, Toni has been involved in numerous events including the Fermanagh Live Arts Festival (FLive). Having worked as an art teacher in Fermanagh for the majority of her life, Toni believes that art is “terribly important for children” and in her retirement she has continued to encourage children’s involvement in the arts. During the FLive festival, she takes on the role of organising the popular children’s day event, bringing a varied programme of arts activities and performances to the young people of Fermanagh.

Noting that the award means a lot to her because it’s “recognition for the arts”, Toni explained: “You don’t get a lot of that. It’s been tough, we’ve had a tough time trying to persuade people that this is important here because the arts isn’t just painting, it’s music and drama and everything, dance.”

She continued: “I worked with a team, it was all of us that were responsible for this so we should all have this but we don’t. I would be the senior one of the group because I’m 80 now and being that age I can see that it’s a lovely thing to have and it’s a humbling thing to be given and be thought of.”

She added: “I’d like to thank very much those who nominated me and I’d also like to thank all of the people on the arts committees in Fermanagh who have pushed to keep art and music and theatre going here because sometimes it’s not easy.”

Toni also wanted to thank her family who have always been very supportive of her endeavours and Noelle McAlinden who she calls a “force of nature” for the arts.

Paying tribute to her late husband Gordon Johnson, Toni said: “We were a ‘double act’ in all those arts and drama events. This award isn’t all about me, it’s about us.”