A Cook agent with 40 years’ experience has been honoured for organising cruise trips that bring together widows who would not otherwise have holiday companions.

Marie Campbell, manager of Thomas Cook’s Alloa store, has used her own annual leave to join the women on her ‘Friendship Cruise’ trips over the past five years.

She came up with the idea when she noticed some of her regular customers had stopped booking.

“I found out that a lot of the ladies had lost their husbands,” Campbell said. “I ran into one of them in the coffee shop and she started reminiscing about places she’d been. She used to book Austria with Tyrolean Travel. Her face lit up when she talked about it then dropped when she said she didn’t have anyone to go with anymore.

“I started meeting her, and others, regularly and one of the ladies said she wished she was coming on holiday with me and my husband.”

Campbell invited 10 ladies to the Norwegian fjords to join them, but word got out and 37 people ended up making the trip.

Campbell won one of four customer hero awards at the conference and also received a long-service accolade for working for Thomas Cook for 40 years.

Her Friendship Cruise has since become an annual fixture and young people with disabilities have also joined. They travel with Marie’s brother’s luxury coach company M-Line down to Southampton and stay over in Christchurch the night before.

“These are women in their 70s and they’re like little girls when they see the ship,” Campbell said. “They dress up for dinner and have a wonderful time.”

Campbell makes it more affordable by pairing up ladies – who first get to know each other at other social events in the community – to share a cabin.