A WOMAN who grew up in Leigh before moving to America 68 years ago has been given a prestigious lifetime achievement award.

Joan Zimmerman, who went to Leigh Junior Commercial College, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon by Oprah Winfrey.

The former Twelve Apostles RC Primary School pupil, whose maiden name is Hunt, went to Chicago on October 13, 1951 at the age of 19 with only $47 in her purse.

She got a job the next day at the accounting department at rental car company, the Hertz Corporation.

Joan went on to have "great jobs" in the northern state before working in Germany in 1954 for the US Forces, where she met her husband Robert.

The couple, who were married in 1956, founded business Southern Shows Inc and built it up to become a national trade and consumer show company. Joan is the serving CEO of the business.

Joan and Robert went on to have two sons and four grandchildren. Robert passed away in 2016.

The award Joan was presented with recognises her achievements in business and her work for numerous community causes over the years.

Joan, 87, said: "I was born in Chicago. My English mother and Irish father went to Chicago in the late twenties.

"Unfortunately they hit the big recession and returned to Leigh in 1935, just in time for the rumblings of war on the continent.

"Mother was not eager to return to Chicago, this was the time of Al Capone and his friends.

"I would not take anything instead of growing up in Leigh, having been part of an amazing and giving big family.

"My parents also taught us the difference between a real problem and an inconvenience.

"My father was a coal miner and my mother was a woman of all trades - delivering babies, organizing charabang trips, helping neighbours order through catalogues.

"I was raised with my seven brothers and sisters. One of my brothers died at a very young age.

"We were raised with the understanding that we were as good as but no better than anyone else we met, regardless of their station in life or their opinion of themselves.

"That philosophy has stood me well.

"Our parents also taught us to share. Not that we had an option in a small house witg three small bedrooms and one small bathroom

"Sharing was the norm.

"Today my living room is bigger than our entire home at Melrose Avenue in Leigh - but I liked it.

"And the Lancashire welcome pervades every inch.

"I also often go back to Leigh because I still have lots of family in Lancashire, Wales, Scotland and Surrey."

Joan has supported many causes over the years.

She said: "I have always been involved in community work and currently - among other things - serve as the entrepreneur in residence at Queen's University (in Charlotte, North Carolina).

"On advisory boards for several universities, I have chaired the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Board of Richmond, been on the board of two banks, been inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame and the Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.

"And to think I left school at the age if 15.

"Leigh Tech taught me well, and I am grateful."

Joan was also very impressed by Oprah at the ceremony.

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She said: "Meeting Oprah was like meeting an old friend. I was not nervous at all.

"She is down to earth, and has a magical power of making you feel like the most important person in the room.

"At the end of her speech, Oprah said to the audience 'so, how much have you raised today?'

"The answer was $1.25m and she said 'I'll match it'.

"The room erupted; and at that point all the comparisons I was making between myself and Oprah faded.

"She is a living, breathing, fabulous human being. We need more Oprahs."

The awards ceremony, which was held at Charlotte in North Carolina, supports the United Negro College Fund.