Story 24

He was one of the most admirable people I have ever met

In 1968, at lunch after the very grand and well-attended funeral in Germany of a beloved uncle, it seemed that what help I could give was to find someone sitting alone and join them.

Maggie van Koetsveld

This person was Leonard Cheshire, representing his wife, Sue Ryder, with whom my aunt had worked in the International Red Cross. As always, Leonard made one feel his total interest, and by the time we parted after flying home he knew I was an occupational therapist, living near Hydon Hill, which had just been absorbed into the Leonard Cheshire Foundation (as it then was). Small surprise then that two days later an invitation to join the fledging Management Committee came in the post. Such was Leonard’s charisma that, in spite of two small children and another on the way, I was prepared to drop everything and volunteer for him.

Hydon Hill than consisted of wooden chalets, cold and primitive, built in 1939 as an evacuee school. Residents, some living in wards, had to brave all weathers in order to reach the dining room. We soon realised the chalets were totally unsuitable and dangerous so we rebuilt in 1974. The warm and comfortable new brick-built ‘Guildway’ buildings were funded thanks to the generosity of the More Molyneux family. I remained on the Management Committee for 12 years before taking over as chairman for the next four.

In 1988, I was invited to become a trustee. I sat on the Forward Planning and International committees, opening up a whole new perspective on the lives of disabled people world-wide. For 10 years I ran the international Creative Activities Competition, inveigling such luminaries as David Shepherd, Joanna Trollope, Laurie Lee, the current President of the Royal Academy, Roger McGough and others to judge the relevant categories.

The world of disability and Leonard Cheshire has changed much over the years. But it is my hope and belief that we will always treat each and every individual with the friendship and respect that was such a characteristic of Leonard Cheshire. He really was one of the most admirable people I have ever met and to whom I shall ever be grateful for the chance to use such skills as I have to give something back to the community.

It is my hope and belief that we will always treat each and every individual with the friendship and respect that was such a characteristic of Leonard Cheshire.