HAPPY TIMES: Editor Tom Dowling takes his mum, Minnie, on a spin on his powered trike
MUMS are special. They give us life, and, for some of us lucky ones, they go on giving us hope, inspiration and encouragement – even when things look absolutely impossible.
My mum, Minnie, was like this.
When I returned from Iran in the summer of 1974, paralysed aged 20, it was my mum who helped me pick up the pieces of my life, and spurred on to write about things that would help families affected by disability.
Without her encouragement I would not have started my Liverpool Echo weekly column way back in 1983, nor, 21 years later, go on to launch the All Together NOW! newspaper.
“Lots of people are denied the kind of information that would help them,” she told me all those years ago.
“And you are in a unique position where you could help.”
Helping people was what my mum was all about.
“Everything begins with hope,” she’d say.
“And newspapers can provide plenty of that – especially for carers.”
She had more than a few health issues herself, but was helping people right to the very end.
Oesophageal cancer, broken hip, chronic back pain, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney problems, going blind, skin on her legs continually being scratched and taking months to heal …
Her list of daily medication was endless.
But she took it all in her stride. One day at a time, she’d say. Very little got in her way.
She lived – and loved – life to the full.
And really did live every day as if it was her last.
Always a smile, always a kiss, and always the words I Love You.
She lived until the ripe age of 94, but she wanted more. Much more.
Not that she was greedy. Far from it, she was kind and generous to the hilt.
She believed in sharing what she had: In with one hand, out with the other. In cash or in kind, and often in the shape of bags full of groceries …
Over the past year it was eggs – and EGGS BY THE DOZENS – which she asked neighbour Joe to get from the local farm, and which she then distributed throughout the family.
Minnie was always keen to support fledgling enterprises – and never liked refusing to help people.
Mentally, she was bright as a button: It was just her body that was beginning to let her down.
There was nothing Mum liked, or valued, more than people – especially her family, friends and neighbours.
And people instinctively warmed to her. Just seeing her face, or mentioning her name, raised a smile and lifted the heart.
Whenever there was a gathering, she just had to be part of it.
A few years ago, just as she turned 90, she went with her 85-year-old sister Flo on an afternoon trip to Neston market.
When the bus pulled up she asked a passer-by where they could get a cup of tea.
Ten minutes later the two of them were having tea and cakes at a funeral gathering in the local church hall.
They spent the entire afternoon there, chatting and learning all about the deceased and their family.
“It was a wonderful day out,” Minnie said, “they were such lovely people. We didn’t bother with the market after that.”
My mum knew all about being a carer – long before it was an accepted term.
The eldest of nine children, she was born in a small terraced house in poverty-stricken Liverpool in 1922.
While other children played in the streets, Mum’s childhood was spent conjuring meals in the kitchen, and washing clothes in the yard.
Aged eight, she had become a young ‘mum’ and had to wash, dress and feed her sisters and brothers.
Amazingly, despite all her domestic chores, she excelled at St George’s school, becoming the headmistress’s prefect, captaining the netball team, and was extremely popular among her school friends.
She also won a special prize for caring for and helping other children – a book about the life of 19th century social reformer Kitty Wilkinson, who did so much to help the working classes in Liverpool.
My mum was one of only a handful of pupils across the city to receive the prestigious award.
She was just 18 when the Luftwaffe set about devastating Liverpool – and killing around 4,000 people across Merseyside.
My parents might also have been killed, too, had it not been for an amazing piece of good fortune.
Returning home after a night on the town they heard the sirens, and sprinted down and into an air raid shelter in Prescot Street.
But Mum had an eerie feeling and pleaded with Dad to chance it back up on the streets.
As bombs rained down, and gunfire lit up the city skies, they took cover under a Post Office van, parked in Low Hill.
Moments later there was a huge explosion: A bomb had made a direct hit with the shelter, killing virtually everyone inside.
Not long after I was born in 1953, she became seriously ill, and was so grateful to her friends and her neighbours in White Rock Street who helped look after her four boys.
Once she was back on her feet again, it was her turn to help people.
She did that in abundance for the rest of her life.
Mum put her positive outlook on life all down to her faith – and not dwelling on her own problems.
“Faith is a remarkable strength,” she’d say.
She never lost hers.
“Time is really the only thing we have in this life,” she’d say. “Use it wisely, share it with others, and, if you can, try and help people along the way. That’s my recipe for a happy life.”
Mum loved All Together NOW! – and all it stands for.
A few days before her death, she enjoyed seeing the charity’s new promotional video film.
“It’s a terrific tribute to the people who are supporting the paper,” she said.
“Despite having to face overwhelming tragedy and despair, life can still be wonderful and full of new opportunities.
“But people need to know about the help that’s available. And All Together NOW! is doing exactly that!”
My brothers – Brian, Jim and Den (the eldest, who died aged 63, in 2008) – have been so incredibly lucky to have been blessed with such a wonderful mum . . . and a very, very special friend. She has been, and will always be, our brightest star.
TOM DOWLING, editor