Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A tribute to Margaret Lines

This is a more sober post than usual, but there’s a good reason.

Life has been pretty good to me. I enjoyed a very happy childhood, growing up in the midst of a loving family. My parents worked hard and my siblings and I were well provided for. I was fortunate enough to attend decent schools in a great community and the rest sort of followed. On the way, among other characteristics, I think I inherited the hard work ethic that was always exhibited by my mum and dad. That, I believe, is a good thing. For some years, my biggest complaint was that I had nothing big to complain about.


Well, I’m not going to start complaining, because my life is still very good. However, there is now a huge gap in it. Just over two weeks ago, my mum died, after a typically courageous, yet pragmatic, fight against aggressive brain tumours (secondary tumours from a primary malignant melanoma that we all thought mum had successfully seen off a while ago). The early, unfortunate circumstances of that original melanoma constitute another story. During her final illness, mum received wonderful care in the University Hospital of North Durham, the Northern Centre for Cancer Care (within the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne) and, finally, in Sedgefield Community Hospital. She retained her character, her humour and her dignity to the end.

Anyone who knew mum well won’t need reminding that she was an amazing person. For those who didn’t know her, or would have liked to have known her better, I have reproduced below an appreciation of mum’s life, put together and delivered at her funeral last week, with help from family, friends, colleagues, and of course the lady herself. On the whole, it’s not at all a mournful piece, so I hope you read it and that it paints a striking picture in your mind of Margaret Lines, a wonderful human being.

And if you then feel inclined, please do pop over to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation website
and make a donation to assist the ongoing research and treatment in the battle against cancer.


I may be saying the following words and expressing the sentiments, but they are those of the whole family, former colleagues, and friends – in fact, I am sure they represent all of us here today.

Stella Margaret Smith, Margaret, Maggie, Mags, Mum, Martha, Mrs Lines. For the purpose of this, I will use mum.

I really cannot adequately articulate how much I admired mum. In summing her up, I’m afraid I will have to start by resorting to a list.

Mum was all of the following: a phenomenal force of nature; a concentrated ball of energy and enthusiasm; an intelligent person who got things done; a formidable organiser; a wise and honest counsellor; an expert practitioner of common sense in a world in which it is increasingly rare; a withering critic of the nanny state who was the best nanny imaginable; a communicator without compare; a hard worker who was absolutely committed to her profession and fiercely loyal to her team; a frustrated rally driver who was possibly the only person ever to get a speeding ticket in an Austin A35; a devotee of camping, caravanning and the great outdoors; a passionate sports fan (especially tennis – Mum used to regularly go to Wimbledon until the year she came home to find her young daughter Kate in hospital with a fractured skull!); she was kind and generous in spirit and deed; blessed with an irreverent sense of humour; flirtatious as a youngster and always gregarious; very patient and yet also very impatient; a great hostess who enjoyed fine food and fine wine; a campaigner; a pillar of the community in all the right senses; a dog lover and frog hater; incredibly family minded; a beautiful and devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother (sorry, I mean Martha); and a wonderful friend. She was a very special human being indeed and that list doesn’t begin to do her justice.

One of mum’s greatest characteristics was her conviction. She was quickly able to assess a person or situation, draw her own conclusion, and then take the appropriate action or use the necessary words with the absolute confidence that she was right. And she usually was, much to our admiration and, let’s face it, occasional annoyance! All of mum’s family and friends frequently witnessed her in full flow and so, clearly, did her many colleagues over the years.

Although the family certainly had an idea, I don’t think we ever fully appreciated how much mum contributed to a wider community and to her profession, until the cards started to flood in during her illness. Many former colleagues, a large number of whom the rest of us have never met, have sent cards and tributes. Almost without exception, included within these cards have been very personal stories about how mum helped the sender in one significant way or another.

Mum qualified in Edinburgh in 1967 and soon began work as a speech and language therapist in the North East, starting at the Percy Hedley School in Newcastle, before joining the NHS. During the 1970s, while we children arrived one by one, she worked part time in Stockton, with a group of young therapists who were struggling to provide a service across Teesside. From the start, mum was a team player who was always supportive of her colleagues, something that endured throughout her career.

In the late 70s, she became a senior therapist in Durham and developed her skills in working with people with learning disabilities. She was a very successful and caring therapist who was skilled in supporting her clients. In the mid 1980s, mum took on a head of service post in Middlesbrough and used her skills to develop that service for both children and adults with learning disabilities.

She went on to become the Speech and Language Therapy Manager for the whole of the Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland service. She proved herself very able and innovative in the role. She was a keen member and supporter of the North East Speech and Language Therapy Management group and was always happy to help and advise new members and support her colleagues.

Mum was an excellent administrator, getting in to work very early and getting on with the job, invariably with a strong black coffee to hand. She became a Commission for Health Improvement visitor, which meant she looked at NHS services throughout the country. This gave mum a national role in supporting her profession. In 2002, she was on the Education and Workforce Planning Board of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. The board informed government of the need for increased numbers of speech and language therapists to provide better services. I suspect that mum’s brand of informing was fairly assertive!

Mum had a great interest in the education of the next generation of speech and language therapists and worked with Teesside University to establish a foundation course for people who wanted to go on and train as a therapist. I am reliably informed that mum had a unique capacity for finding her way through the maze of the NHS structure. And, crucially, she got results. As a colleague, she was up front, always enthusiastic, very amusing and above all dynamic!

So, mum’s career, which believe me I have not covered exhaustively, was something to be very proud of and I know that she took great satisfaction from the fact that over the years, she helped thousands of people to communicate, something that she very rarely had any difficulty doing herself!

Given the fact that family and friends never wanted for attention or affection, this begs the question – where on earth did mum find the time? But find it she did, and the results and legacy are remarkable. It is incredibly challenging to be very successful in both career and family life, yet mum appeared to manage it with relative ease. She formed the perfect partnership with dad, born of deep love, and marked by mutual support and respect, many shared interests and a healthy and often amusing dose of bickering (the bickering was amusing to witnesses at least). The four children, and the wider circle of family and friends, always benefited hugely from that partnership.

I could stand here all day relating stories that illustrate mum’s many qualities, but she would tell me in no uncertain terms to get on with it. However, I can’t resist two that I think offer the perfect illustration of the person that she was.

When Kate, Richard, Michael and I were young children, our house was a place of very well organised chaos. The chaos was inevitable, thanks to the presence of four children, two to three dogs, a hamster, the stray cockatiel that Richard brought home one day, several guinea pigs, goldfish, rabbits and a cat, and of course dad. But mum had a system and it worked. And every year for our summer holiday, in usual organised fashion, she would set off with the children as the advance party (dad would arrive later).

A holiday that always sticks in my mind was one of our trips to Sandyhills in Dumfries and Galloway. Mum crammed herself, the four kids, the two dogs and all of our luggage for about a fortnight into an old, very yellow Datsun Cherry and set off with great fortitude for south west Scotland. And there’s not much more to the story. We got there, eventually, after a couple of car sickness related stops, and we stayed in our grandparents’ caravan and we had a wonderful time, which we always did. It was mum’s determination and love, and a more reliable Datsun than we expected, that made it achievable, but the point is that all of those holidays, there in Scotland or latterly in Northumberland, became the source of some of the Lines family’s fondest memories. It was mum who made them possible.

And then there was the time that mum tackled Brian Clough. Old Big ’Ead had brought his Nottingham Forest side to play in a fundraising friendly match against cash strapped Darlington. Mum took Mike and me to the match and afterwards we hung around patiently outside the dressing rooms, along with loads of other kids, all waiting to get Mr Clough’s autograph. Long after the players had climbed onto the coach, the great man finally emerged and immediately and loudly stated that he wouldn’t be signing any more autographs. Stunned silence followed and then a clear voice cut through the chilly air – “You rat.”

Cloughie turned to face his new opponent, Margaret Lines, who continued with words along the lines of: “How dare you. These children have travelled here especially to watch your team and they’ve waited a long time to get your autograph. You should jolly well sign all of their books.” A second stunned silence followed and the growing crowd watched on in anticipation of a withering response. Cloughie looked mum up and down for a few seconds, realised he had met his match and made a very sensible decision. “You’re quite right madam.” And he stopped and signed every single autograph. That was mum through and through – she was ready to take on anyone if she thought that was required, especially for her family, and she usually got the right result.

Mum gave us all so much and I don't think we ever really got the chance to thank her properly. So mum, if you're watching and listening, first of all, apologies if any of today's arrangements don't meet your very exacting standards (I can almost hear the cutting yet somehow constructive comments echoing through this building). Second, rest assured that your legacy will be profound and will be reflected in thoughts and deeds for generations, especially through your grandchildren who adored you, just as you doted on them. And finally, thank you so very much for enriching so many lives in so many ways. Although cut cruelly and unnecessarily short, yours was a life that was extremely well lived and you will endure, through all of us. Tomorrow, we will have to contemplate the void that you have left. But today, we will commemorate and celebrate your life in the manner that you would both expect and appreciate.


1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear of your sad news, Chris.

    Fantastic story about when Cloughie met his match.