Tag Archives: charities

When good comes from sad

Stephanie Marks was only 17 when she died in June 2002. She was a bright, loving, vivacious girl who wanted to be a doctor. She had everything to live for and a brilliant future to look forward to, but complications from Type 1 diabetes killed her. I never met Stephanie but after attending the opening of the treatment centre set up in her memory, I wish I had.

It was an emotional occasion especially for Stephanie’s family who though burdened by grief, were determined that no-one should ever have to suffer what they’ve been through. With the support of friends and the local community, they launched an appeal dedicated to her memory with the awesome task of raising £1m to build a facility to help diabetes sufferers better manage their condition. The task was anything but easy however seven years and many sleepless nights later, the Stephanie Marks Diabetes Resource Centre was officially opened for business at St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey, by the former cricketer and appeal patron Sir Ian Botham.

My first impression when I stepped inside the glass fronted two storey building for the guided tour, was that it didn’tlook or feel like a clinic. Maybe that’s deliberate as there’s nothing more likely to make a sick person feel worse than entering a place that’s cold, grey and unwelcoming. An atmosphere of freshness pervades every corridor and landing, heightened by the lilac upholstered furniture (lilac was Stephanie’s favourite colour), painted white walls, and the contemporary sleekness of the consulting rooms. There’s a careful, considered thoroughness to every detail, culminating in a structured balance between medical functionalism and simple, human warmth. The staff will have plenty to keep them occupied since diabetes is a condition that’s worryingly on the up and just as alarmingly, is being diagnosed in an increasingly large number of young people. Never has the need for such a facility been more urgent.

As we drove away and headed for home, I couldn’t help reflecting on the unfairness of it all. How is it possible that someone so young could be taken away before they’ve even had the chance to scratch life’s surface? It’s a question that my husband often asks about his youngest daughter Lisa, who died at the age of 25 in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The pain from that tragedy will never go away although with every year that passes, it does get slightly easier to handle. Setting up the foundation that bears her name has been an important step in the healing process.

Lisa had an insatiable curiosity about the world along with a strong desire to travel, and it’s fitting that her charity should reflect this. Its provided invaluable assistance to many victims of natural disasters including those left homeless in the recent Haitian earthquake and Burma’s cyclone Nargis. Lisa may no longer be with us but there’s comfort in knowing that the wishes of her charity to change lives, is being slowly fulfilled.

The death of a child can have a ruinous effect on the family left behind, yet it doesn’t always have to be that way. Nothing will ever erase the sense of loss or stop the living from wondering why fate or some remote, un-named force could take away what is most precious and valued: but good things can and do grow out of sadness. Stephanie and Lisa may have been strangers but these two young women achieved so much more than many of their contemporaries will ever rack up in a lifetime. That is their legacy to each and every one of us which is why it must always be recognised, always nurtured, and above all never forgotten.

For more information about the charity established in Lisa’s name visit: www.lisamayfoundation.co.uk


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Every mayor should beware the demon finger food

Six days after the general election a delightfully moving ceremony took place in a quiet part of North West Surrey. There was no pomp and circumstance, just the reading of a declaration of office and a discernible buzz of excitement from an audience of friends, family and a few members of the public in the local council chamber. It culminated in the draping of an ermine trimmed robe and thick gold chain around a new pair of shoulders as my husband John was officially sworn in as the 38th Mayor of Surrey Heath, making me the Lady Mayoress.

Considering I wasn’t born with a title or have never knowingly looked for one, this sudden elevation feels a little peculiar. Thankfully I have a year in which to get used to it! My family are delighted with the turn of events whereas the response from my friends has been mixed. Some have congratulated me whereas others think it’s all a bit of a joke. “I couldn’t imagine you being a politician’s wife”, one of them said in a tone that was almost derisory: “When are you going to Westminster then?” “Never,” I replied. “As I’m the wife of the mayor whose apolitical. Not the local MP!”

So what does my new role entail? In a nutshell, pretty much everything. From now until May 2011, I’ll be doing my bit to raise money and public awareness not just for my husband’s chosen charities – Heart to Heart and the Prostate Project, both at Frimley Park Hospital – but for some of the smaller local charities whose work is often eclipsed by much larger counterparts. There’ll also be visits to schools, hospitals, community projects and even the odd bit of tree planting. It’s territory that John and I are already familiar with having gleaned our knowledge from last year when we served as deputies. I’m looking forward to my responsibilities and to giving something back to a community that’s both warm and incredibly welcoming. However there’s one thing I’m dreading: the near certainty of over dosing on finger food.

Every woman knows that finger food and hips are like oil and water: they don’t mix! Whereas oil floats, finger food stays on the hips and if for some reason it can’t loiter there it usually menaces some other part of the anatomy. I should know I’ve got the tight clothes and expanding waistline to prove it.

The problem is that whenever I go to receptions where waiters are carrying trays heaving with cheesy nibbles, prawns buried in pastry, and tiny parcels of skewered meat it’s the equivalent to giving a chocoholic the keys to Willy Wonka’s factory. I really do try to say no, but after a handful of seconds polite restraint gives way to unbridled gluttony, and before I know it I’ve cleared the trays before anyone’s even had the hint of a look in.

Now that I’m the Mayoress there’s an even greater risk of overindulgence as my engagement diary is packed with events that either start or end with canapés. Short of wearing a tee-shirt carrying the message, “Do Not Feed This Woman Finger Food”, I feel there’s very little I can do except surrender to my instincts. But all isn’t necessarily lost. An ex-mayoress from a neighbouring borough described how she got around the problem by nudging her husband into eating canapés for both of them. Not only did it bring her addiction under control but it also steadied her weight: unfortunately he piled on the pounds. “Hey ho”, she smiled philosophically, “That’s what happens when you eat for two!” I couldn’t agree with her more but then I wouldn’t dream of inflicting my surplus kilos on my husband.

So the moral of the story is this: whether you aspire to reach “high office” or you get there by accident or design, beware of the finger food. Try it by all means but don’t get addicted.

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