Thursday, 17 November 2011

LES ESSEX

1940-2011

After an earlier career in Uganda, lecturing in social work, Leslie moved to Birmingham to continue his work away from Idi Amin – where in time he fell victim to early onsetting Parkinson’s disease.

In the early 1980s the ‘Birmingham Group’ (Philippa Cottam, Ronni Nanton, Andrew Sutton and Jayne Tichener) was making the first thorough-going investigation into Conductive Education from outside Hungary. Ronni’s presence ensured that Parkinson’s disease and services for adults were integral considerations from the outset.

A pivotal time

The commitment of Mary Baker, then the Director of the Parkinson’s Disease Society nationally, was central to the Group’s intention to commence adult work – and Les, a young local academic with Parkinson’s, articulate and mentally and physically determined, was a vital link in the case being constructed. Ronni led a fact-finding expedition to Budapest (yes, believe it, a visit to Budapest in the mid-eighties really was ‘an expedition’) and Leslie's participation in this ensured that the user’s voice would be part of the Society’s deliberations on this important matter… and believe this too, that was pretty radical stuff in the disability charities of those days.

Not just a voice, though:as soon as he arrived at what was then still the State Institute, Les had thrown himself into the work of a group, language notwithstanding. This would be CE reported upon ‘from the inside’ – yet still, when he returned to the UK, his written report would phrased as a cool, academic appraisal, written by the Leslie who he always was.

Leslie's activities contributed to the support of the Parkinson’s Disease Society, both moral and financial, when the Foundation for Conductive Education was created in 1986, thus ensuring that CE in the UK should never be viewed solely in terms of childhood or cerebral palsy. Leslie was a founder-member of the first Parkinson’s group when it commenced in Birmingham in 1990 and maintained his participation for the remainder of his life, for some of which time he served as the Society’s representative on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

In later years Leslie suffered ill health and became very frail, though still outliving most of his Parkinsonian contemporaries. Family referred to his as a ’phoenix’ for the way in which he would come back from the seeming edge, again and again. Hard to see perhaps in his later years that he had played badminton for the English Universities – but the spirit was still there.

An apocryphal tale?

A tale from Budapest in the mid eighties was that Leslie responded so well and rapidly to Conductive Education that he took himself straight off on a walk. Outside the Hotel Budapest his re-found mobility led him too quickly off the kerb, and a careless Lada went over his toe.

True of not? The incidental, corroborative detail (‘Hotel Budapest’, Lada’) are the marks of an urban legend, but the story rings true to the Leslie whom I knew and remember. True or not, I recounted it enough in those early days. It was certainly 'him'.

It was true for me today, at Leslie’s funeral. He is remembered as a lovely, decent man.

3 comments:

  1. Lovely peace Andrew.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    Because of Leslie and your group at the Foundation for Conductive Education thousands of people have been benefiting from Conductive Education.

    Quote: "This would be CE reported upon ‘from the inside’ – yet still, when he returned to the UK, his written report would phrased as a cool, academic appraisal, written by the Leslie who he always was." unquote.

    Is Leslie's report available to the public to read and could a copy be purchased from somewhere?
    I would love to read it and have it on my bookshelf. Judit

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  2. This news has saddened me.

    I remember Les well along with Glenys who was a regular visitor to the Library when I worked there.

    As to Judit's question, Les' report should still be in the lIbrary and available to read

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  3. Dear Gill,

    Thank you. I will contact the National Institute’s Library.

    It is sad to know that a person who played a significant role left us all behind.

    I wonder how many unknown, but important part of the tapestry of the conductive education movement from the beginning are still out there and how many of them just left quietly and unrecognised.

    ReplyDelete