Willie Goodhart’s son writes about his father’s Dementia

When Willie Goodhart died in January, in our tribute post, we put in a link to a wonderful piece written by his son Benjie during the 2010 election.

In it, he talked about what it was like growing up in a very political household.

It is one of those pieces that enrich your life.

Benjie has done it again with a beautiful article, written with so much love, about the progress of his father’s Dementia. It first became clear that something was wrong during a Today programme interview.

For us – my sisters, my mother and me – the door closing on Dad’s career marked the beginning of a new era: one that was by turns agonising, baffling, heartbreaking and, I must confess, comedic. Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently, including those around them – but the ability to laugh at its quirks and peculiarities sustained us all in the darkest times.

For almost 50 years of married life, Dad got up in the morning and brought Mum a cup of tea in bed. This came to a rather abrupt halt the morning her cup of tea consisted of orange juice, milk, and some potted shrimps all stirred together. My mother demurred, though Dad consumed his with alacrity and chided her for being fussy. At times like that, it is easier to laugh than to cry.

On another occasion, two years ago, Dad took me and my wife to the opera. An opera devotee, it was his last visit: as the lights went down for act three of a rather lengthy German comic opera, he called out in despair, “Oh God.” A few minutes later, he heckled (I suspect a first for the rarefied audience): “Get on with it!” My wife and I, being of reasonably sound mind, were inclined to agree. That was also the evening Dad looked at his diary, which he did every five minutes, for reassurance, and read “To opera with Benjie.” Then he looked up at me. “Are you Benjie?”

Benjie also wrote about the fantastic quality of care his dad received in the nursing home he moved into for the last year or so of his life and how the staff there remembered him:

An hour after he had died, peacefully and in the presence of people who loved him as he deserved, the night shift staff came in and whispered their quiet goodbyes to Dad. Then the day shift came in and did the same. When they spoke to us, many were in tears, and every one of them mentioned how polite, courteous and kind he was, and how fond they had been of him. My dad had hung on to his warmth and decency, even when everything else had left him. It was just another in a long, long list of reasons to be proud of him.

Again, it is one of those pieces you will be glad you took five minutes to read. In a week where Dementia and social care has been so much in the news, it is particularly relevant.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Richard Underhill 21st May '17 - 6:24pm
  • Richard – I remember that by election as well. I was a 17 yr old LibDem living 400 miles away in a west of Scotland black hole area (actually most areas were black holes in 1988!) but even at that distance I was proud of WG as our candidate on the limited TV reports I saw. I believe I may have sent a £5 postal order to the campaign.
    Fast forward 4 years and I’m secretary of Edinburgh University LibDems, at Freshers week Societies’ Fayre. A tall posh pleasant kid with long blonde hair comes to our stall and signs up, telling us he won’t be very active but wants to show his support cos ‘my Dad’s quite influential in the party down south’. I looked at his name – Benjie Goodheart – and we had a nice chat about his dad and the by election before he went on his way. True to his word we never did see him again at EULD but for some reason I always remembered him, just as a really nice guy.
    Fast forward again another ten years or so, I was at a federal conference and met Willie in a queue for something, and (as you do at conferences) introduced myself and told him I had met Benjie once. His lovely old face just beamed with pride, and he was a real joy to spend a few minutes with.
    This article is incredibly moving. You do meet some very special people in this party.

  • I had the great privilege of working with Willie Goodhart in his days as a founder of the SDP and I as a young employee of the Liberal Party. That was back in the early 1980s. He was one of the many principled people who gave up their easy options in the Labour Party for the hard road in the liberal, third way. It had been a while before I met Willie again a few short years ago at a neighbouring Cotswold Constituency Lib Dem dinner at which Shirley Williams spoke. Willie was fail but of great form. It was wonderful to see him again. In age our minds weaken as do our bodies but kindness, tolerance and compassion live on in next generations. Our liberal mission is to teach our children well and to reach out to other children. Willie clearly did that. May he rest in peace.

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