Along the way in my life, I have been inspired by many people. Sometimes the inspiration has been just for that time. At other times, there have been people whose example has been so shining that they remain a lifelong inspiration to me. These are five of them in the order in which they arrived on my radar:
Joyce Norton. My grandmother. A history and English teacher, and hopeless at Whist. A woman about whose life I understand more and more as I grow older, and she has grown less idealised with the passage of time. Her marriage could not possibly have been happy, because my grandfather was a tyrant. Yet she was ever gracious and gentle, an accomplished golfer forced to give up her hobby because my grandfather was unable to equal her skill and begrudged her her participation. Yet she never complained – such was the lot of the women of her time.
Sheila Freercks. My choir teacher in high school. A woman with perfect pitch and a heart of gold. Able to see good in everyone, including a child everyone else saw as underachieving and rebellious. She gained the unswerving trust and loyalty of every girl in her choir and drew from us a standard of performance that won national awards. For Sheila Freercks, I would have walked over coals, but all she ever asked was that I sing, and so I did - with every fibre of my being and every ounce of talent I had.
Nelson Mandela. Prisoner to president. In truth not really a politician, but a great man and exactly the right person to take the symbolic role of head of state during the significant post-apartheid era in
John Romeis. My husband. A man who is everything that I am not. Comfortable in his own skin and totally at peace with himself. Tenacious, analytical and assertive without aggression (unless his family his threatened), his only impulsive act has been to propose to a woman he had only known for 10 days (that was over 19 years ago, and we’re still happily married). Able to tackle daunting tasks without despairing because he breaks things down into manageable chunks. Not even slightly embarrassed by his wife’s flamboyance – the stage manager to my prima donna.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. A former British athlete who has competed over almost every distance from 100m to marathon. The fact that she was born with spina bifida and is in a wheelchair has never stood in her way. Perhaps a stranger seeing her for the first time might see an unfortunate person trapped in a chair. I suspect when she looks in the mirror she sees a woman, a wife, a mother and an athlete. And why not? She is all of these things.