My hero and my inspiration
24 February 2016
Our director of services, Rosemarie Pardington, reflects on the legacy of our founder.
Let me tell you about the most remarkable man: a man who proved that it is possible for one person to change the world!
His name was Leonard Cheshire and I am proud to work for the charity that still bears his name. If you have ever been affected by disability, then this is a name you need to know and cherish. He really was a hero, a revolutionary and an inspiration to me and all of us at his charity today!
As an RAF pilot and member of the Dambusters, he helped win World War Two. He also started a global movement to ensure that disabled people could live their lives with dignity, choice and independence. For this, he was called the ‘greatest man since Gandhi’ by Indian Prime Minister Nehru.
However, you may be wondering how a war hero became such a champion for disabled people. Let me explain.
Leonard passionately believed that the sacrifice of all the men and women in the war shouldn’t be in vain. He wanted to build a fairer society: an ambition that many of us would certainly identify with — even today.
Leonard began by campaigning for better treatment of ex-servicemen. True to his word, in 1948, he opened his door to welcome in a complete stranger: an RAF airman called Arthur Dykes, who was in the final stages of cancer.
Shortly before he died, Arthur told Leonard, ‘I think you’ll find that there are others like myself who haven’t anywhere to go… If somebody else comes along, whoever it might be, don’t turn him away. Please take him in…’
Leonard made sure that he honoured Arthur’s dying wish and Leonard’s house became our charity’s first ever home. In those days, disabled people were often dismissed by society. Isn’t that shocking?
Thanks to Leonard, we’ve come a long way since then, but our work continues every day. As Leonard Cheshire helped Arthur Dykes, so we now must help more than 6,700 disabled people every year in the UK.
Sadly, Leonard Cheshire died in 1992 but his legacy does and should live on. Today, we keep his values of compassion, fairness and generosity alive. Like Leonard, you too can change the world: you can make a difference for a disabled person who needs our help.