Monday, 24 October 2022

Britain has lost and Northern Ireland says "Goodbye" to its fearless May Blood, who fought in a male-dominated world to gain rights and improve the lives of its women

May, who has died at the age of eighty-four, was born the daughter of Mary and William and into a family of seven children, before the outbreak of the Second World War in Belfast, in the Spring of 1938. She was brought up in a two-up two-down terraced house in Magnetic Street, West Belfast. She left school at the age of fourteen and without any secondary education, she started work in a Belfast linen mill at the age of fourteen and in the thirty-eight years she was there, she rose in the ranks of and was educated by the Transport and General Worker’s Union. When she was made redundant in 1989, she switched to community work and played a major role and success of the Belfast's 'Women’s Coalition' contribution to the Good Friday Agreement. On the recommendation of Mo Mowlam she was offered and accepted a place in the House of Lords, where she worked for unstintingly for nineteen years and used her position to promote the cause of integrated education in Northern Ireland. 

In 2007 May published her autobiography and explained the origin of its title stemmed from her treatment as a woman, while serving on a trade union committee. She said : "When I spoke, it was if somebody had opened a window and let the wind in and everybody looked around. I was the only woman on the committee, and I'm done. And I can remember one day I really lost my temper, thumping the desk and said : "Watch my lips. I'm speaking".(link)

The book contained other examples : 'Mr Paisley came in and had a few words with whoever was organising the meeting before saying : "Right, we'll get down to business". Then he turned to me and said : "You go and make some tea love". In a meeting in 1993, where she was the only woman, Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had asked the fourteen men around the table for their opinion and omitted May. When his secretary whispered in his ear he said : "Oh. I'm very sorry. I just assumed you were somebody's secretary. Have you a comment you'd like to make ?"

May said to women who went to see her to ask her advice : 

"Dream your dreams, because a dream is only thing without action and so if you want to do things, do it. If it feels, it feels. But if you don't do it, you'll never know if its failed or succeeded". 

(link)

* * * * * * * *
In her early years, for the most part, May had only known her mother and a sister.
 Her father had worked in the Harland & Wolff shipyard and her mother worked as a cook at Mackies Foundry on the Springfield Road and in 1939 he was conscripted into the Army to fight in the War and was away from home for the next six years. Not only was she separated from her father, but had been separated by the evacuation of her older brothers and sisters, from the City to the safety of the Northern Ireland countryside, when Belfast's industry became a target for German aircraft bombers in 1940.

She later said : "My first memory was the Blitz. I remember going into the coal house which was under the stairs when there was a raid and we lived quite close to the Blackstaff River and the place crowded with cockroaches". May said : "When the war was over my Dad came home, I had never seen my Dad and then my brothers and sisters came back. I wondered who all these strange people were. All of a sudden instead of having a bedroom of my own I was squashed up against the wall along with two others. It was quite a learning curve".

May's family of nine lived in four main rooms in a two-up, two-down terraced house with an outside toilet, coal fires, no hot running water and no bathroom. Living in a community which was mixed between Protestants and Catholics in religion, they were all united in being poor working class. It meant that May grew up with a sense of cooperative spirit where she said everybody "Chipped in" and : “Community was everything because we had nothing else”. She said that she : "Wasn’t aware of any discrimination" because : "Catholics, living beside me, lived in the same conditions as I did"."If there was a death, everybody piled in. If there was a birth everybody piled in. and even the time we were flooded, the people just came all together to help one another". (link)

From the age of five she attended Donegall Road Methodist Church Primary School and said : "We called it 'Tin Top' because it had a tin roof and it was great in the winter. You couldn't hear the teacher. It was brilliant in the rain". She then moved to Linfield Junior School on Sandy Row where she passed the eleven plus examination and earned a place at a grammar school. 

Apparently, she was always in detention but said : "I wanted to be a schoolteacher. I don't know why, because I hated school with a passion unless I'd seen the teacher had some power and said : "That's for me". She would later explain this with a compulsion she felt and said : "I suppose at a very early age, I wanted to save the world and I never knew where that came from".

Her father chose the nearby Grosvenor Grammar School where they taught languages, which he thought would give her an advantage in a career, but May said : "I wanted to go to Methody (Methodist College) and then to Stranmillis College" for teacher training, but was rejected because her father had already accepted her place at Grosvenor. "I just said : "That's it. I'm not going anywhere and I just stayed in the wee school in Sandy Row and left school at the age of fourteen".When she left, the Vice-Principal said to her : "You're a hussy and you'll never be anything else only a hussy" and I ran all the way home. I thought it was a compliment. I'd no idea what a hussy was". (link)

She began work as a 'hooker' in the cutting room of Blackstaff Linen Mill, with the intention of only staying for two weeks, but loved it so much that she stayed until the mill closed down in 1989. Her job was to place lengths of linen cloth on hooks on the wall and then lift them off to be hand cut into lengths to be made into bed sheets and pillowcases. 

link

May would later say the mill workers : “Were a community within a community” and “I was proud to be a millie for 38 years”. Nearly sixty years after becoming a millie, in 2010, as 'Baroness May Blood', she would be given the honour of unveiling the bronze statue on the Crumlin Road in North Belfast, 'The Mill Worker', by Northern Irish sculptor Ross Wilson. (link)

Within half an hour of being at the mill she was approached and told that everyone was in the Transport and General Worker’s Union and despite her father having reservations about women joining trade unions, she said she : "Wasn’t gonna be the different one" and signed up. At the age of nineteen, she was approached to fill a temporary shop steward vacancy. As a shop steward, she would be the union member elected as the representative of a department in any dealings with management and when her boss laid down an extensive list of what she could and could not do as 'Acting Shop Steward', she decided : “Well if you’re that angry about it, … that’s for me”. (link)

In the years that followed she attended Union funded training courses, which she said was : "Where I got my education”. She learnt about employment law, wage negotiation, health and safety and put theory into practice fighting for members’ compensation claims. She progressed to the position of 'Senior Shop Steward' and later 'Convener' and began to work together with trade unionists in the other six mills in the area. Other campaigns within Blackstaff Mill included fighting to reduce working hours, negotiating for holiday pay and Saturday overtime rates, and campaigning for a minimum wage for the women working in the mill offices. When she was ready, she applied for, and got elected to, the Regional Committee of the TGWU. She later reflected that : "This was totally unheard of. Women did not apply for those positions. We had to fight for our place there and gain the respect for the other guys on the Committee". (link)

With the outbreak of 'The Troubles' when May was thirty-one in 1969, her work in the linen mill became more difficult. She said : "Overnight Catholics had suddenly become the enemy. With some women, their men had been interned; other women their men had joined the U.D.A. These women were sitting beside one another. It was strained. It wasn’t easy, because all of a sudden, we started to view each other differently. There was always the underlying feeling that we were friends, but for the first couple of years of the Troubles it really was very dicey because it put things into people’s minds that they had never thought of before".(link)

At home in the Magnetic Street community, she said : "When people came one night to "Put the neighbours next door, out", May's father came to their defence and argued that : "This woman’s not doing any harm". A little while later, the Blood family were burnt out of their home by Protestants and according to May : "That was a definite message" for their earlier defence of their Catholic neighbours. The family struggled to find a new house, but eventually relocated to a newly developed 'Springmartin Estate' where a peace wall had been erected. (link)

During the 1970s, May actively supported the 1970 Equal Pay Act and the 1976 Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order. In addition, these were the years where, for the first time, she found herself getting involved in voluntary community work with other women living on the Springmartin Estate. She said : "There was a big risk in doing cross community work. You were threatened but when you get a group of very strong women together who have a real aim in life, there’s very little that stops them, even a threat". 

At a remarkable meeting of both the Catholic and Protestant residents of the estate in the Europa Hotel in the mid-1980s, they decided to leave the constitutional issues to the side. They found that they all faced the same uphill battle with the likes of poor housing, low education attainment and high rates of teen pregnancy and from this point forward they decided to pool their resources. (link)

The threats against May in these years were real. She said : "I’ve been threatened a number of times, I’ve had my car destroyed twice and if people thought that it would put me off, they were wrong. I remember I went to one of the commanders and said to him : "I don’t know what I’m doing wrong here", and he told me privately : "Whatever you’re doing keep it up. If you weren’t doing good, people wouldn’t be interested in you". (link)

In 1989, when May was made redundant from the mill and was left unemployed for eight months. Her next job, as a paid community worker, came in the form of a project for long-term unemployed men. At the same time, she became involved with the 'Great Shankill Early Years Project' as Information Officer and helped to set up three community centres in the Shankill area of Belfast to help over 1,300 families and, as she said : "We gave local people the jobs. We trained them”.

In the 1990s with the prospect of ceasefires and peace talks in Northern Ireland, May and a handful of other women asked if there would be women present at such talks and were told that there would be, should they be elected. She later said, that as a woman : "I found that if I wanted to change the system I had to be part of that change". The next six weeks : "Were the most hairy and the most scary" of her life as she and her women colleagues quickly tried to organise their newly formed : 'Women’s Coalition'. (link)

As its 'Campaign Manager', May took full advantage of the media attention the Coalition was attracting and took every opportunity to get in front of the camera to plead its case and achieve its main goal : "To get women where decisions were being made"Winning one per cent of the vote, they gained two seats at the negotiating table and with Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sager representing the Coalition, they successfully introduced amendments to the Good Friday Agreement dealing with the inclusion of women in public life, mixed housing and integrated education.

May had met Mo Mowlam, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, back in May's trade union days and said "Mo Mowlam was a great personal friend and Mo and I did a lot of work, as most of the Women's Coalition did, in the background. Mo asked me to go into prisons and ask the Loyalist prisoners, to make sure they were staying on board with the Peace Process. We'd done all that quietly". In May's opinion it was Mo who had done the lion's share of the ground work for the Good Friday Agreement, a woman who called everyone, including Martin McGuinness, "Babe" and in the years that followed up to her death in 2005, May thought the importance her role was airbrushed out of the story to give more prominence to Tony Blair.

May was now in demand as a speaker and recalled : "I can remember being asked by Ambassador Hunt, Swanee Hunt, I remember being approached by her secretary that the Ambassador would like me to do a 'Harvard Tour' " May accepted and made a speech at five US colleges on the theme of her experience of 'social cohesion'

In 1995, at the age of fifty-seven, May was awarded an MBE by the Queen for her work in 'Labour Relations' and in her sixties she served as both the Chair of the 'Early Years Belfast' and the 'Barnardo's Northern Ireland Committee'. Referring to the year 1997, may said : "I was given a peace prize by some Americans in Boston, the 'Global Citizen's Circle Award' and I was really honoured to get it because Nelson Mandela had been given it, Desmond Tutu had been given it, Hilary Clinton had been given it and I said to Hilary Clinton, who I know quite well, I said : "I understand you got the Global Citizen's Award last year"."Yes" "Well I'm getting it this year".(link)

Then in 1999 she became the first woman in Northern Ireland to be given a life peerage as 'Baroness Blood of Blackwatertown'. In her initial response she declined the offer, for to her the House of Lords was a place where rich old men sat around and slept all day, a place far removed from the everyday realities of working-class Belfast. She said : "It was another world I wasn't familiar with and I wondered exactly what I could achieve in the House of Lords. I was so busy at home and I was looking forward to retiring and this would have meant a whole change of lifestyle". To help her make a decision she turned to he religion : "I have a very strong Christian faith, personal faith and I prayed about it and always found that God has opened doors for me and I'd come to realise that this was another door". 

She phoned and reversed her decision and in addition said : “All my life I fought to get women to take these opportunities and I thought it would be churlish to turn it down”. She took her seat, hoping that, as 'Baroness May Blood', she could advance the causes she held so dear. Initially she was extremely lonely, but after a year began to gain recognition as she, with her usual energy threw herself into things. 

She said : "I made up my mind I would try to represent Northern Ireland as best I could". She also thought it was an opportunity to show that Northern Irish women could actually hold a position like this. "I watched what people were doing. I went to all the training I could get. I learned how to use a computer, which is very valuable in the work. So you can do it, but you have to convince yourself of that. It's not easy for any woman to break into the system, but it can be done. I'm proof of that".

In her nineteen years in the House, she never missed a session and although she initially served as a cross-bencher, she then became affliliated to the Labour Party. She served on 'Social Mobility Committee' and retired from the House when she was eighty in 2018. She said : "I remember speaking to a leading female politician in Westminster and she told me the difference between a man and a woman was that when a man has to do something he says "Yes" and goes home to think about it. When a woman's asked she says : "Can I go home and think about it ?" And then talks herself out of it. And I think one of the downfalls we have as females. We try to analyse everything. We try to see : how will this intervene with me family life ? What more time will I have to give to it ? So we talk ourselves out of the proposition. And I think in many cases, that's been the downfall of women".

In 2013, when she was seventy-five she was awarded the 'Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award' under the 'Social Driver' category for her tireless campaign for education and was also heavily involved with the 'Integrated Education Fund' in Northern Ireland, with the group describing her as a : “Great friend and champion” who had helped to raise over £15 million for the Fund. May, however, openly expressed her disappointment that, as of June 2018, there were only 65 integrated schools in Northern Ireland. 

She herself said : “My passion in life is integrated education. The Troubles split communities and I think if you get kids mixing from an early age, they learn about one another’s culture, it doesn’t become a big fear factor that then people can use to drive people apart".

May said : "The most important thing to say to women when they hear of my experience is to start from the fact that I don't know it all I'm not one of these women who has broken through this glass ceiling we hear about. I'm a woman, just an ordinary woman, whose had extraordinary opportunities and it is about grasping those opportunities, because an opportunity happens and it's gone".

May said :

"Failure is only the first rung on the ladder to success".

Sunday, 16 October 2022

Britain has lost, but Scotland made its much-loved Giant of Stage and Screen, Robbie Coltrane

Robbie, who has died at the age of seventy-two was born Anthony Robert McMillan in Scotland in the Spring of 1950 and spent the first thirty years of his life there before, in the early 1980s, in order to pursue his career as an actor, he moved to a squat in London. He said : "There was my old mate from Edinburgh, one or two other people, a couple of junkies and a prostitute. It was a funny old life. And underneath we used to have a Jewish Italian deli, so you could have falafel and spaghetti. It was fantastic". 

He played his first role on the London stage in 'Threads' as a 'Performer' at the Hampstead Theatre. He tried some standup and slowly began to pick up acting parts and an early break came in the TV comedy series, 'Are You Being Served?'. By the 1980s he was an established member of the Alternative Comedy Movement, and appeared in 'The Comic Strip Presents', 'The Young Ones' and 'Blackadder'. In 1989 he presented many personae in the 'Robbie Coltrane Special'. By the 90s he was everywhere, but it was in the darkly brilliant TV drama 'Cracker' where he played the criminal psychologist or 'Cracker', Dr Edward, 'Fitz', that he mesmerised the critics. 

Robbie became a global movie star in the comedies, 'Nuns On The Run' in 1990 and 'The Pope Must Die' in 1991 along with his appearance in two consecutive James Bond films as Valentin Zukovsky, a former K.G.B. agent turned Russian mafia kingpin in 'GoldenEye' in 1995 and 'The World Is Not Enough' in 1999. He recalled that during the filming of Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, he found himself sitting at a table with George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. He said : “These are about the three most successful, most beautiful actors in the world at the moment. And here am I. A fat boy from Rutherglen … What the fuck am I doing here?” 

It was, however, his Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant and half-human, who was the Gamekeeper and Keeper of Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts in all eight Harry Potter films, from 'Philosopher's Stone' in 2001 to 'Deathly Hallows – Part 2' in 2011, that he was most loved and will always be remembered.(link) He said : “I’ve played gangsters and prostitutes, transvestites, murderers, everything you can imagine but it’s the first time I’ve played a man who was thoroughly good and I played it for 10 year -  a character that young people could totally trust in”. And : 

“The legacy of the movies is that my children’s generation will show them to their children. “So you could be watching it in 50 years’ time, easy. I’ll not be here, sadly, but Hagrid will, yes”.

* * * * * * * 

He was born in Rutherglen in the 800-year-old town on the outskirts of Glasgow in the Spring of 1950 and was brought up with his two sisters in the middle class family of his Scottish Calvinist parents, Jean and Ian. His father was a family GP, so busy in his practice that Robbie later said his father hardly spoke to him until he was six and presumably, not in bed by the time he got home. His mother was a teacher and her love of music, films and literature permeated family life and Robbie said his earliest memory was of lying beneath the piano while his mother played above him. In addition to picking up her interests, he also developed an interest in motor vehicles and lorries in particular and, as a small boy, would run around pretending to be one. A schoolfriend recalled : “He knew all the makes, where they went, everything about them. He had a very enquiring, curious mind”.

In addition to his medical practice, his father also worked as a police surgeon in Glasgow and Robbie recalled that he : “Used to spend all weekend stitching up knife victims”. In his father's library at home, Robbie was familiar with his books on both biology and pathology. When he was eleven, his father wanted him to view some crime victims, believing that we shouldn't cower before death, but his mother intervened to veto the idea Nevertheless, when it came to murder, the pre-teen Robbie was left with a curiosity to know why people did the things they did. 

After spending his early years in local state schools, when he was thirteen in 1963, Robbie was packed off as a boarder to Glenalmond College, the public School for boys in Perthshire founded in 1847. Known as 'The Eton of Scotland', needless to say, it was in line with most public schools at the time and was deeply authoritarian, with commonplace bullying and disciplinary beatings. His unhappy experience led Robbie to later call for all public schools to be abolished and he said that he'd never send his son to one : "Not unless I hate him". 

As a tool for survival, he named himself, 'Fat Rabb' and adopted comedy and natural ebullience when in the company of other boys. As a result, he became very popular and practiced japes like hanging prefects' gowns from the school's clock-tower. He also joined a subcultural group called 'The Curry Boys', with an initiation ceremony which required new entrants to kiss the head of a rotting dead crow. 

When, many years later, he was asked to reflect on his school life he chuckled and said : "Would I like to have spent five years of my life when I was young doing something else? The answer would be "yes". Like a school full of girls, for example? That would have been nice. By the end of term you used to find yourself fancying the cleaners, who were all about 48, with moustaches".

He was drawn to performance on the school stage and was soon dressed in chain mail, with a part in Shakespeare's Henry V. He also loved the cinema and believed himself to have been profoundly changed by Marlon Brando's biker in his 1953 film, 'The Wild One' and was particularly affected by the scene where when asked : "What are you rebelling against?" Brando answered : "What have you got?". (link) Robbie's rebelliousness, no doubt nurtured by the rebellious 1960s, made the school consider his expulsion. 

He told a 'Guardian' interviewer in 2012 that he questioned school rules because they : "Made no sense. What do you mean, you can't walk past a prefect with your fucking jacket undone?" Then imitating the answer in a public school drawl said : "It's just the way it is. It's just the way it's done." He then pulled an expression of disgust and shook his head and said : "Uh-uh". He said he used to think : 'If we were in Sauchiehall Street [in central Glasgow] now, boy, it'd be a very different story. Because I'm a Glaswegian, you know?" 

The decision to expel him was apparently rejected by the staff because they feared the adverse reaction of Robbie's fellow pupils. More likely, it was the fact that by the age of fifteen, he'd grown to his 6' 1", which earned him a place as prop for the school's First XV rugby team and, more prestigiously, tour Canada with the 'Scotland Schoolboy Side'. He was also the prize-winning head of the school's Debating Society.

He and two friends at school were known as 'The Three Pseuds' amongst other boys, who thought them too clever by half. Imitating one of their public school accents he later said he was told by one of them : ""Yah, you're very, very clever, mate, but there's more to life than being clever". Actually, there isn't. But I'm very lucky because I was built like a brick shit-house, as I am now, though much slimmer of course. I did look after myself, I was a big, strong boy, I didn't take any shit from anybody. Unlike some people, who eat an awful lot of shit and I did feel sorry for the weak ones. It's essentially survival of the fittest and I was one of the fittest, so I have no complaints".

The fact that must have already been interested in making his own amateur films at this time, indicated by the fact that his older sister Annie's habit of sending him pictures of the American director Orson Welles, to cheer him up. It was while he was at school and separated from his family, that he also had to deal with coming to terms with his grief after the early death of his father from lung cancer.

His elder sister, Annie was studying graphic art at the Edinburgh College of Art and Robbie would often visit her. He got on with her friends and decided to follow in her footsteps and at the age of eighteen in 1968, gained a place at the College to study for a diploma in art. Here he was teased for sounding public school posh when he spoke and was nicknamed 'Lord Fauntleroy' and as a consequence he quickly repressed the accent. In fact, he soon became known as 'Red Robbie' for his involvement with radical causes and at twenty-one he supported the 1971 campaign by workers to keep the Glasgow shipyards open. He said : “I believe I showed a pornographic movie and charged people five shillings to look at it and gave the money to Upper Clyde shipbuilders”.

At the College he had started acting. Liz Lochhead, the poet, was a fellow student who  saw him in Harold Pinter’s 'The Dumb Waiter' and recalled his performance as : “Fantastic … bloody terrifying”. Robbie himself said : “I threw up every night before going on stage”.
In relation to his progress as an artist he told Scotland's 'The Herald' in 2014 : “I wanted to paint like the painters who really moved me, who made me want to weep about humanity. Titian, Rembrandt. But I looked at my diploma show and felt a terrible disappointment when I realized all the things that were in my head were not on the canvas”. “What young man sets out to be mediocre at something?”

Having graduated in 1971, he enrolled for a year's post graduate study at Edinburgh's Moray House College of Education, but abandoned a career in education in favour of another in film. In 1973, at the age of twenty-three, his 50-minute documentary, 'Young Mental Health' was voted 'Film Of The Year' by the Scottish Education Council.

When he was twenty-six in 1976, Robbie's younger sister, Jane, committed suicide while studying at York University. Like Robbie, she was bubbling over with life, but suffered from depression. It was Robbie who travelled down to collect her belongings and on the way home, wild with grief, he smashed up his train carriage.

Jazz lover Robbie, who was to take the name 'Coltrane' from saxophonist John Coltrane, now began to hang out with actors in Glasgow and Edinburgh, performing on the fringes of the Edinburgh Festival, as well as working as a chauffeur, driving directors and stars around. He supported himself with a series of low-paid jobs, throughout the 1970s while working with the San Quentin Theatre Group and the Bush Theatre. It was in Edinburgh's renowned Traverse Theatre, that he formed a working relationship with playwright and director John Byrne and appeared in his 1978 'The Slab Boys'. All the action takes place in the morning and afternoon of a Friday in the winter of 1957 in the Slab Room of Carpet Manufacturers A.F. Stobo & Co. of Paisley, a town near Glasgow with Robbie playing the role of a designer, Jack Hogg, in his twenties.

Robbie also engaged in improvisational nightclub work, as well as the kind of stand-up comedy that had practiced at school. His personality and mastery of accents made him popular with audiences and allowed him to play hundreds of very different parts. Despite his middle-class background Robbie always identified with working-class Glasgow. When interviewed by the Guardian in 2012 he said this self-identification was still in place : "I can walk down the street and the hardest man in Glasgow would say : "All right, big guy?" I mean, I have respect – I've done something with my life, and people in Glasgow respect that, because Glaswegians, they're like Liverpudlians, there's a rough edge to them, and they respect hard work".

By the mid-late 1990s, Robbie had had enough of London and said : “I’m not mobbed. It’s not a question of teenage sluts trying to sit on your face. It’s a matter of people starting to get unpleasant when they’ve had a few drinks”. He had revisited Scotland when he toured in a stage production of Dario Fo’s 'Mistero Buffo' and found himself yearning for the honesty of his birthplace. “You know what they say about Glasgow. If they like you they’ll let you live”.

This was the same actor, who in the wake of Hagrid said : 

“Kids come up to you and they go : "Would you like to sign my book?" with those big doe-eyes. And it’s a serious responsibility”.


Friday, 7 October 2022

Britain made and the USA has lost Audrey Evans, Creator of 'Staging' for kids with cancer and Ronald McDonald Homes for their moms and dads

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Audrey, who has died at the age of 97, was born in March 1925, in the cathedral city of York in North-east England, the youngest child of the three children of Phyllis and Leonard. Seen here, on her mother's lap, with the family nanny between her and her older brother and sister. Hers was a comfortably off, middle class family and her father was from a large Congregational family. He had wanted to study medicine but was precluded from doing this because he had been seriously wounded in the First World War and instead joined the firm in York his father worked for that made paper bags and pioneered the manufacture of what became Sellotape.

Audrey had determined from the age of five to become a doctor and having assembled a homemade first-aid kit of bandages, cotton balls and a tiny bottle of antiseptic, used it to tend to any animals in need. Many years later, speaking of the role she played in setting up the St. James School in West Philadelphia, which helped underprivileged children by providing them with an extra year at school, free from tuition fees, she said : "I still have the ability to do something for the benefit of humanity. I've always had a strong belief in an inner God, who watches over us and takes care of us and has expectations of us to do a good job with the life he gave us. I had been fortunate in that I had a very good education and I know what a good education and I know what education does for you".

At some point in her childhood she had a serious accident which resulted in scalp burns and she missed a considerable amount of time from the Mount School, an independent Quaker, school for girls in York. Then, at the age of eleven, she was packed off to a boarding school for girls in Bristol, a distance of 250 miles from her home. She once told an interviewer that her parents : “Believed that girls should do as well as boys” and encouraged her in her education. In the event, Audrey was only in Bristol until she was fifteen. After the Second World War had broken out in 1939 and, no doubt, given the fact that Bristol was a target for German bombing in the War in 1940, her parents called her back to York. Here she rejoined the Mount School, which was run along clear Quaker principles and would, a few yers later, educate the actress Judi Dench and the novelist, Margaret Drabble. 

Her senior year at the school was blighted by the fact that she contracted tuberculosis and spent a year recovering in hospital. The loss of education meant she struggled to get the qualifications she needed to become a medical doctor and follow in the footsteps of her elder sister who had attended the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. She was twenty-three, rather than eighteen by the time she enrolled. “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor,” she said in an interview for a 2017 episode of 'Modern Hero', an American documentary series about extraordinary women. She added : “Fortunately, my parents believed that girls should do as well as boys, so off I set”. 

Audrey wasn't fazed by the fact that she was the only female student in the medical school and said : "I wouldn't call it hard" being surrounded by men, "More, amusing". (link) Although in her later career in medicine she demonstrated that she had a brilliant mind, in these early days she struggled with her ability to learn and ended up failing her first year anatomy exam, which forced her to resit. Fortunately, she was able to identify her failing by the fact that she learnt best by focusing on listening-based learning methods rather than reading volumes of text. In the case of anatomy, she looked at pictures and was talked through what she was looking at. (link)  

She graduated at the age of twenty-eight in 1953 and then spent a two years residency and was the only woman in the Royal Infirmary Teaching Hospital in Edinburgh. She was barred from the men’s cafeteria and dormitory and slept in a bedroom in a tower and had to share the men’s lock-free bathroom, where she recalled singing loudly to ward off intruders.  

Her next professional move brought her to the United States for two years on a 'Fulbright Fellowship' and to Boston Children’s Hospital, where she studied with Dr. Sidney Farber, the noted cancer researcher. She was affected by a drawing on his office wall which showed a circle of caregivers with the family at the centre, which started her thinking about how illness affected more than just the patient. It would be the start of her career as a 
pediatric oncologist and was a time when there was little hope of curing children with cancer. Although, in h
is seminal study in 1948, Sidney had demonstrated chemotherapy’s ability to fight cancers of the blood and he hoped to prove that chemicals could eradicate solid tumors as well. 

Then, in 1955, she went to Johns Hopkins University to finish her medical training and then returned home to Britain, where she was determined to pursue a career in specialty pediatrics, but soon found that this field was strictly for men and not women. As a result she now returned to the United States, to pick up her career in pediatric oncology where she knew she would be less likely to be thwarted by prejudice on grounds of her sex. It was here that spend the remaining sixty-five years of her life and construct a career which would improve the lives of thousands of children with cancer and help families cope with both the challenges of the disease and its treatment. 

* * * * * * * * * 

Rejoining Dr Farber in the Boston Children's Hospital, at his request, Audrey and 
Giulio D’Angio, a colleague who later became her husband when she was eighty in 2005, co-wrote a 1959 study on the effects of radiation and a chemical antibiotic in children with a type of kidney cancer. Their study provided the first evidence that chemotherapy could combat solid metastatic tumors.

At the age of thirty-nine in 1964 she left Boston for the 
University of Chicago, to work at their 'Hematology and Oncology Unit' and it was here that she was recruited by former U.S Surgeon General and Surgeon Chief at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, C. Everett Coop, to create the pediatric oncology unit. In the event, she was to spend the rest of her career there, serving as the Chair of the Division of Oncology from 1969 to 1989 and was appointed a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1972. 

Audrey herself said : "It was a perfect job for me. I was taking care of sick kids and I was listening to this sermon at church and God calling a woman who cared and I thought : 'Wow, that's who called me. So I knew at that sermon : 'God. That's why I came to Philadelphia : to take care of children with cancer'. Because, the time I came, there wasn't much else you could do". In the years that followed, Audrey played a major part in bringing an end to that bleak prognosis for children with cancer, not just in Philadelphia, but across the USA and around the rest of the world. (link)  Over sixty years later she would tell Julia Fisher Farbman :"I was given a mission and I was given the ability to serve it". (link) 

She now embraced what became known as 'Total Care', to address the physical and emotional needs of patients and their families and as an aspect of this, she allowed frightened children to bring pet parakeets, rabbits and hamsters into the oxygen tent or radiation chamber. In addition, she installed a floor-to-ceiling bird cage stocked with finches to entertain her patients. 

Audrey said : "I wanted to make life in hospital more fun or more tolerable. As far as I was concerned anything that anybody wanted to do would go. One child wanted to bring her bunny into the hospital with her and I said : "That's fine. Go ahead and bring your bunny". This particular child, in radiation therapy, she would not lie still". In the event, Audrey accompanied the child and the bunny to the therapist and after the bunny had been treated, the child, without wriggling had her dose of therapy. (link) 

She later said that she “got away with things,” because few hospital administrators were willing to visit the pediatric oncology ward which was a depressing and increasingly crowded place. She later recalled : “Fortunately, nobody liked oncology. The people who run the place would rather not go to the oncology floor. So I got away with things I could do in oncology, which I’m sure you couldn’t have done on a healthy ward”. 

Audrey said : “A family with a sick child is a sick family. So you must think about everybody - the siblings, the mother, the father, maybe grandmother. You must remember that they’re part of a group”. 
She recalled : “The families just ended up staying in the hospital, in the hallways and in the bedrooms. There were people all over”. Occasionally she used her personal credit card to book hotel rooms for exhausted parents and at other times sent the mothers to the YWCA and fathers to a hostel. What was needed, she said was : "A house where I could send the moms and dads together”. She envisioned a 'bed-and-breakfast' where families could retreat from the hospital and stay for months with other families in the same plight and a large Edwardian house near the hospital at 4032 Spruce St, caught her eye.

This was the early 1970s and the three-year-old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles 'tight end', Fred Hill, was being treated for leukemia at a nearby hospital and he began 
began raising money for research. Fred's teammates had held a few fundraisers and when they heard of Audrey's needs, they presented her with a check for $100,000'. She recalled : “I gratefully accepted but said : "What I really need is money for a house" ". 

Help came from 
Jim Murray, the team’s General Manager, who had created a sponsorship relationship with McDonald’s, the American-based multinational fastfood chain. Jim proposed promoting the company's 'shamrock mint milkshakes' in return for a share of the profits to be donated to Audrey's house and in exchange for naming rights and the proviso that the Philadelphia house be named after the company’s familiar clown character. As a result 'Ronnie’s House' opened in 1974. Audrey had often spoken of feeling that God had called her to care for children and Jim said : “I couldn’t cut open a frog. I couldn’t even pass biology and here I was talking to all these doctors" and of Audrey he said : "She didn’t know what the Eagles were, but God put us together".(link)

The Ronald McDonald House later moved to 3925 Chestnut St, with more rooms and better resources and now 
included summer camps and entertainment. The 'Ronald McDonald House Charities' was officially set up in 1984 and has since expanded to more than 360 locations in 63 countries, including one in a remote part of China, providing comfort and support to over seven million families worldwide, offering long-term rooms near hospitals for either for free or a modest donation. Audrey knew the houses would provide emotional support as 'veteran' families mingled with newcomers and said : “People in these houses know the trials of having a sick child and will help if you want to cry and help if you want to celebrate”. (link)

In the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Everett Koop was intrigued by Audrey's research on 'neuroblastoma', a cancer of immature nerve cells that is the most common type of cancer in infants. It had been rarely studied before Audrey took an interest in the disease, which in some cases spontaneously disappeared without treatment. As he had hoped, Audrey succeeded in standardizing treatment for neuroblastoma. Using index cards, she began recording data that would help doctors determine the extent of the disease with 'One small tumor' classified a child as Stage 1, or 'low risk' and many widespread tumors deemed a child 'Stage 4' which needed aggressive treatment. 

She published her staging system at the age of forty-six in 1971. It spared children who did not need chemotherapy and radiation their brutal and long-lasting side effects and today, doctors, around the world, use an international staging system that retains key elements of Audrey's initial parameters, taking into account the tumor’s size, location and spread.  During her career, neuroblastoma deaths dropped by half and today about 80% of afflicted children survive the disease. In 2000 the journal 'Cancer Research' declared, in relation to Audrey : 'More than any other person during the last three decades, she has transformed our thinking about neuroblastoma'. (link)

Audrey 
partially retired at the age of sixty-four in 1989 and then permanently at the age of eighty-four in 2009. She kept busy riding horses, tending sheep and scuba diving. Her love of horses dated back to her childhood in Yorkshire and she was an accomplished rider, having started with a small cart pony and, with no instruction, rapidly became proficient. However, she said that she : 
“Missed the kids” and felt depressed until she found a new project. 

Now, involving herself in her Episcopal church’s summer program at a shuttered house of worship in North Philadelphia, she helped raise money to reopen the church as the fee-free, St. James Middle School, designed to address inequalities through education. She was a regular presence on campus, where she could be seen walking arm-in-arm with students and said : “I’m taking care of children here, and I was taking care of children with cancer. These kids need help, too”.  (link)

After marrying Giulio D’Angio when she was eighty, after thirteen years of marriage, he passed away in 2018 and Audrey herself did not live long enough to see the feature film ' Audrey's Children', which has been made this year and is expected to be shown in cinemas in 2023. Natalie Dormer, who plays the role of Audrey, has said : "This film brings to light a woman who has spent her entire career ferociously dedicated to saving the lives of children and supporting families who have gone through unimaginable challenges. Audrey has done so with great heart and modesty. I'm honored to be playing her, and to be a part of this inspiring project".

In 2017, Audrey was the subject for the 'Modern Hero' film series and was accompanied by the journalist Julia Fisher Farbman, who said : "Dr. Evans epitomizes Modern Hero in every way. Our team is elated that her story on Facebook has garnered nearly a half million views and thousands of shares in just a few short days, with no sign of slowing down. All I can say is, thank you Dr. Evans, for being an inspiration and a Modern Hero to so many".(link)

Julia said : "When I would go on walks with her she would literally stop and smell the roses, cuddle strangers’ babies, hand out dog treats, which she always carried in her purse despite not having a dog and she’d strike a conversation with anyone who seemed like they were having a bad day. If you asked her why, she would say : "We just made that person’s day a little better. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?" '

In her office in the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Audrey had kept photographs of the children she had saved and those she could not. She said : 

“I have learned to be able to talk to children about what dying is like. One of the best things you can do is to be there and to share”. (link)

She expressed this when she assured one girl that there would be flowers in heaven and, on another occasion, sat vigil with a boy until 4 a.m., granting his last wish for chocolate cake.

Audrey said, with perfect understatement : 

"I always say, it was not that I had a wonderful mind or I was very bright, but somehow or other I'd been given the gift to care".