Role models are inspirational and we need more of them, people who have been through some trauma or major life event, and come out not just surviving but in some way uplifted by the experience. In the last week or two, as a man with facial burns, I have been inspired by three men who set a shining example to us all.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting some of the Guinea Pigs, airman and tank crew whose extremely severe facial and hand burns had been treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe at East Grinstead after the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the five years of war that followed. The survivors are all in their later years now but retain a steely resilience and meet every year to continue the Club’s camaraderie at a lovely retreat on the South Coast.
I was there to talk to them about the legacy of McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club in the run-up to the unveiling of a statue in East Grinstead in June commemorating the surgeon and his work: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/01/plastic-surgery-archibald-mcindoe-memorial.
I walked and talked with 93-year-old Sandy Saunders who joked and chuckled like a man forty years younger! One phrase stood out: he said that he believed that many of the Guinea Pigs experienced an increase in “moral maturity” as a result of their ordeals. By which I think he meant a deeper understanding of human suffering and the needs of the disadvantaged.
His story is beautifully told in this link: http://www.meltontimes.co.uk/news/features/news-features/forever-grateful-for-pioneering-plastic-surgery-1-477124
Sadly, the number of Guinea Pigs dwindles each year and I was reminded too last week of the passing of Bob Boscawen, MP for Wells in Somerset for many years who died in January. I recall meeting him very briefly years ago and being impressed not just by his strongly expressed views but by his total lack of ego. He served his constituency, country and those around him selflessly.
Last but by no means least, I was present last week at the unveiling of a portrait, chosen by the BBC’s One Show to hang in the National Portrait Gallery of one of today’s national treasures, Simon Weston, the Falklands War veteran. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-26663152
Simon had not seen the portrait before the curtain was removed and was understandably very nervous about it. When the moment arrived, it revealed a superbly strong and respectful portrait by Nicky Philipps, capturing well his glinting eyes, gnarled hands and strength of being. We all watched as Simon inched forward, clearly very moved. His quiet appreciation spoke volumes… He was – and is – truly awe-struck at how people love and respect him. We could all feel his warmth and inspiration radiating around the room.
I salute these men and role models in all walks of life.