Argus title : My fond memories of a true local hero
Neil McArthur, the Manager of the Brighton Area Branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, died on 19th May 2007. He was 57 years old and had worked there for 19 years
Though he was born in Essex, he came of an ancient Scottish clan, the Clan Macarthur. It must have been important to him. At the recent fundraising St Patrick’s Day ball for the Society, he enthralled guests by wearing a kilt.
Neil was a modest man. He avoided accolades in life and didn’t want any fuss after his death. He left instructions that there should be no flowers, only donations to the Azheimer’s Society, at his funeral. It will be a low key event, though it is likely to be packed with people. Neil touched so many people’s lives. I looked up the Macarthurs in my well-thumbed copy of Bain’s “Clans and Tartans of Scotland”. I smiled when I read that the official Motto of the Macarthur clan is “Fide et opera” , which translates as “By Fidelity and Work”. Neil was well-known for both his faithfulness and his prodigious capacity for work.
It’s also completely appropriate that the Clan’s ancient War Cry is in Gaelic “Eisd! O’Eisd!”, which in English means “Listen! O, Listen!”. Neil was a man who spent much of his life listening to others.
Freda Quinn, the new Chair of the Branch and a close friend said:
“He could work up to 16 hours a day running the office, often manning the helpline till 11pm. On Saturdays he’d work at the charity shop in Sydney Street. He’d often work on Christmas Day, when he would call various carers and others to give support.”
Jo Heard, the Branch’s Publications Officer, said:
“What has emerged since he died, is just how many people he helped. We knew he was a kind man. But what has stunned us is that he was there for so many people. They could be clients or carers or workers going through a difficult patch. He’d be there with a phonecall or a visit or a bunch of flowers for them. It wasn’t unknown for him to phone every day if he thought people really needed it.”
Neil was born on the 18th October 1949 in Hornchurch in Essex. According to his mother, he trained in insurance work in London and later worked for the City of London University. He moved to Brighton and, tiring of commuting, trawled the Argus job vacancies for alternative employment.
He decided to apply for work with the Alzheimer’s Society, but by his own honest admission knew “nothing about dementia”. By some miracle he was offered the job – on the clear understanding on both sides that they would “see how it went”. In fact, of course, it went rather well. What had begun on 22nd April 1988 as a temporary arrangement, rapidly became a vocation.
Neil listened and read and thought and before very long had become an expert on dementia. It seemed as if he was born to it. In fact, he did have some experience of caring for a close friend who had died, but apart from that, there was no particular reason why he should have understood so very well the experiences of carers. Yet, seemingly by instinct, he knew what to do and say when they needed help.
In fact, it was all based upon careful and attentive listening. Freda Quinn recalled: “He used to say to professionals, like doctors and social workers, if you want to learn about dementia, listen to people, listen to the carers. They know what it’s about. He had huge respect for carers.”
Over the years Neil built the Branch, fundraising tirelessly for better services. He raised funds to expand the carers’ support services and the relief care scheme, which provides practical help and respite to carers of people with dementia.
When Neil joined the Society in 1988, the relief care scheme had only 5 staff members offering support to 25 families. There are now 15 relief carers, all highly trained and well supported. The branch now offers regular support to over a 100 families and has 29 members of staff and a team of volunteers providing:
• The telephone Helpline
• The Relief Care Scheme seven days a week
• The Towner Club
• Three Carers’ Support Groups
• Two Carer Support Workers
• Monthly outings and annual socials
• Two mini-break weekend holidays per year
• Training for carers and professionals
• The Society’s Charity Shop
He was particularly concerned about the needs of people with early onset dementia and their carers, realising the urgent need for good advice and support at an early stage. In 1999 he helped set up the Towner Club, a day centre for younger people with dementia, which was the first of its kind in the southern area. It is run jointly with the Sussex Partnership Trust.
Neil also helped set up and continued to support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Carers Group.
Volunteer Roger Newman Said: “He was a pillar of strength in guiding us through the opening stages of the Network’s foundation and his understanding of the ‘ways’ of the Society were an enormous help in avoiding the pitfalls which would have hampered the creation of the first LGBT group in any major national charity in the UK.”
He added: “Neil was a heaven sent member of our steering group. If we are like dogs then he was a gentle terrier – once he had got his teeth into an issue then he didn’t let go until things were resolved.”
David Lepper M.P. paid tribute to him. He said: “He worked tirelessly…to raise awareness in the local community both among ordinary member of the public and the medical profession about issues related to dementia.”
Neil was a quiet and modest man, yet he was an excellent public speaker and an effective campaigner. He ensured that the local Branch played an active part in national campaigns for improved services.
He was incensed at the decision by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to restrict access to drugs such as Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Epixa. He campaigned tirelessly for better conditions in residential care. It infuriated him that the NHS will not fund personal care for dementia sufferers on the basis that such services are not “health services”.
He knew better than most that if the army of carers who now provide those services at no cost, ceased to do so, not only would there be many deaths by neglect, starvation, exposure and accident, the state would also, at some stage, have to pick up the tab.
Neil died of a coronary artery thrombosis and atheroma on 19th May 2007. He was at home, having gone home from work feeling unwell. Friends advised him to get medical help, but he refused to let them call a doctor. Perhaps he knew that his time had come. Possibly, he was just tired out.
He died knowing he had many friends who loved him. He had seen the Branch he loved grow in success. He had shepherded it through the process of merger with the national Society. He had revamped the Sydney Street charity shop. Only one major dream was left unfulfilled.
Neil wanted an easily accessible central building to house both the Society’s offices and many of its outreach services. He dreamed of a day facility, which people could drop into for support information and advice, a pleasant place in which people could socialize, possibly in a community café staffed at least in part by people with dementia.
As someone who has had two parents with dementia, both of whom have received wonderful care from the Society, I could buy into that dream. My father is now dead, but I could imagine taking my mother to such a place, having lunch or tea and scones in that café. I could even picture her volunteering in those kitchens – at least when she was younger.
What a wonderful memorial to Neil it would be if between us we could achieve something like this. And what a wonderful service it would offer to the increasing numbers of our fellow citizens who suffer from dementia.
Neil’s funeral takes place at 1.00pm on Tuesday 5th June at Woodvale North Crematorium
followed by a gathering at the New Madeira Hotel, Marine Parade.