Values in Leadership – a tribute to my Mum on International Womens' Day

My mother had values. The type that don’t walk quietly. She was also my leader.

This  includes being my facilitator, disciplinarian, fan club, teacher and coach and she has been my demanding benchmark all my life. She had a big heart.

She was tough, funny, hearty and loving. One of seven children, she was sent from Eire to live in London in her late teens. She studied and became a nurse – later becoming the type of Hospital Matron that legends are made of and that Doctors fear.

In 1945, she married my Dad in Croydon. He hadn’t been de-mobbed yet and was still in his RAF uniform. She was 22 and living in a foreign country. The Vicar asked her if she promised to “Love, Honour and Obey…”.

My Mum smiled and responded. “Love and Honour.”

This may not seem like a big deal now – but in 1945 it was more than unusual.

Raised a protestant in Eire and living in Africa, she was wary of talking about or getting involved in politics – but she was big on principles and values and doing rather than talking. She was the backbone and the glue of our family; a letter writer and keeper of telephone numbers; a stalwart of the Womens’ Institute; a baker, fundraiser and an organiser in the PTA at my school; a professional and highly respected Nurse and Matron and the sort of person who cooked and delivered a meal when the neighbours moved in. She was proud and supportive of my father’s achievements in business but she glowed when she spoke of his work with RAPT (the Rhodesian Association for the Prevention of Tubercolosis) which wiped out TB in that country for a generation.

She sent me to a private Catholic multiracial school because she didn’t want me thinking segregated white Rhodesia was representative of the real world. She always spoke of the possible rather than the forbidden. She repeatedly told me that I could be and do whatever I wanted to be or do – as long as I set my mind and my efforts and energy to it.

She is also the person who repeatedly pushed and challenged me when I said something was “good enough”.

We never spoke much about politics. She would have been a fan of the principles of social mobility and meritocracy of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. She would have loved the rhetoric of “Yes We Can.” She would have stood and applauded the Peace Process in Ireland. And if I  ever appeared lazy she would have told me to pull my finger out, stop complaining and get on with it – “It’s your life – it’s your fault if you mess it up. It’s your responsibility.”

She would have agreed with International Women’s Day. But she would have found it ridiculous that the world had progressed so slowly that it was still necessary.

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