New Years Eve always seems to be a time for reflection and this one more obviously than most. I have been thinking about some of the people who have inspired me in life, who have given me the fire in my belly. Here are just some of them.
My mum. The biggest inspiration of all. From a traditional old fashioned Jewish background, she went to university (almost unheard of amongst her cohort ), lived alone in Paris for a year as a student, got a job in advertising. Wow. She gave up work to be a stay at home mum and gave every inch of herself to the job. No one could have had a more selfless, more hard working, more dedicated, more loving, more sensible, more empathetic, more encouraging mother. She would have fought to the death with her bare hands to protect my brother and me.
My dad. A Jewish boy and accountant from Hendon, who left school at 16 with poor qualifications, but who went on to be a senior director of one of the world’s largest publishing companies, flying around the world doing deals in far flung places. How amazing that he was able to achieve so much, to build himself up from such a humble beginning, and to pass on to me the most incredible and powerful work ethic. I’ve never been afraid of a glass ceiling thanks to him. He has ingrained in me the knowledge that hard work and intelligence and being someone who gets on with people stand you in very very good stead.
Mrs Pearce. My infant school teacher. She was a tough cookie. She sounded like she smoked 100 a day. She was a divorcee in an era when that was still a bit scandalous. She gave as good as she got. Age 5 I thought she was the bees knees.
M. Bardou. My secondary school French teacher. He was never heard to utter a word in English in the classroom. He shouted at us, corralled us, pushed us, helped us, encouraged us, didn’t let us give up. He was the best teacher in the school.
John Davies, tutor in law at Brasenose College. John always intimidated me a little. We were clearly bright – after all, we’d won our places at Oxford – but John had seen loads of bright kids over the years and it took a real effort to find something to say to him that made him look interested. But his intellect, calmness, stoicism and patience were always inspiring and always made you hope that you’d be the one to pique his interest.
Barry Nicholas, former principal at Brasenose and Roman Law Tutor. We all had to take Roman Law with Barry in our first term. Barry had written the definitive textbook on the subject. This little small bent over figure in a brown tweed jacket and feet tucked into shoes that used to be brown but were polished into a sort of orange colour would greet us. The feet would be twisted round the legs of his chair in a way that defied human biology. He would listen to your essays then question you on them. It wasn’t uncommon to tell him that you’d written something because he’d said so in his book. But the came the day that he replied “hmmmm. I might have changed my mind”. At that point I knew I loved him for life.
Romano Prodi. Prodi was president of the European Commission during my stage. He used to eat his lunch in the staff canteen. That was impressive. I admired him hugely for that.
Robyn Durie. Robyn was a partner at a major City law firm representing the company my dad worked for. She was kind enough to take me on for work experience for a fortnight when I was 16 (and wearing a VERY short skirt!), and then again for some time during the following 2 summers. Robyn scared and inspired me in equal measure. She wore bright red lipstick and her hair tied back tightly in a coiled bun. She spoke quietly but with immense authority. There seemed to be nothing she didn’t know about IP law and telecoms regulation. It’s fair to say she had both friends and detractors – but to me she was just awe inspiring. What an intellect. What presence. What a reputation. Wow.
Catherine Wolfenden. Catherine was head girl at my school and a couple of years older than me. We were never friends at school and didn’t stay in touch. But work made our paths cross a couple of years ago. She is incredible. An amazing lawyer. A brilliant mum and wife. A truly lovely friend. A wonderful warm personality. Incisive. Hard working to a fault. Perceptive. The sort of person I hope I might be.
Pat Treacy. My partner and lead competition lawyer at Bristows. Pat really is incredible. It goes without saying that she is intelligent and an excellent lawyer. But there is so much more. She is thoughtful, considerate, good hearted, straightforward. She has no hidden agenda. She doesn’t do office politics. She is measured and realistic. She is a good person through and through, always thinking about others. She is calm. She is a true inspiration.
Rabbi Lawrence. Rabbi Lawrence is the new rabbi at our local synagogue. He had enormous boots to fill as his predecessor is now the Chief Rabbi. During the early days of my diagnosis I considered contacting the synagogue. But I didn’t feel any real connection. As I’ve blogged before, I’m a very traditional Jew, observant in some ways but not to the really observant, but culturally connected. I have mostly gone to synagogues affiliated to the United Synagogue, the biggest community in the UK. When I was growing up, most people I knew went to a US synagogue – it was the norm. Most people weren’t all that observant but were traditional. As I’ve grown up, the US has got more and more hard line and my friends have tended to get less and less religious and observant, while I feel I’ve stayed in the middle. Luckily I met and married a wonderful man with very similar views. Anyhow, the point of this rambling is that the US rabbis have tended to intimidate me by making me feel inadequate for not being observant enough. It’s a Jewish thing. And then I met Rabbi Lawrence. He was heavily involved in AJ6, the Jewish youth group that I was involved in as a teenager. He read law at Oxford. Only then did he go and study to become a rabbi. He led communities in Australia and New Zealand so he’s been away from the politics and increasingly hard line views of the US. And now he’s my rabbi. I met him. He listened and understood. He didn’t reel off long quotes from the Torah. He didn’t tell me I should be ashamed for not being more observant. He got me. He is the rabbi I have been looking for. I am so glad I have found him in time.
My husband and kids. They inspire me to keep going. To push through. To be the very best version of me that I can be. To fight and fight and keep fighting.