As late as Summer 2012 Phyllis Craig used to come and work here at PLMR once a fortnight, she loved days like the PAN Awards 2011 (pictured below) and sadly she died one month ago today, aged 69 and 2 days, from cancer. Alongside my sister and father and with our families and friends I think today about how much I miss her, the gap she has left behind, her life and sacrifices.
Phyllis Craig (née Heneghan) came to London in 1966 and was typical of a whole generation of Irish, West Indian, Asian and many other nationality immigrants who travel across seas and borders in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It was an utter wrench for her to leave Tuam in County Galway in Eire, her parents and younger niece-come-sister but she did so – needs required it with jobs scarce. That journey to find work was just what you had to do back then, an economic reality as Sean Lemass as Taoiseach was undertaking the long journey to transition Ireland from de Valera’s era into a modern European country.
In her life in England she did many things. She worked in the NHS as a State Enrolled Nurse, in factories soldering electrical equipment, and for many years as a School Meals Assistant in a London primary school. She worked decades in jobs epitomised by long hours and hard graft. She brought up my sister and I and she kept our father Seamus who we love on the straight and narrow, when they faced many of the challenges familiar to Irish men working on building sites across Britain – rough conditions, drinking cultures, and old fashioned ways.
She was a total fighter, never with the chance to continue formal education beyond 16 but super intelligent, and never accepting anything but the best for her family, later to include grandchildren. She fought to try to get us into the best schools, to keep us from getting into trouble, to get Lambeth Council to treat tenants properly (not always easy, particularly in the bad old days) and was one of the kindest people I have ever known – I am biased of course but countless people have recounted examples of that to us since she died, always unprompted. She was funny, generous and giving with her time. She also loved life and savoured every day of this life on this planet, relishing it for the amazing thing that it is, not wishing to waste a second – an approach I currently draw on to snap out of dark moments.
From all the sensible political party platforms in Britain we rightly hear at this time of year about Britain’s proud history of welcoming those immigrants who help make a difference to the life of this country and she was one of that many, leaving this life with a huge legacy. The lives my sister and I have had so far, with such plentiful opportunity, such broad horizons, such happiness love and excitement, all testify to both what a glorious place this country can be as well as to her rock like support, delivered across decades. She deserves huge praise for the start we were given and the love that followed.
Running and growing a business like PLMR alongside others as I do requires many things that can’t change in order for us to succeed – a love of politics, of current affairs, a realisation that nobody owes you anything, an interest in and affection for people, a fascination with society, media and change, alongside some things that currently feel less solid and more fragile, such as energy levels, patience and perspective and a relentlessly high-tempo work ethic. Those things are coming back to me after the shock of her leaving, and now re-installed back to work after her funeral and as the world rightfully moves on, as it must, with every day 1350 or so people dying in Britain it is more evident than ever how wonderful she was, how much I owe to her, how much she loved and was loved, and how vital to us as human beings are all those who care for us as we grow up. She is so desperately missed though and nothing prepares one for that.
So for to all those parents, carers, grandparents, family and friends who care for us fortunate ones from when we are little people on our voyage to becoming big people, to those who provide that love and succour, thank you. And to Phyllis Craig, mum, we will miss you forever and we are grateful for every day and every hour that we had.