Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Ali's friendship with Penny Goater

Ali visiting Penny Goater - and her dog Holly - in 2003
Ali had a great gift for friendship, and gave her time and energy generously. I am happy to publish this piece by Penny Goater who was a close friend of Ali's for thirty years.


Ali and I first became aware of each other in 1983 when she spotted a letter of mine that was published in a Disability magazine. She wrote to me and introduced herself and her work for SPUC as the National Organiser of the Handicap Division, asking if I would be interested in knowing more about their campaigns. I wrote back saying yes, but explaining that I ran an animal welfare organisation for young people and couldn't devote much of my time to other campaigns. Ali loved animals and was interested in my work, so we kept writing and when she moved from Essex to Dorset (I live in Somerset) we were able to meet and our friendship grew from that point.

We shared a great deal in common as disabled women of a similar age and background. But we were also interested in the differences between us - for example, Ali travelled extensively and I rarely did so I loved hearing about all her adventures and seeing her photos. It's always difficult to put a friendship into words because friendship is a feeling and a coming together of 'like minds'. When we did differ, any discussion we had was always open-minded and respectful and this strengthened our friendship, broadened our views and we learnt a great deal from each other.

We both experienced some difficult personal challenges during the time we knew each other but we also had lots of fun together! Ali had a brilliant sense of humour and laughter was a key element in all our get-togethers. Even in dark times there was always something to lift the spirits, and Ali would often have a witty or funny anecdote at the ready. I really miss her sense of fun and her joy in the simple pleasures of life.

When I was seriously ill at various stages of our friendship, Ali was always there for me. She was one of only two people I asked to see after I had major surgery in 1994; even though she wasn't well herself she undertook a long, uncomfortable car journey to be at my side in the hospital, giving me great comfort at a very difficult time.

I  am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Ali shortly before she died.   I didn't want to tire her or make things difficult but that visit gave me the opportunity to sit quietly by her bed, hold her hand and thank her for our very precious friendship during the 30 years we knew each other; we reminisced a little and shared some silent, reflective time.

Ali had an enormous capacity for love and gave her time to others freely and generously, even when she was exhausted or in pain. All of us who knew Ali well have our own special memories of time spent with her, of phone calls shared, of letters and emails written, and these help us to keep her close. She lived her life to the full and contributed greatly to the lives of others. Ali was unique and exceptional; I miss her greatly and think of her every day. I am so grateful that she wrote to me in 1983 and that our friendship blossomed. I feel truly blessed to have known her.

Penny Goater