I am going to be at a funeral this coming Saturday. It’s to mark the death but also to celebrate the life of an extraordinary young man – Gordon Aikman; a man who stood up for what he believed in and stood by others in need, serving neighbour and stranger with all that he had, even, perhaps especially when he himself was in great need; though he would have resisted that description.
Gordon was best known for being a campaigner for Motor Neuron Disease (MND) but long before then he’d been committed to bringing about justice for others. I met him when our paths crossed when we were both active in the Scottish Labour Party, he as an activist and employee and me as a politician, though Gordon was never concerned about what label you had, for him it was always what you did and why you did it.
I say his tenacity in those party political days but it reached its peak in his response to news that would have destroyed the resolve of many – when at 29 years of age, he was diagnosed with MND. When many would have understandably crumbled he decided to turn his trauma into a campaign for others.
As he put it succinctly on his website:
“I don’t want pity. All I want is for you to take action to help fund a cure and fight for better care for people with MND.
It’ll be too late for me, but we must ‐ and with your help we will ‐ find a cure for the next generation.
With your help I can turn a negative into a positive”
“Turning a negative into a positive” is probably the most appropriate description of Gordon. I found him an inspirational person who searched for the good in everything. I remember meeting him at the SCVO awards in 2015 when MND Scotland won Charity of the year. His smile when he saw me as I approached his table was warm and strong. He was delighted at MND’s win that night, pleased to see people and meet old friends despite the fact that he was there because of his illness. It seemed to spur him on, not hold him back.
Gordon raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for MND but he did something even more important than simply raise cash, crucial as that was. He also significantly increased much needed awareness about MND, campaigning for more MND specialist staff and exposing us all to the brutal reality of the condition and what it means to live with an incurable disease. He did so by being both bullish and deeply vulnerable. And perhaps that was his most powerful legacy of all. By being willing to be vulnerable about the reality of his condition and the consequences for him and his family, especially his husband Joe, he taught us all that in vulnerability and in truth we can find great strength.
I know I am a better person from having known Gordon. His gift was to be truthful about what it takes to be truly human and then to live it in the face of his own mortality, truly turning a negative into a positive. We may be marking his death on Saturday but I know there is so much of who he was, and still is, that shall lives on past those moments many shall share in his name.
My thoughts are with Joe and all of Gordon’s family as they begin the next part of their journey with Gordon, no longer present but held always in their hearts and minds.