FORMER Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has told how the death of her friend, MND campaigner Gordon Aikman, changed her life.
In a blog written to mark the anniversary of his passing last year, the Lothian MSP recalls the impact the news had on her at the time and since.
Mr Aikman, who had been a Labour researcher at Holyrood before going to work for Better Together, was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2014 at the age of 29.
And he dedicated himself to campaigning for better support for sufferers and raising money for research to find a cure.
Ms Dugdale describes a busy day at parliament before Mr Aikman’s husband, Joe Pike, rang her.
“I took the call outside the group meeting room and slid down the wall until I was crouched on my heels as Joe told me Gordon had died that morning.
“I was utterly numb. Confused. I’d seen him on Monday, just hours before, at the Euan MacDonald Centre which we’d visited to see what advances were being made in medical research. We posed for cameras as I presented a cheque to MND Scotland. I kissed him goodbye as I rushed to my next meeting. He said he’d see me later. I never saw him again.”
When Ms Dugdale quit as Labour leader six months later, she said Mr Aikman’s death had made her reconsider her priorities.
In the blog, she writes: “Losing Gordon has altered my whole life and my attitude towards it. The loss of his life was my first real, deep experience of grief. What a horrendous gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and horrible experience.
“We all knew we were going to lose him at some point. Every time I saw him he was that tiny bit weaker, but his mental strength was boundless and he still had a lust for life despite its adversities.
“His two major loves – Joe and his nieces/nephews – were the engines behind his desire to keep going. Somehow we thought he had years.
“I didn’t cry that night. I didn’t really do anything, I just sat. The next morning my alarm went off, the radio kicked in and a recording of Gordon’s voice came on as the BBC announced his death. I wept like a child.
“Gordon taught me so much about life whilst he was living, but even more after his death.
“It’s a cliché to say life is short, but Gordon proved it. I’ve learnt never to waste a moment. I’ve addressed everything in my life that made me unhappy and I’ve refocused my time and energies on the things that really matter. I’ve travelled more, said yes more, been more spontaneous. And each time I’ve had to make a big decision, I’ve thought of him.”
She also writes of her delight at the decision to name Edinburgh University’s biggest lecture theatre in his honour.
“I was immensely touched to read that the University of Edinburgh, where Gordon and I met 12 years ago, is to rename its George Square lecture theatre after him. I love the fact that the hall is both a seat of learning and a major Fringe venue – capturing both Gordon’s studious nature and sense of fun.”