Obituary: Ian Dawson-Shepherd

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The Independent Online
Ian Dawson-Shepherd was perhaps the greatest campaigner and friend of cerebrally palsied people and their parents. Thanks to the work of the Spastics Society, which he founded in 1952, attitudes towards cerebral palsy have changed dramatically, so that while before the 1950s it was rare even to see a person with cerebral palsy in public, they now have opportunities everywhere in society.

Dawson-Shepherd was born at Port Said, Egypt, the son of an official in the Colonial Service. He attended London University and in 1939 joined the army. Commissioned into the King's Regiment (Liverpool), he was seriously wounded in North Africa and was invalided out of the Army in 1944.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Dawson-Shepherd had a daughter, Rosemary, who was severely disabled by cerebral palsy. The condition occurs when the tiny part of the brain controlling movement has been damaged; each cerebrally palsied child is differently handicapped according to the number of brain cells damaged. Disabilities can range from total incapacity (all four limbs out of control, great difficulty with speaking) to just one side of the body being slightly affected.

At the time, there was a chronic lack of information and support for parents of cerebrally palsied children, and the stigma parents often felt was attached to the condition translated into a tendency to keep those with cerebral palsy out of sight. Employment was not considered even as a remote possibility.

In the 1940s, parents with severely disabled cerebrally palsied children at St Margaret's, Croydon, then the only school for such children in Britain, realised that no provision had been made for their children's further education. It was late in 1951 that Ian Dawson-Shepherd, together with two other parents, Alex Moir and Eric Hodgson, and Jean Garwood, a social worker, began campaigning for some provision to be made. They placed letters in the press which prompted over 600 replies in three weeks. Dawson-Shepherd then called the parents together and they decided to campaign for schools, training and work centres. Their efforts resulted in the formation of the National Spastics Society in 1952.

In spite of disabilities brought about by war wounds, and a stammer, Dawson-Shepherd was elected Chairman, and he was undoubtedly the motivator who ensured the tremendous success that followed. From the moment he flung a pounds 5 note on the table and issued a challenge to raise a million pounds in five years, local groups of parents took up the cudgels and money flooded in. Vital services were provided; schools, residential centres and work centres were established; and as funds increased, social workers were employed to assist the eventual 250 local groups of parents and volunteers. Work training, together with a campaign for placing in jobs, followed. Fund-raising was so successful that the total of pounds 1m (fantastic in the 1950s) was reached in four and a half years.

In spite of working as International Marketing Director of the drugs firm Aspro-Nicholas (he coined the advertising slogan "one degree under" for Aspro's aspirin tablets), Dawson-Shepherd still found time in 1960 to persuade the Spastics Society to fund a Paediatric Research Unit at Guy's Hospital. This unit has proved a marked success in discovering reasons for many causes of cerebral palsy.

Medical research was Dawson-Shepherd's overriding concern. When he was in his mid-seventies - in failing health - and he felt that further research into the causes of neurological disorders was required, he started work all over again. In 1990, gathering together a group of eminent medical scientists headed by the President of the World Federation of Neurology, Professor Richard Marlandus, he formed the Little Foundation (named after Dr William Little who first diagnosed "Spasticity" in the last century). The foundation is now looking to fund a pounds 100m research programme into causes of neurological disorders.

Like all great pioneers Ian Dawson-Shepherd could be dogmatic, difficult to deal with, but such was the measure of the man that all who knew him respected and admired him. He was a fighter to the end, still asking the almost impossible from all around him. Shortly before his death he was seeking funds for yet another project, this time looking into the problems of nutrition and its pre-natal effect upon babies.

In 1995, under pressure from people with cerebral palsy who objected to the negative attitudes which had become associated with the word "spastic", the name of the Spastics Society was changed to Scope. Typically Dawson- Shepherd gave the move his full support.

I am the person with cerebral palsy Ian Dawson-Shepherd chose to head the Spastics Society campaign for jobs throughout Britain in the late 1950s. He was a great iconoclast, and he had a great sense of humour, never more so than when, in 1963, as a member of the original council I chased him through the snow to bring him back to a meeting after he had "resigned" because we had refused to sanction an order for 6 million Christmas cards which he had already placed. He thought this very funny, especially visualising me with my ungainly gait, and so did I.

He was married twice. His second wife Margaret K. Johns, the film producer, survives him as do five of his daughters. Sadly, his disabled daughter, who was the sole reason for his work, died in 1986.

Ian Douglas Dawson-Shepherd, charity worker: born Port Said, Egypt 23 September 1915; founder and chairman, National Spastics Society (Scope) 1951-60; twice married (five daughters, and one daughter deceased); died London 8 January 1996.