Called Mo by family and lifelong friends and Gerry by everyone else, we met at university, shared accommodation, traveled together, and by chance we both eventually worked in television.
We also both signed up to the principles of Dying in Dignity when we were young. We always believed that just as we make crucial decisions throughout life, so we should be allowed to take control of our death when possible. Now Mo has faced the ultimate test of that commitment by going to Dignitas.
Mo had all the strengths and frailties of a single woman and epitomised how women’s lives have changed during her lifetime. She was single with a successful career that made her financially secure, a well travelled socialist and feminist who defended her beliefs and influenced people.
Mo combined anti-war demos, supporting young campaigners on the Sluts Walk and Dying in Dignity with looking good and having fun. She was interested in everything except sport, opera and cooking, saying life was too short to stuff cherry tomatoes.
Born into a close Irish Catholic family in Birmingham, Mo had a strong work ethic and was politicised by the 1972 Miner’s Strike while studying at Keele University. Unpretentious, straight talking with a keen eye for the ridiculous, she was a down-to-earth breath of fresh air in those hippy days.
After graduating, Mo joined the newly formed Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was left-wing, unpaid and without premises, but Mo signed on the dole and spent her time in phone boxes or trudging round pit villages trying to promote politically correct plays in North East working mens’ clubs that still banned women.
One night she was walking down a dark lane when a man attacked her. She fought him off and staggered into the club, where the men tutted “Eee that’ll be Billy. He’s a reet bugger. But ye cannot come in here pet. It’s men only.” No police, no counselling, just a lonely walk back to the bus stop.
Live is still going strong in Newcastle, launching the careers of Geordie actors including Robson Green and Val McLane and the writer Lee Hall who created “Billy Elliot” and “The Pitmen Painters.”
Mo joined BBC television in 1976 and quickly made her mark by throwing coffee over a notorious groper.
Career progression led her to Manchester then London and a string of peak viewing ratings winners with the top presenters of the day including Frank Bough, Lynn Faulds Wood, Russell Harty, Michael Palin and Ann Robinson. Her heart lay with investigative programmes that could improve peoples’ lives and she became deputy editor of the Watchdog stable.
Self effacing and modest, Mo was a huge influence on younger colleagues and friends.
After early retirement, Mo combined media training with volunteering to teach literacy in Wormwood Scrubs prison and a local school. She also helped unemployed women find work through the charity Dress for Success.
Mo adored her siblings, nephews and nieces and she was a best friend for many of us, unfailingly supportive, thoughtful and loyal. She would have done anything to help any of us and frequently did so. We spent countless contented hours loafing around watching films and chuntering about the world.
In the weeks before her death she was challenged many times about going to Dignitas. The most common question was why not take an overdose? Her reply was because of the distress caused to whoever finds the body, and there is no guarantee of success.
Isn’t it sterile and calculated? Maybe, but what could be worse than dying in a hospital bed, possibly attached to tubes and drips, doped by medication.
Dignitas is the only place which assists the death of non Swiss nationals. Far from spending the last weeks of her life in peace, there was a flurry of organization sorting the logistics of getting a dying woman to Switzerland – countless documents, oxygen cylinders, hotels, transferring money – and all the time the clock was ticking as her condition deteriorated rapidly.
Her ideal death would have been at home with her family and a professional person to provide her with the necessary medication. She was denied that because our politicians still turn away from even a calm discussion about assisted dying, let alone contemplate changing a law which is so outdated and unrealistic.
Mo’s death is a tragedy, but if the circumstances surrounding it turn a spotlight on the issue of assisted dying it will have served an important purpose.
Mo is survived by Neil and Lorna, Pat and Paul, Daniel, Luke, Amy and Laura.