West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Letters Page



In July 1974 I began working in the Supplies department at Headlands Hospital in Pontefract, and it was there that I first met Gillian Lesley Askew, or Gill as we all knew her. She was in her mid-twenties at that time and had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She lived in Churchbalk Lane, Pontefract.

Some days she appeared to be perfectly fit and well - her illness at that time was still in its early stages - and then another day she would stumble through the office door cursing mildly because she’d fallen coming down the hill to work, and laddered her tights, or grazed her knees or her hands.

She was a very pretty young woman with short cropped dark hair and she wore spectacles. Small and slim she was always immaculately groomed and well dressed and she had a smile that lit up the office! I remember wondering how fate could have dealt her such a cruel blow. It seemed so unfair that her life had been blighted by this dreadful illness. Somehow though, it was typical of Gill’s grit and determination that other people seemed to be more aware of her illness than she herself was, in spite of regular visits to a specialist for assessment and treatments. She staunchly refused to accept the limitations imposed upon her by her illness and the only concession she made was when she began working mornings only instead of full-time because she tired easily.

Gill and I acted as receptionists for the many company reps and visitors who arrived each day. We dealt with contracts and subscriptions to the many journals and periodicals that were distributed throughout the hospital. We typed letters and requests for quotations and thousands of orders. We telephoned suppliers for prices and delivery times - the list is endless. We were in regular contact with all the various hospitals and departments and I feel sure that many people will remember Gill.

Her brother Tim worked at that time in Barclay’s Bank in Pontefract and I remember seeing the joy on her face when Tim arrived totally unexpectedly with a bouquet of flowers for her. I recall how I sensed her excitement and anticipation when she knew her mother would be waiting to accompany her on a shopping trip after work.

Gill always remembered my birthday. Her’s was on May 21st, and we always exchanged small gifts. She was an excellent needlewoman and she made lots of her own skirts and dresses. She had a talent for patchwork too which, working in the Supplies department sometimes offered her a supply of materials to feed her hobby. Whenever obsolete books of curtain samples were thrown away, Gill would take whatever she could make use of to become part of a beautiful patchwork quilt or whatever.

She had a deliciously wicked sense of humour and she could quickly cut someone down to size if they got too big for their boots, or tried to put one over on her. She always spoke lovingly of her parents and her brother, and I remember how she told me once how she and her mother had played a game of ‘I-Spy’ the previous evening with a little boy named Glynn who was the school caretakers son. (Her parents lived in Ackworth) Gill was creased up with laughter telling me how they had struggled to guess what Glynn’s “I” stood for. Finally they said, “Give in”, and Glynn triumphantly pointed to the alarm-bell on the wall saying “I-larm!” Glynn, whoever or whatever he is, will be a man now. I wonder if he remembers?

Gill and I telephoned and wrote letters to each other until five or six years ago. Her Christmas card was the first to pop through my letterbox each year. By that time she was finding it increasingly difficult to write. She told me she had ‘helpers’ who came to bathe her and put her to bed each evening. Her once beautiful handwriting slowly became a scrawl until eventually she admitted that she couldn’t write anymore. By this time Gill lived in Rosslyn Court, Ackworth.

I continued to send her letters and foolishly assumed that she was reading them, but was unable to reply. Then, when my letters were returned, “Not at this address”, I wrote to try and discover where Gill had gone to, but received no reply.

I wept when I discovered that she had died on November 29th 2006, and I also learned that her mother had passed away previously. I was most upset when I realised that, whilst I had imagined the worst a few years ago, Gill had in fact still been here all the time.

I will always remember her as a dear friend and workmate who laughed and joked when she was happy, and shared her innermost secrets when she was feeling down, and we were alone together. I remember her as someone who fought and struggled so bravely against all the odds to lead a normal life; something that most of us so selfishly take for granted at times.

I remember how she loved “The Drifters” and enthused about them for weeks afterwards when she had been to one of their concerts!

She was a gentle, loving person, who should have received a far better deal in life, than she got. How I wish she had been granted the gift of living the long and happy life that she secretly longed for.

God Bless you Gill, I’ll never forget you.

Jean Norfolk

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