The Brain Donors, 2008-2011

Photography and Text

Digital C-Type Prints, Mounted and Framed, Image Size: 40.5 x 50.8 cm, Frame Size: 50.8 x 60.9 cm, Edition of 1 + 2 AP

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 “There is no such thing as death, as far as I am concerned.  I will go on into a much better world. …  My heart stopped few years ago.  I went into this glorious light, beautiful, golden light; it was really breath taking.  I’m not fearful of death, not at all.  It really was beautiful.”

Mr Eric Stannard

18.02.1922 – 12.07.2010

86 years old. Born in Romford to politically active parents, a local Labour Committee mother and a Chairman of the Liberals dad who worked for the Met Police, Eric went to Southall Technical College and completed apprenticeship in Fairway Aviation before joining the Air Force.  He became a Conservative and an active Anglican Catholic.  During the war he was sent to India and Singapore.  He never saw any fighting.  He was married and had one daughter.  After the war, he continued to work as a designer and an engineer. He was in amateur dramatic and operatic societies, doing many shows, plays, and musicals, with “Waiting for Godot”, “Annie Get Your Gun”, and “Oklahoma” amongst his favourites. He was a blood donor and carried an organ donation card most of his life.  Brain donation was, for him,  a logical thing to do.

“People make sacrifices, and I don’t consider this to be a sacrifice.  It’s just a waste to burn it, if it can be used for some good purpose. …  This shell is going to be thrown away, but I don’t die.”

6 November 2008

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Mr Leslie Whitfield

Born 17.09.1910

Born in Potton, near Sandy, Leslie worked as an apprentice at a grocery store from the age of fourteen until he was twenty-one when he joined the police force in Cambridge.  He married in 1934 to Mrs Grace Whitfield, who was a secretary and taught him touch-typing. She died on the 60th anniversary of their wedding. They had three sons born between 1937 and 1945, making the wartime one of the most fulfilling times of his life. He retired from the police force after over thirty years to take an appointment with the Law Society.  An active member of the Church, a deacon, treasurer, Sunday school superintendant and local preacher; he has always enjoyed working with children the most.  Mr Leslie Whitfield wanted to be part of the project but preferred not to have his current photograph taken.  He sees donation as part of his Christian attitude; in which helping others and self-effacement play an important part.  He decided to become a donor about thirty years ago.  He attributes his brain lasting so well most of all to God, and secondly to keeping mentally, spiritually, and physically active whilst enjoying all things in moderation.

“The Bible tells us that we should be changed.  We are souls, not bodily people.  We shan’t have the same bodies that we now have got.  Your natural body is not so particular that you would hold on to it.” 

13 October 2008

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“I’ve been through the heart attack troubles with the family, and Alzheimer’s, and dementia.  I don’t like to see people ill, and I don’t like to see myself ill.  I get uptight sometimes and they tell me off: You are getting old, Mother. And I say: Yeah, well I don’t know about being old, I want to stop that!” 

Mrs Ivy Pettifor

Born 25.01.1915

93 years old. Born in London into a family of dressmakers, Ivy was the second oldest in the family of six children.   She lived in many places, including Dagenham, Essex, New Cross, Camberwell, and on the Old Kent Rd.  She had a son and a daughter.  She has always worked: as a dressmaker, taking a part-time job in a bakery when she had her son, in a shop, returning to the needlework, and in hospitals.  She loved working at Bartholomew’s Hospital the most.  She used to love playing piano and entertaining people, especially during the war.  She moved to Cambridgeshire over twenty-five years ago. She decided to be a brain donor in 1991, because some of her family members suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.   She doesn’t believe in live after death or focusing too much on the sad side of life.

“I don’t like to worry unnecessarily, because the more you do that, the worst you’re going to feel yourself. I had bad moments, well; you get over them, don’t you? You’ve got to fight them.  I can really say that I can’t regret my life at all… probably that’s why I ended up living so long.” 

20 October 2008

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“The brain is a very clever thing.  I remember back; a hundred years is a long time.  You live as long as you are remembered, it is all mind over matter.”

Mrs Ella Wiltshire

22.05.1908 – 22.02.2009

101 years old.  Born in Clapham Common, London, Ella was educated at home. She loved history, in particular the Restoration, because ‘they defied the Pope’.  She moved to Cambridge after getting married to a handsome and passionate man, Samuel Keith Wiltshire. She thought his name sounded too religious, so she called him Richard.  Even though Richard died 50 years earlier, she still thought about him all the time.  She saw mutual respect and memory as the recipe for lasting love, because “when you remember them, they are never forgotten”. They had a season ticket to the Crystal Palace football club, where they enjoyed going on regular basis.  She didn’t have any children.  She was a good cook, taking after her father, enjoying sirloin, rib eye and crab the most.  She loved modeling clothes, but never worked full time. Her favourite memory was walking down the aisle when she was getting married, and her favourite age was about fifty, when she felt she had done the things she wanted to do.  She proudly told us that for her 100th birthday she had enjoyed the entertainments of a male stripper.

“Anything I can do, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.”

29 January 2009

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Mrs Lucy Ridsdale

18.09.1910 – 9.12.2011

Mrs Lucy Ridsdale died at the age of 101.  She was 98 when we met her. She remembered things well until 1936, from then, as her daughter, Mrs Elisabeth Ryan explained, her memory was often gone.  She was born in Great Yarmouth in 1910. She went to Girls’ Teacher Training College in Norwich and studied to become a deaconess and a linguist.  She went to teach in a boarding school in Hoima, Uganda, where she soon became a Head Mistress.  Her husband, then a priest of the Church of England later a Bishop, was a district school supervisor in Uganda. They had five children. She was one of the first women training to become a deaconess whilst bringing up her family; ordained around 1964.  She spent another ten years working in Congo. She has always kept her mind active, often translating the Sunday gospel into French, Lunyoro, Greek, and in English before going to church.

“Memory is these extraordinary things… It is interesting, as to what a person remembers and can recall and what other people recall… other people’s memories… what has happened and what is recalled is stronger than reality for them.  Happiness depends on who you are, your character, the sort of person you are.  I remember not.”                                                                          

20 November 2008

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Mrs Beryl Foreman

16.02.1922 – 6.11.2009

86 years old. Born in a little village called Murrow in the Fens, Beryl’s mother was a dressmaker while her father worked as a railway signalman.  She married Mr Eric Foreman from Peterborough in 1946.  He was an accountant.  She has three children and many grandchildren.  She worked as a cook, was a member of the WAFS during the war, and was a blood donor for twenty-five years.  Beryl and Erick decided to donate their brains to CFAS because both of her sisters suffered from dementia and they wanted to do something to help in finding a cure for it.  She wanted to be remembered as an ordinary, kind, ‘just happy’ person.

“Somebody came, I don’t know how many years ago, and they asked if I would consider being interviewed to be a brain donor, and I said yes.  I think they wrote first.  Then people started coming around, and ask you all these questions: “How many fingers am I holding up?” or “How many pencils have I got in my hand?” or “Look at this book, do you remember what was on that page?”  People say, “Why are you doing that?!”  I say, “What’s wrong with doing that, if you are helping somebody?   It’s the same as donating your organs, isn’t it?  I hope that it will help people who are suffering in the same way that my sisters and my brother in law had.”

11 December 2008

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Mrs Betty Munns

Born 07.08.1922

Betty was born in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire where she still lives. She is 86 years old here.  Went to a local school until the age of sixteen, then to Business School in Cambridge.  Her education was interrupted by the outbreak of the 2nd World War.  Her husband was in the Air Force. After the war he became a businessman.  He was the first man to bring television to town, when he worked as an engineer before the war.   He died suddenly, over 30 years ago, leaving the family in shock.  Betty has travelled a lot since: all over Europe, to China twice, America, and Egypt.  She has never felt particularly religious. Conscience is the only reason she decided to become a brain donor.

“When my husband died, they came to me at the hospital, and said could they have his brain.  I said: “No”.  I was so appalled at the thought of them… Ever since then I thought: “Well, that was a very selfish attitude to take.”  When this letter rolled up asking me to join the donation project it seemed, as if it was poking at me, as if to say ‘here is your opportunity’ to hopefully make up for that…”

19 November 2008

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Mr Albert Webb

Born 24.11.1919

Born in Peckham, age 89 in this portrait, Albert worked in print all his life.  He started at 14 as a paper cutter on a guillotine.  During the war he was called up to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, with which he was sent to Naples.  He never saw any fighting, but took an opportunity to visit Rome as often as he could, where he loved going to the opera.  His favourite was “Madame Butterfly”.  He married Ellen straight after the war, in St. Mary’s Church in Ilford.  He spent the last twenty-five working years at the News of the World.  Ellen died, after fifty-seven years of marriage, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They used to spend almost all their time together enjoying many mutual hobbies, including bingo and knitting.  He used to play bowls, and still likes to keep as active as he can.  He is wearing the last jumper he knitted himself, depicting Lucy, his dog who died, was cremated, and whose ashes are kept in an ornate box in his living room. As well as wanting to help to find cure for dementia, Albert enjoys the thought of symbolic immortality that brain donation offers.

“If I’m a brain donor, they are going to take a part of my brain out, or some of it, or all of it, and I won’t be burnt to death when I get into a coffin, and that is why I said yes.  And I shall be doing a bit of good perhaps to somebody.”                                                      

12 November 2008

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As you are travelling along life’s hazardous way;

Do you ever think of old friends;

Those who helped you when you were in need;

And at times almost at your wits’ end.

(From a poem “True Friends” by Irene Overton)

Mrs Irene Overton

27.02.1910 – 08.07.2009

99 years old. Born in Kensington, Irene spent her childhood in Wallington, near Croydon.  She was the youngest of nine children.  Her mother ran lodgings in the house, her father was a carpenter.  She was proud to be the only one to have gone to high school, for which she received a scholarship.  Irene lived in France for one year after leaving school.  She married Allan Overton, a baker.  Before moving to Cambridge they had a restaurant business in Margate, where she did most of the cooking and serving.  They had two daughters.  She was given the Editor’s Choice Award, for outstanding achievement in poetry by the International Society of Poets in 1996.  She saw love as overrated, loved ballroom dancing, singing and sherry; enjoyed watching tennis and horse races.  She had no patience for laziness.  She was happy to leave part of her body to science, believing that the only thing that matters at the end, are memories.

“Make the best of your life while you are here.  I can’t see the point of dwelling on bad things. You’ve got to know what you can do, and when you’ve done it, that’s it. Take it easy; let it come.  When it comes make use of it, that’s it.  But don’t force it.  If you force anything, it’s not good.”   

22 May 2009

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Mr Eddie Holden

Born 31.03.1927

Born in Norwich to a single working mum, age 81 here, Eddie was brought up by his Victorian grandparents who were strict but very kind.  He volunteered for the army at seventeen, joining the Parachute Regiment.  During the 2nd World War he was sent to the Far East where he took part in the liberation of prisoners of war from the Japanese camps.  This, and not being able to find satisfying answers, made him doubt the idea of God, and to see religion as a ‘man made invention’.  He has been married to Mrs Mary Irene Holden for over 50 years.  He believes that the recipe for a successful and happy marriage lies in sharing everything and in trust. They live in Little Downham, near Ely, Cambridgeshire. Eddie most enjoyed being young, when life ‘seems so open’, but also looks forward to getting much older.  He believes in social justice and writes about local issues to an Ely newspaper.  He would like his brain to be used to discover cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s because he thinks, that: “losing memory, not knowing where you are, not knowing who you are, is a terrible thing”.  He would like to be remembered for trying to do his best for human race.

“I look at the brain as the biggest computer in the world, because you can either go forward or you can go back.  I’ve been through from horse and cart right through to space travel.  What’s the next eighty odd years going to be?  I would like to see more space travel.  I think there are other worlds out there…”                                                                       

23 October 2008

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Mrs Brenda Buck

Born 20.03.1925

83 years old, born in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, Brenda spent most of her life on the Fens, growing up in the Red Lion Public House ‘right on the Forty Foot Bank’. Married to Mr Ron Buck, who was also a brain donor, they had one son.  She worked as a hairdresser, in a factory, and on the land.  She has never been religious.  She enjoyed her life the most from her forties onwards, in particular learning modern and sequence dancing with her husband and son.  Now in her eighties, her favourite is line dancing.  She thinks that people will remember her mostly for her laughter – “I laugh at anything.  Oh dear – They say – Oh, there she goes again!  I can’t help it, that’s the way I see life.”  She and her husband decided to become brain donors simply to help “other folk”.

“People, don’t understand enough about donation.  Perhaps if they learnt more, they would decide to do it too… It’s so important, because otherwise the medical folk wouldn’t get anywhere with this terrible disease.”

22 Sept 2008

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Prof. Frank Walbank

10.12.1909 – 23.10.2008

99 years old, born in Bingley, Yorkshire, Frank went to a grammar school before winning a scholarship to Cambridge University from which he graduated in 1931. He was a lecturer in Cambridge, Manchester, and Liverpool before becoming a Professor of Latin, and then Greek and Ancient History. He went on to have an internationally acclaimed career as an eminent classicist. He later became a Dean at the University of Liverpool before retiring in 1977.  He married Mrs Mary Walbank in 1935.  They had three children.  He died in Cambridge shortly after we met him, where he lived next door to his daughter Dorothy Thompson. Author of numerous books, he was for many years considered amongst the most distinguished historians of the ancient world and was awarded many prestigious titles from academic institutions. Frank was a rationalist but preferred Aristotle to Plato for being more ‘down to earth’.  He loved poetry and walking, especially in the Yorkshire Dales.  He decided to become a brain donor so his brain could be utilised for research, for the future.

“I can see a problem that many people might have with brain donation if they are religious.  I can see the religious objections, but I never had any.   Soul doesn’t concern me.  I think body parts are all just bits.  I think it is all very exciting at the moment, because they are coming up with new discoveries all the time.  I think anything that would encourage people to do it more generally would be a good thing.” 

3 October 2008

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