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‘Mum fought all the way to the end’

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Marilyn Dickinson surrounded by her family. ¬ Photo By Amanda Temple

A selfless mother who lived to help others, Marilyn Dickinson passed away last month at the age of 65 after a battle with ALS. The Canadian-born physiotherapist had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — a progressive condition that affects mobility and speech — diagnosed in early 2014.

By pure coincidence, just months later the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” — in which participants had ice-cold water dumped over their heads — became a worldwide phenomenon.

The challenge, designed to raise funds and awareness, amassed $130 million to help to combat the previously little-known condition, which is called Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the United States and affects one in 50,000 people.

“It came at a perfect time. Nobody had heard of ALS and then suddenly we didn’t have to explain it anymore as people started doing their own research,” said Mrs Dickinson’s daughter, Robyn Dickinson.

“It was just really lovely for my mum not to feel so alone.”

Born Audrey Marilyn Carthew in 1951, she met her husband John at a University of Toronto dance in 1970. She and a friend cheekily invented various fictions about themselves to fool him. In turn, the teenager did not believe John’s claims that he came from Bermuda and that his father was 62 when he was born — both of which turned out to be true.

Nonetheless, the couple started dating. They married 2½ years later, then moved to the island and settled in St David’s once he had completed his dental studies. Together they had four children, Jennifer, Laura, Michael and Robyn, and six grandchildren, Brooklyn, Isla, Jack, Mila, Adrian and John.

“Her biggest passion was being a mum and she was amazing at it,” Robyn Dickinson said.

“She made sure that we all felt individual and she was our example on how to raise our own children.”

In an August 2014 interview with The Royal Gazette, Mrs Dickinson praised her “amazing” children and spoke about the “overwhelming feeling of support” that the Ice Bucket Challenge had given her.

“I am not afraid to die, I’m just not ready to die,” she said. “The hardest thing is looking at my grandchildren and knowing I won’t be there to watch them grow up.”

Mrs Dickinson passed away on July 27, after living to enjoy both her 65th birthday and the baptism of five of her grandchildren in April.

“Mum was a fighter and she fought all the way to the end,” Robyn Dickinson said. “She never complained. Even if she had a bad day she would give us the thumbs-up. Mum was our best friend. We could go to her for anything — that’s what we’re going to miss the most.”

In a joint statement, Mrs Dickinson’s four children said: “We have been through a lot together as a family these past few years, but the silver lining is that our own children have forged bonds so deep that they truly have become each other’s best friends.

“Mum’s disease may have taken her, but it has created a beautiful legacy that will be around for years to come.”

Devoted to her family: Marilyn Dickinson with her husband John. Right, with Brooklyn, Isla and Jack, three of her beloved six grandchildren
Staff from Orthopaedic and Physiotherapy Associates in Paget take on the Ice Bucket Challenge as a show of support for Marilyn Dickinson. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Marilyn Dickinson with her three grandchildren; Brooklyn, Isla and Jack. ¬ Photo By Amanda Temple