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​​Donald Stirling MBE

21 June 1954 - 31 August 2014


donald stirling mbeWarm tributes have been paid to Donald Stirling MBE, an inspirational and prolific campaigner for the rights and welfare of people who have learning disabilities.

Donald, who passed away at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at the age of 60, spent his early childhood at his family’s farm at Strathpeffer.

Having a learning disability and epilepsy, his parents became concerned for his safety around the farm as he moved into his teenage years and his seizures grew increasingly difficult to manage. They considered their only option to be to admit their son to the long-stay Craig Phadrig Hospital in Inverness at the age of 15, where he remained for 15 years.

The institutional environment left him with no choices or control in life, but Donald was determined not to let it break him. Although his stay in a 12-bed ward was not a happy one, he insisted it made him the proud and resolute man he was to become.

An assessment by Dr Ted Becker concluded that Donald’s detention within the unit was wholly inappropriate and he was discharged. He is documented as saying: “That man saved my life. I punched the air and said: Yes!”

Donald was offered a job with local firm, Haven, where he worked for 30 years. His move to supported accommodation afforded him more freedom of movement, the ability to manage his own finances and the opportunity to form many friendships. It was there he met his wife, whom he affectionately named Shiny Shona. After 10 years of married life in their own flat – an independent lifestyle for which the couple had to fight - Shona sadly died at the age of 34.

Donald became a member of ENABLE Scotland – the country’s leading charity for people who have a learning disability. As well as holding a seat on ENABLE’s Scottish Council, he helped to set up the organisation’s ACE group – a dynamic national network entirely comprising adults who have learning disabilities. He was chairperson of the network for a decade.

Donald also became a Trustee of Inclusion Europe and travelled the world, speaking up for people who have a learning disability.

Both he and the charity shared their 60th birthdays this year and, during an ENABLE anniversary event in April, he told a gathering of members, supporters and politicians how, in his earlier years, it was widely considered that people who had learning disabilities had no right to be listened to and could not take any  responsibility for themselves. Donald’s work, and his persuasive and engaging nature, did much to change those negative perceptions.

His outstanding achievements – which earned him the MBE in 2009 – have proven them wrong and have helped to change the landscape for people who have a learning disability in Scotland and beyond. In his own words, those people deserve the same chances in life as everyone else. Their voices should be heard and respected.

Happily, he again found love and became engaged to Karen Hunter.

Paying tribute to a highly respected and ardent ambassador of ENABLE Scotland, its chief executive Peter Scott said: “News of Donald’s death has been greeted with great sadness by the ENABLE Scotland family. He was a genuine inspiration to many of us, teaching us how to grasp life with both hands. Despite years of life in an institution, Donald moved on to live a life filled with love and friendship.

“He never stopped doing what he could to ensure other people who have learning disabilities could have this kind of life as well. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to spend time with Donald this year, and that he was able to help us celebrate ENABLE Scotland’s 60th anniversary amongst friends, old and new. We will miss him immensely. Our love is with his family and friends.”

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