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60 Stories - Jacqueline Keenan

Photo of Jaxqueline KeenanJacqueline Keenan
Few people can claim their parents are responsible for setting up an organisation which has improved the lives of thousands of people.
Jacqueline Keenan can. Her parents, Cathie and Harold Shapter, were among the five sets of parents who in their living room in 1954 laid the foundations for what has now become ENABLE Scotland.  Cathie and others set about establishing a Scottish organisation which would campaign for services to help parents who had children who have learning disabilities.
In October – Make a Difference Month – Jacqueline explains how her parents’ love for her brother helped to shape on of Scotland’s leading champions for people who have learning disabilities…  
“I am very, very proud of my mum.  My dad of course did help but he took a back seat.  It was my mum who was the driving force,” said Jacqueline.  
And so the Scottish Association of Parents of Handicapped Children was born.  The organisation fought for more services and social acceptance of people with learning disabilities.  Social acceptance was something that Cathie felt strongly about.  
When Cathie and Harold’s son Johnny was born with Down’s syndrome in 1954, Cathie felt very isolated.  She would avoid socialising - something which was difficult for her, as she loved being in company.  Not long after Johnny’s birth, Cathie, Harold and Johnny decided to move to a small isolated croft in Cardross.  
“My mum felt she had to isolate herself as she didn’t feel comfortable bringing Johnny up in Glasgow,” said Jacqueline.  
Cathie did not want other parents of children with learning disabilities to feel the way she did so the organisation was also an important way to combat the isolation many parents may have felt.  Soon local branches were established in Glasgow, Blairgowrie, Dumfries, Edinburgh and many other places.  These branches helped parents to have a local support network and helped to diminish any feelings of loneliness, as experienced by Cathie.
“That was an achievement in itself – the setting up of local branches,” said Jacqueline.  
Cathie devoted lots of time and effort to the fledgling organisation. Although they faced many hurdles, Cathie and her husband felt they had to act to improve Johnny’s life and the lives of others.
“My mum and dad were devoted to the society. There were many obstacles they had to overcome but I think that’s where my mum came into her own because of her background on church committees.”
The early days of the organisation involved constant letter writing, and arranging coffee mornings or jumble sales to raise funds. Gradually, the organisation grew in strength and numbers something – which, in later years, was an enormous source of pride for Cathie.
When Johnny sadly died in 1972, Cathie took a step back from the organisation but still tried to help others wherever she could.  She raised funds for Lennox Castle, the hospital where Johnny had been treated and she was often the person other parents turned to when they needed help or advice. 
Cathie was a real people person but what mattered most to her were her family and her faith.  
“Mum was very family orientated and very interested in people.  She devoted a lot of time to the church.  Her faith was very important to her.  She was very understanding.  She made so many friends through the branches, Lennox Castle and the church.  There were so many people she helped; individually and through the organisation,” recalls Jacqueline. 
In 2003, Cathie published a book called ‘Johnny, 27 years Pilgrimage’ which was a loving record of her son’s life and the beginnings of what would become ENABLE Scotland.  The writing of the book was a cathartic experience for Cathie.
“I think it was a way of dealing with the loss of Johnny and a way of coping with my dad’s death.  It helped her remember in a positive way,” said Jacqueline. 
Although Cathie had less involvement with ENABLE Scotland in the later years of her life, she still kept an eye on the organisation’s achievements.
“She couldn’t believe how advanced it had become and the progress that had been made.  She was very proud of the fact that the organisation had continued and grown.  Starting ENABLE helped her to socialise.  So it helped her as well as others.”
Cathie passed away in 2011 but her legacy lives on in her family and in the work of ENABLE Scotland.  Her devotion to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities meant that Jacqueline learnt from an early age not to judge people for being different – a value which proud Jacqueline has instilled in to her own children.

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