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​Jean Duthie 

Jean DuthieWhen Jean Duthie’s eldest son, Jim, was born with Down’s syndrome in 1951, her doctor delivered the heartbreaking news that he was unlikely to live for more than a few years. 

Determined to remain positive’, Jean pushed the doctor’s predictions to the back of her mind and set about ensuring that she provided him with the best quality of life that she possibly could.

“It was all a bit of a shock to me and I was quite devastated. I didn’t know anyone else who had a child with Down’s. I felt alone and I was worried that I didn’t know anything about the condition. 

“But you know, that might have been a good thing because deep in my heart I believed my Jim would be alright. So I relied on my instinct, which was for the best because he will be 63 this year!”

Jean’s belief in her son’s ability to live life to the full was so strong that when he reached the age of five, she decided she would attempt to enrol him at the local mainstream primary school, against the advice of her friends and family. 

“The law at the time said that Jim would have to wait until he was seven to go to school, then he would be sent to Dawson Park School for handicapped children in Falkirk. But my Jim was a clever wee soul. I looked after a neighbour’s child who was the same age as him and I remember watching them do things together. It dawned on me that my Jim was more advanced than she was! 

“All of his friends from the area were going to the normal school and I wanted him to go with them. So I ignored everyone who said I was making a mistake and I took him along.”

After stating her case to the school’s headmistress and promising that she would remove her son from the school if there were any issues, Jean was delighted when the decision was made that Jim would be educated there until he was legally required to attend Dawson Park. 

“It was just great to see Jim thriving alongside his friends! I used to check in with the school from time to time to make sure that things were going okay, but there were never any problems. He behaved himself and kept up with all the work the other children were doing. 

“Even when the time came for him to go to Dawson Park, his teacher maintained that he could have progressed quite normally in a mainstream school. I was vexed to move him but it was the law and he accepted the change without any bother. He loved school and he loved teachers so he didn’t really mind where he went!” 

Inspired by Jim’s progress, Jean became a firm believer that people who have learning disabilities should not be isolated, but that they should be treated fairly and given an opportunity to explore their capabilities. It was through this belief that she saw herself become one of the founding members of ENABLE Scotland’s Stirling Branch. 

“My second son John was delivered by a midwife called Ethel McCulloch. She knew about Jim and through her work, she knew of other mothers in the area who had children with disabilities too. She decided that something needed to be done to offer us some support so she set up a wee club. 

“I was invited along to a meeting and when I arrived they were discussing how they could help the children develop skills and get out and about to do activities. As you can imagine, I thought this was wonderful. It was a room full of people who knew how people with learning disabilities should be treated. Obviously I signed up straight away!”

Jean devoted her life to the club for more than 50 years, arranging outings, raising funds and ensuring that the members had something to look forward to each Friday night as they came through the doors. Throughout her time there, she watched the club grow in numbers and move to larger premises, but it is the ways in which life has changed for people with learning disabilities that she has been most pleased to see. 

“As a mother of a lad with learning disabilities, I am so happy to see them become more independent, participate in their communities and gain respect through all the hard work that has been done to inform and educate society. We have moved on from those sad days when they were hidden away in awful institutions because their families felt ashamed or couldn’t care for them at home.”

Now aged 92, Jean reflects on her life as the mother of a son with Down’s syndrome and her five decades of service to the Stirling Branch. She is proud of her achievements and contributions, but believes that it all stemmed from her initial acceptance of Jim’s condition and her determination that he would have a happy and fulfilled life.

“They are who they are so it’s important to accept that, the way that people should with their children. My Jim is so special and loveable, just as all those other young people were. It never felt right to me to get caught up worrying about what was wrong with them or how to fix it. Why waste time on that? 

“I enjoyed every moment that I spent interacting with them and caring for them. If you can’t just do that then you’re really missing out on something wonderful. It’s not the burden - it’s how you carry it.” 

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