Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Rory Morrison

Driving home on 11 June, I caught part of the 10 o'clock news on Radio 4 and heard the sad announcement of the death of Rory Morrison, news that many least wished to hear. 

As is public knowledge, Rory was diagnosed with Waldenström's Macroglobulinaemia in 2004. He bore both illness and the rigours of treatment with fortitude and good humour and will be terribly missed by all who knew him. As others have commented in the last few days, his skills as a newsreader, communicating both the weighty and the humorous with equal attention to detail and the clearest of diction, placed him at the heart of the nation, so that those who never met him individually have also felt a significant sense of loss. 

Rory was already my favourite BBC newsreader before I met him at a gathering for Waldenström's patients in early 2011.  Talking to him on that occasion helped me to prepare mentally for treatment that was in prospect later that year and which he had himself undergone some years previously. He was open, engaging, bright and modest and I liked him immensely. 

Since then I had seen him a few more times, the last being just a few weeks ago, and the character he had shown at our first encounter was still much in evidence. If you have heard the tributes of his colleagues on radio and in other media, you will have got the same measure of the man. Responding to death, we often parade the conventional pieties, but in Rory's case there can be no doubt that the warmth of the eulogies and reminiscences is justly deserved. The online discussion forum for WM patients has seen a number of people remembering with gratitude both Rory's kindness in personal conversation and the way in which he deployed his consummate professional skills and wonderful voice to present the International Patient Forum for WM in London in March 2012. 

Rory's death sadly points up that Waldenström's—usually thought of as an indolent, therefore relatively "safe", disease—can be anything but. Yes, the disease is generally mild and eminently treatable, but it is frequently quirky, casting a shadow over those affected by it, both patients and their loved ones, and sometimes giving rise to complications that are anything but gentle. Thinking on Rory's passing has strengthened my resolve to do everything possible, while breath remains, to publicise the existence of WM, lobby for the interests of patients, encourage research into the mechanisms of the disease and its complications, and secure better and more targeted treatments. 

It is a paradox of suffering that it can be accompanied by blessing. In my own tussle with WM, I have known the deep love and kindness of friends and family and have also met both patients and medical professionals who have shown remarkable compassion, determination and resilience in the face of a tough adversary. Rory Morrison was one such individual and it was a joy, as well as an honour, to have known him, even if all too briefly.