Back in 2009, I had a message telling me I should go to see Lily in Lincoln hospital asap, like, that day, as there was a chance she might not make it. She was very poorly.
This week I sent a Happy Birthday message to my friend and old boss. We’re still in touch, 10 years after we worked together, and she’s very much still on the planet, thank goodness.
It was unexpected. Only a couple of weeks or so before, we’d been looking forward to going to London for an awards ceremony as we’d been nominated for the work we’d done with our HR system. Lily and I had put in A LOT of work over the previous couple of years to get to the place we were at, and were proud as punch to have been recognised.
One night, she’d had a funny turn, her friend had had to call an ambulance and she’d been taken to hospital. To all of us, she’d been fine. To her, she’d had a few health warning signs, but nothing serious enough to take real notice of; although by her own admission she was a bit of a workaholic and probably swept them all to the side more than she should have done.
I didn’t think too much of it at first, guessing that she’d be fine by the time it came to the awards. Then she was still in hospital. Then it was supposed to be her leaving do. She was still in hospital. Then I got that message. Shit. It was surreal.
I went to see her. She was paralysed from the chest down, pumped full of drugs but still as perky as hell, talking about going back to work. What the crap was going on? They still weren’t sure what it was, or how to treat her. What do you say? How must she feel?
Lily had approached me to apply for the HR systems role that would shape the next 14+ years of my career. I’m not sure she realised I’d end up loving HR systems, she just knew I did some nice traffic light reports in the stats department and thought I should apply for the job. She had to persuade me to join the Personnel department (as it was), I wasn’t keen, it had a bad reputation.
“We’re transforming to be Human Resources, along with the new NSPIS system. This is a chance to start from scratch, and be involved in something new.” It sounded intriguing, interesting. The pay rise played a big part too.
I didn’t realise it would become one of my favourite jobs. A massive learning curve, but I’d come to love [mostly] every single part of it. I made it my own, with Lily supporting me every step of the way. She said yes to pretty much everything I asked for; professional qualifications, budgets, trips out of force, resources. I had free reign to develop the role as I see fit. She had my back, and I had hers; backing all her meetings up with stats, facts and figures. The data quality of that system was impeccable (if I do say so myself) and every audit with the Home Office passed with flying colours. We were a pretty formidable team.
Yet I never really knew much about her home life, and we never really socialised outside of work. Not until after she got ill. In 2012, she hosted a birthday party at her home in Yorkshire and a group of us went up for it. One of those things, that if you thought about it, at one point in time might never have happened. But we didn’t really think like that though. Because Lily’s illness, NMO, isn’t curable, and she still has daily struggles. It’s why I raised money for NMO-UK Research Foundation when I did the Wadi Rum Ultra in 2017.
She put on a grand spread of cakes and sandwiches, and still did each year in August until I moved to New Zealand. It was our excuse to get together and enjoy a friendship that lasted longer than a P45. Now we have video catch ups and I love hearing what everyone’s up to. Lily’s joined a choir, taken up baking and is living a different life nowadays. I know she has it hard though, and it’s not the life she imagined. I can’t even pretend to imagine what that’s like, but to me she’ll always be a role model. Back then when she led our team and now for her tenacity, ballsy-ness and sheer determination. She still flies the HR flag, and entertains us with first-hand disability dating stories that’d make your toes curl.
You’re an inspiration Lily, whether you feel like it or not – you don’t get a choice, lovely girl!