Louise Medus - an inspiration

Monday, 12 November 2018

 Last week Louise Medus-Mansell sadly passed away. Her energy, passion and laughter is being remembered fondly by many leaders up an down the country.

 

Duncan Siret of Cheltenham Districts writes

"It is hard to imagine a Woodcraft Folk Leader who wore their green shirt with more pride than Louise Medus-Mansell. Louise has been a big figure in Cheltenham District Woodcraft Folk, who like me (Duncan Siret), worked her way through Elfins, Pioneers and Venturers along with our children. Louise gave 15 years to the Woodie children of Cheltenham, she threw herself into being a leader, seeing the value of working together cooperatively, nurturing and educating children and young people into the Woodcraft way. Not especially remarkable that, lots of us have done as much, and many a whole lot more for the movement. What is remarkable about our Louise is that she had no arms or legs, she was a thalidomider and a full time wheelchair user. Not that that ever stopped her getting as fully involved in sessions and activities as she could, usually fully hands on, occasionally when that was not possible, she worked behind the scenes; giving lifts to children who would be unable to attend without her support, booking events, fundraising, taking the register and, when necessary, reading the riot act! On camps she alway played an important role, Clan Leader, KG, KP, First Aider, Treasurer or Camp Chief. You name it she has done it. She helped the District achieve so much during her time with us.

We knew from the off that Lou would be in the fore, on her first camp we came back from a walk with the Elfins to find her out of her wheelchair bobbling about on her bum, wielding a mallet and securing a kitchen tent that had been battered by the wind. She would get us to push her up the very and bumpy steep hill in her wheelchair on her beloved Upcote Farm, so that she could join the group bivvy in the cold spring nights. Lou’s big passion was to make the group as accessible as possible. On those occasions we fell down she would make the point in a way that we would not forget. Like the occasion she couldn’t attend a training event and we found her chained to the railings out the front of the building; or the occasion she went to Annual Conference but couldn’t get into the conference hall, she immediately had me speaking on her behalf to the conference. That was the last annual conference that was inaccessible. She liked to remind me of the occasions when things didn’t go so well, like the time I left her in the loo and forgot to get her out again, or the time I tried to get her out of the car after parking on a slope, dropping her down between the seat and the chair, it was a struggle getting her back upright again, mostly because she couldn’t stop laughing.

 

Her big strength as a leader was her ability to support children and young people who experienced adversity themselves, making them feel wanted and welcoming them into the group. She made friends with the children and young people, forming relationships that have endured over the years.


Louise became a special friend of mine over the years too, always generous, always wanting to help; we have shared many a beer and curry. It was therefore very sad to be told on Wednesday (7th Nov) that Louise had died. As well as having to cope with being thalidomide Louise also had a kidney disease that had nothing to do with thalidomide. She had a transplant 15 years ago which  gave her a massive boost to her health, she had her second transplant this summer, however it is a massive operation and she never really recovered. She had been poorly for months and by the end she had run out of strength. She will be missed by me and by her many Woodie friends, and she will be remembered by many more. Lookout for details of a memorial camp at Upcote Farm this summer to say a proper Woodie goodbye to our very special Louise". 


Louise engaged in Woodcraft Folk on a national level too as a member of General Council from 2007 - 2010. Louise campaigned to make Woodcraft Folk open and accessible to all, writing in the ambition into our 2009 strategic plan, creating an accessibility audit and producing educational materials for groups. Louise brought her passion and energy to the team to support Woodcraft Folk centres to improve inclusion, carrying out accessibility audits and making recommendations to the management teams.


Louise was an inspiration to many and all who worked and volunteered along side her have fond memories of laughter and challenges. Louise found Woodcraft Folk to be accepting, understanding and helpful - she gave of her time and experience freely. On hearing the news of her passing one leader reflected on a Venturer Camp at which her Venturers met Louise for the first time and realised that life doesn't need to be bad if you are born with issues - we all have so much to give and learn.