Tribute to Peggy Freeman
“Above all my thanks go to Bunty and all deafblind people.
Peggy Freeman MBE sadly passed away aged 94 in a Nottingham hospital on 15 September 2012, following a short illness. Peggy was one of the parents who co-founded the National Deafblind and Rubella Association in 1955, the organisation which later became Sense.
Born Peggy Hill in Sutton Coldfield, she is survived by her four children, sons Ian and Robin, and daughters Ann, who lives in Australia, and Bunty, who is deafblind and lives in a Sense residential home in Birmingham.
In her early working life Peggy was a senior civil servant during the war (a senior secretary in the War Office). She married Peter Freeman on 15 December 1941 in London where Peggy continued working for some years.
Peggy received an MBE in 1967 for services to deafblind people for her role in co-founding Sense. The group began with ten founder families and assets of just £2.5s.0d (£2.25). Today, Sense is the UK's largest voluntary-sector provider of services to people with both sight and hearing difficulties. It employs over 3,000 staff and meets the needs of thousands of dual-sensory impaired people from babyhood to old age.
Gillian Morbey CEO, Sense and Sense International and President of Deafblind International, said: ‘Although small in stature, Peggy was huge in courage and determination. At a time when people thought deafblind children couldn’t be educated or live full lives Peggy battled, not only for her own daughter, but what has become the whole Sense family. Peggy made a deep impression on everyone she met and many deafblind people and their families owe Peggy a huge debt of gratitude. She is our last great ‘trouper’ from the early days of Sense and will be sadly missed.’
Peggy Freeman contracted rubella in 1952 just before becoming pregnant with her fourth child, Bunty who was born on 29 January 1953 in Gravesend. Doctors assured her that her baby would be alright but Bunty was born deaf, blind and with heart problems. Peggy had no one to turn to for help until a teacher of deaf children introduced her to other parents of deafblind children.
Peggy met another parent, Margaret Brock MBE, whose son was similarly born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), and together they formally set up the first parents’ Rubella Group in 1955. Peggy was the group’s very first secretary. At the time, those with dual disabilities were neither recognised or provided for. The group fought for the provision of all deafblind children and pioneered Sense homes – places where deafblind people are supported with ongoing education, vocational training and leisure skills, allowing them to lead a full and meaningful life.
Up until recent years, Peggy was a regular speaker on matters of deafblindness, not just here in the UK, but also on the international stage. Even at 85 years old, Peggy flew to Canada to support Deafblind International at a conference.
“It is difficult to believe that a minute virus so small it can only be seen with a microscope of great magnitude, could cause impairments to the vision and hearing of a child even before it is born. It is also unbelievable that when a few families with rubella got together in 1955 they should start an association that in time would grow to become as successful in all fields concerned with the care of deafblind people as Sense is today.
“These years have seen many changes in society and these are reflected in the changes at Sense. Changing attitudes followed a growing awareness and understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.”
Paying tribute to her, Sense Trustee Gini Bartlett said: “I simply don’t know what mothers like me would have done without Peggy. I first knew her over 45 years ago when I needed support for my son Ian who was deafblind following my contracting rubella during my pregnancy. From the very beginning I was so impressed by how supportive she was. She was truly kind and happy to share her knowledge with me personally. I am truly indebted to her as are so many thousands of deafblind people who have received support from Sense. Peggy continued to be amazed at the growth of Sense and the awareness of deafblindness throughout the world. It is an incredible legacy she leaves behind and she will be sadly missed.”
In 1996, four years after the passing of her beloved husband, Peggy authored “Good Sense” a history of the charity. She wrote in the foreword: “I wish to thank Peter who was still with me when I began writing this history of Sense and who shared all those years with me. Also the members of Sense who have worked with such dedication. Above all my thanks go to Bunty and all deafblind people. To serve them has given a purpose to my life.”
First published: Monday 24 September 2012
Updated: Thursday 28 July 2016