These crusading mothers, each propelled by a deep sense of injustice, became professional truth-seekers
The tribute of Everton chairman Bill Kenwright at the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives, was sincere in its simplicity and not at all mawkish. He told the crowd last Monday that the two most important words in the English language are "Me mum". Sitting in a wheelchair in the crowd was the redoubtable force that was Anne Williams whose son, Kevin, had been killed at Hillsborough, in 1989, aged 15. Anne, 62, was diagnosed with terminal cancer last autumn. On Thursday, she died.
She did so with the knowledge that she had obtained justice for her son and 95 other victims after a battle that had taken her and her fellow campaigners almost a quarter of a century. Last December, the original inquest verdict of accidental death was quashed. Kevin had not died before 3.15pm, as Sheffield coroner Dr Stefan Popper had originally ruled, but at 4pm. He might have been saved. His final word was "Mum". Anne had initiated the long, slow process that has yet to reveal the full extent of the shameful establishment cover-up.
This week also sees the 20th anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. In the New Review, his courageous mother, Doreen, describes the years of struggle before she successfully obtained the 1999 judicial review that led to the Metropolitan police being forced to address its ingrained institutional racism. Doreen, born in Jamaica in 1952, had worked in a bank before marrying at 20 and, two years later, having Stephen, who planned to be an architect.
Anne, the daughter of a farm labourer, left school at 15, became a secretary and then a part-time barmaid. Both women come from a tradition of mothers who are "ordinary" only in that they begin as amateurs in the fields of law, forensic science, police investigation (or the lack of it), the judiciary and systematic malpractice. Propelled by grief and a deep sense of injustice, they graduate to become highly professional truth-seekers, sacrificing much of their normal lives in the process.
Fathers, too, embark on such crusades, but they face different hurdles. Women have long experience of highly qualified male experts telling them where they are going wrong, how they are misguided, the extent of how little they know – and especially so when it comes to the skills of parenting, as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English detail in For Her Own Good. Plenty of professionals, through the years and from a masculine point of view, have treated "motherhood as pathology". Women are too motherly "enwombing" or not maternal enough; over-involved or damagingly distant. Certainly, the ways in which Doreen Lawrence and Anne Williams were patronised for years by those they sought to hold to account would have come as no surprise to either. And still they triumphed.
We are constantly told that consumerism has spread its influence to the commodification of time ("buying time"), experience and even relationships. But some bonds will always defy prevailing market values. We are all perhaps fortunate that mothers, who instinctively know what's right for their sons and daughters, are a strong part of where pure and powerful integrity presides.
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