Aintree chairman's family act to prevent others suffering suicide 'anguish'

Pirate IRWIN
·3-min read

Rose Paterson never lived to witness Rachael Blackmore's historic achievement in becoming the first woman jockey to win the Grand National.

Last June, at the age of 63, Rose, the chairman of the Aintree course near Liverpool where Blackmore rewrote the record books, took her own life.

The tragedy "came totally out of the blue" with no warning signals, her husband of 40 years, Conservative lawmaker and former British Government Minister, Owen Paterson told AFP.

As a result Paterson and his three children, Ned, Felix and Evie set up the Rose Paterson Trust.

"If we can prevent one family suffering this anguish we will have done some good," Paterson told AFP by phone from Aintree racecourse.

Paterson admitted he and the children had "mixed emotions" returning to Aintree for the first time since Rose's death.

However, his voice bursts with pride as he lists the progress made under her chairmanship -- she eschewed the title chairwoman -- when she took over in 2014.

Aside from improving the welfare of the horses -- just one died in the National during her tenure -- she also made a determined effort to halt stereotypical images being perpetuated of northern race-goers.

"She made a big deal of Ladies Day (Friday) and she took on metropolitan media who used to send photgraphers up to take unhelpful shots of the day," said Paterson.

"She said to them 'be fair' and she made the fashion show a massive event. She made it a place much more welcoming for non-racing people."

However, the pressures of the high profile role, and the impact on her, escaped the notice of her family.

Paterson says people need to be disabused of the perceived image of those most at risk of taking their own life.

"The idea of those who are depressed being most at risk is a caricature view. It is those who are anxious that one should notice.

"Normally the signs are there with people with depression that they are in the last stages of desperation, due to a myriad of things like a horrendous financial state or marital breakdown.

"We had none of that at all..it was totally out of the blue.

"Rose was anxious but we had no concept of the level of her anxiety."

- 'Don't bottle it up' -

Paterson says relying on trademark British reserve is not a remedy.

"There is the stiff upper lip thing which is disastrous," he said.

"If you are feeling anxious and unhappy, talk to people, don't bottle it up.

"Rose did not talk to anybody but cutting the other way how the hell did we not notice? I was married to her for over 40 years."

Rose's legacy at Aintree was marked by last Thursday's amateur riders' Grand National The Foxhunters being named in her honour.

The winner, Cousin Pascal is owned by one of Paterson's constituents.

The Rose Paterson Trust, with an emphasis on research and suicide prevention will also benefit from Owen Paterson's political contacts.

"I am in a unique position as an MP (lawmaker) to have access to Government Ministers and opposition parties," he said.

"I would like to see many more widespread programmes on suicide awareness so that every doctor, nurse, teacher, head teacher, company director and trades unionist have undergone them.

"If I had done suicide awarenesss training I might have noticed it in Rose and talked to her.

"Also address some websites who undoubtedly encourage people using seductive language into taking their lives."

Paterson, though, says whilst they wait for such measures to be implemented there is one tool open to all.

"So I say if you notice someone unhappy at work or at a party or on a train don't walk past them talk to them," he said.

"People have got to be brutally frank to prevent that horror we are experiencing and that for many years we will go through."

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