Former Mayor Roy Blower on his battle with Parkinson's
PUBLISHED: 07:38 13 May 2011 | UPDATED: 08:26 13 May 2011
Archant © 2011
A former Lord Mayor of Norwich has spoken publicly about how his battle with Parkinson's Disease led to him stepping down from political life.
What is Parkinson’s?
The progressive neurological condition affects one person in every 500 - about 120,000 people in the UK.
Most people who get Parkinson’s are aged 50 or over but younger people can get it too.
People with Parkinson’s do not have enough of a chemical called dopamine because some nerve cells in their brain have died. Without dopamine people can find that their movements become slower so it takes longer to do things. The loss of nerve cells in the brain causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s to appear.
There is currently no cure and the medical profession still does not yet know why people get the condition.
Parkinson’s doesn’t directly cause people to die, but symptoms do get worse over time.
Roy Blower, pictured right, is as well known to the people of Norwich and Norfolk for his ardent support of Norwich City Football Club as he is for his decades of public service.
But today the former Norwich city and Norfolk county councillor told the Evening News why he took the difficult decision to scale back his commitments and step down from public office as he no longer felt he had the energy because of his ill health.
The 68-year-old grandfather of three said he would have loved to have served as a councillor for longer, but decided not to stand for re-election as he felt he could not fulfil the role any more to the levels deserved by voters and his fellow councillors.
Mr Blower said: “My energy levels were terrible. And that’s one of the reasons for stepping down.
“You have lots of paperwork and committee work and if you can’t absorb all of that then I don’t think it’s fair to the electorate and my fellow colleagues to take a ride on their backs. I felt that I had to give notice sooner rather than later.
“I would have liked to go another term but that’s unfortunately not to be.”
Looking at Roy Blower’s impressive list of achievements and positions held in service of Norwich and Norfolk makes one wonder how on earth he has had the time to do it all.
And it shows just how closely Mr Blower’s life has been woven into the fabric of the city and county.
But while he is looking to scale back his commitments and have some time to “draw breath and recoup”, Mr Blower is still keen to be active, and in particular hopes to do some fundraising for the charity Parkinson’s UK, which has helped him since his diagnosis in August 2009.
He has also had the support of his family, wife Beryl and children James, Verity and Robert.
“To start with it’s like getting the black spot in Treasure Island,” he says. “You think everything is going to come tumbling down.
“Then you come to terms with it and realise how lucky you are that it’s in the early stages and it may be 20 years before it becomes really bad or really serious.
“On a good day I’m OK and the medication is there for me, but I think you have to accept that you have limitations and if you accept that you are making a giant step forward.
“I have recently applied for a blue badge. I don’t like applying for it but you have to acknowledge your limitations and some days walking is a great struggle. I feel that when telling people I have it it’s important you don’t make it a problem.
“Sometimes people say I’m not looking too well, so I tell them that unfortunately I have got Parkinson’s. But then I say that on a scale of one to 10 I’m about one to one and a half.
“It’s a disability but I don’t like to accept it as a disability and I like to look forward and be positive.”
Mr Blower, who lives in Morello Close near to the University of East Anglia, counts himself lucky to not have the shaking which affects so many people with Parkinson’s, but he does have a very bad back, and doctors are trying to work out if it is connected to the Parkinson’s.
He says: “The NHS has been absolutely brilliant and I must have been to hospital 40 times in the last 15 months.
“I can’t stress how brilliant the nurses and occupational therapists have been.”
Mr Blower, a member of the Labour Party since he was 16, became the youngest city magistrate at the age of 28 in 1972.
Just a few years earlier, in 1969 and 1970, he ran for a place on the city council, but was defeated both times.
He started his own roofing business, and 37 years later he won a seat on Norfolk County Council in a 1997 by-election by just 12 votes. He subsequently lost the seat back to the Liberal Democrats in 2005, but regained it at the next attempt. He won his city council seat in the university ward 2004.
Mr Blower led the battle for a West Pottergate community centre and has also led resistance to the installation of mobile phone masts. He has also been a vociferous supporter of anti-social behaviour orders to tackle yob culture.
He says: “I hope I’m always kind, but I think the greatest satisfaction as a councillor is actually having someone come to you with a problem and knowing that you can lower their stress levels and try to move that problem forward and get a solution.”
Mr Blower was granted a great honour when he was chosen as Lord Mayor of Norwich in 2007 and describes his year as the civic head of the city as “just phenomenal”.
While his time on the councils may only add up to seven years and eight years respectively, his public service extends into many other organisations.
He served as a governor at Earlham High School (now City Academy Norwich) for 32 years, as well at Avenue Middle School for 23.
He has also spent time as chairman of Northfields PTA, been involved in the 14th Norwich Scouts group for 20 years, helped to set up the moveable feast in 1999 and get Nelson recognised on the Norfolk county signs, has a life vice presidency of Horsford Cricket Club, vice presidency of Norwich and District Table Tennis Club, time as vice president of Norwich Lads Club, is a trustee of Norwich’s Theatre Royal, is vice chairman of the Friends of Norwich City Youth (FONCY), is a trustee of Norwich Consolidated Charities and a member of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.
But perhaps he is best known as a former chairman and current president of the Norwich Independent Supporters’ Association, which led the campaign to oust former chairman Robert Chase from the club in the 1990s.
So it is fitting that Mr Blower should retire from being a councillor, and the city council’s first sports chairman, just as his beloved Canaries win promotion to the Premier League.
He says: “I have a had a very lucky and fortunate life in terms of public life and the nice thing is that wherever I go people speak to me and come up to me and say hello.
“Sometimes I don’t even know them, but they know me because of the football connections.
“Throughout the city and wherever you go in Norfolk the following for our club is unbelievable.
“What Paul Lambert and the club have achieved is great - three years ago I wouldn’t have believed it possible.”