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Philip Wetherell

24 July 2010

disabilitiesI received news that an old friend, Philip Wetherell, died last Monday. For the last few years of his life he suffered from motor neurone disease, which left him paralysed. In the last couple of years he was only able to communicate using a device called a Megabee. So it seemed appropriate to write about him on a day when people are being asked to blog about empowering people with disabilities.

I first met Philip 40 years ago, when I first went to Namibia. He had been studying theology at King’s College, London, and took a year out to teach when he failed his final year. He taught at St George’s School in Windhoek, an Anglican church school in Windhoek, but was kicked out by the acting principal, a whenwe from Rhodesia. Philip then went to work in the local CNA, part of a chain of booksellers and newsagents. He later managed to get a permit to teach at another Anglican School, St Mary’s, in Odibo, 500 miles away on the Angolan border. His eldest son, Dominic, was born in Namibia.

In the winter of 1971 Philip and his family left Namibia and returned to England, and I lost touch with him until quite recently, when Trevor Stone, who had also worked for the church in Namibia, told me of his illness.

A couple of months ago, when I was doing research in the Anglican archives at Wits University in Johannesburg, I came across his dissertaion for an MPhil at the University of Leicester, The Anglican Church in Namibia: politics and priorities. I was mainly interested in the time immediately before I myself had gone there, the time of Bishop Robert Mize, who had been deported in 1958, so I just glanced at the earlier chapters, and concentrated on that one. But it had most of the information that I wanted, and had struggled to find elsewhere. I also looked a bit more at the later chapters (it was written in 1985), and it was far better than any of the published books I had read that dealt with the church’s role in the Namibian liberation struggle, and especially the role of the Anglican Church. It seemed to me that it was something that really ought to be published.

Philip Wetherell

I gather that Philip was engaged in writing a book, and it kept him busy up to the time of his death, though do not know what it was on. And this gets back to the topic of empowering people with disabilities.

This is the device that Philip used to communicate:

MegaBee demonstrated by JuneMegaBee™ is easy-to-use and rapidly deployed, providing convenient, frequent means of communication with the carer, thus providing a much enhanced lifestyle for the user. It does not require calibration and accommodates changes in head position or movement of the tablet. It requires very little training and is learnt in minutes.

As his paralysis spread, Philip was able to do less and less, and had a special device to enable him to operate his computer using only his facial muscles, and finally, I believe, only one eyelid, so that typing anything was painfully slow. Nevertheless, he persevered in writing a book.

So when it comes to empowering the disabled, it was devices like the Megabee, and specially adapted computers that empowered Philip, along with his loving family who cared for him. Without people to set up the computer, and so on, he would never have been able to use it.

May his memory be eternal!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Darrell permalink
    24 July 2010 4:34 pm

    Obviously, Phillip had the strength of the Lord working through him throughout most his life, but, it seems, especially in his final years. It seems that Phillip kept on doing what he did: writing, reading, loving, etc, because he was following God’s plan for his life.

    And, in his final years, it was this piece of equipment that made it all possible.

  2. 25 July 2010 5:49 am

    While it is sad to learn that your friend’s life was challenging due to his disabilities but at the same time each precious life lost carries an important social message for the world to think, feel and act for people facing disability. The first and most important thing we all can do is to stop discrimination against people facing such issues and accept them as we accept different shapes and size of our fingers.


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