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Tommy’s inspiring talk with students and staff


A celebrated dementia campaigner visited Robert Gordon University (RGU) this week to give a moving presentation about caring for loved ones with the condition.

L to R: Neil Johnson (Head of Undergraduate Studies, School of Nursing and Midwifery), Katrina Whittingham (Lecturer, RGU), Jacqueline Leith (Lecturer, RGU), Alison McLennan (Head of Student Experience, School of Nursing and Midwifery), Tommy Whitelaw, Laura McCulloch (Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland), Dr Karen Strickland (Associate Head of School, School of Nursing and Midwifery), Jill Will (Lecturer, RGU)Tommy Whitelaw spent 25 years in the music industry, as a tour manager for Scottish bands such as Texas and heading up global merchandising operations for the likes of Kylie and U2.

When his mother Joan was diagnosed with vascular dementia, he returned to Glasgow and became her full-time carer for five years until she sadly passed away in September 2012.

Since caring for his mother, Tommy has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of dementia and encourage the public to share their experiences with the illness.

His ‘Tommy on Tour’ campaign, which began in Aberdeen in June 2011, saw him travel Scotland collecting life story letters from carers who have cared for or are caring for a loved one with dementia. He would hand all of the letters over to the Scottish Government in November of that year.

Tommy said: “When I became a carer, my motivation came from the love I had for my mum, but I know how tough it is to live with dementia and how many struggles it can bring.

“I feel passionately that no one should have to face these issues alone and I am determined to raise awareness of dementia and its impact on the families it touches.”

In 2012, Tommy started to work at ‘Dementia Carer Voices’, a project based at Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, to promote the importance of empowering carers who carry out the vital work of caring for someone with dementia.

This campaign has given carers a platform to express their views and experiences of caring for a loved one living with dementia, with a view to raising awareness among health and social care professionals and members of the public.

Tommy and the team now work closely with the Scottish Government on policy and strategy, but he still spends much of his time touring the country, sharing his experiences and speaking to around 60,000 people as part of almost 500 talks to date.

On his return to RGU, Tommy said: “It was an amazing experience a few years ago to meet people at RGU, who very kindly shared their experiences with me. It is an honour to be back and to get to speak to the next generation of nurses and health care professionals once again.

“I know my story can be a difficult thing to listen to – a son struggling to care for his mum – but the beautiful part of it is when a district nurse arrives one day and changes things. Whatever people think these talks are, they are a celebration of nursing in all its shapes and forms.

“Being a carer is the most incredible, beautiful and noble thing to do and I want people to come away from these talks celebrating their amazing work and cherishing it.”

Alison McLennan, from RGU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, helped bring Tommy back to the university. She said: “We were very proud to welcome Tommy to RGU, so students and staff could hear his story and share their experiences of dementia care.

“Tommy is an inspirational speaker and it was great for the students to hear from someone who has been in his position, which will stand them in good stead for the future.”

For more information about Tommy Whitelaw and Dementia Carer Voices visit: https://dementiacarervoices.wordpress.com/

Release by Jonathon Milne
Communications Officer | Health and Social Care
Press and Media Enquiries