Irene Hamilton ‘was and is unforgettable’

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LAST week my friend and staffer Irene Hamilton died. I hope Irene knew how loved she was.

The outpouring of sadness and appreciation in the days following her death have been extraordinary – a testament to her life and how she lived it.

I first met Irene at a hustings for parliamentary candidates in 2017.

I immediately knew there was something special about the wee woman with the dancing eyes and one arm, the other lost to cancer a decade before. “Better go work the room and talk to folk who’re more interesting than me” she said. I stayed put.

Once Irene decided she was on your side, there was no fiercer ally. She was soon at the core of my campaign team, dispensing tea, sickly sweet cakes, and wry commentary.

When I won, she wanted to know whether there would be a party and what music we’d play. “No YMCA now. I know the gays like YMCA. But I canna do that dance” she said, demonstrating her one armed version.

Irene was a doughty political campaigner with a deep commitment to our country’s independence. She’d been a councillor, elected in her beloved Clackmannanshire, and remembered as a tenacious hard worker, determined to help her constituents however tough their cases were to resolve.

In her spare time she loved to walk. She adored the Lowlands’ countryside and loved to photograph it, taking beautifully composed shots wherever she went – nae sma feat wi ane airm.

She loved gin (her own version mixed at home to a secret recipe) and she loved good conversation. She was, as we’ve all seen over these past months, extraordinarily brave.

Irene didn’t have an easy life. She’d lived in America and had escaped an abusive relationship to return home with her much loved son.

But just as life looked as if it might be working out, she was diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkin lymphoma – which robbed her of an arm, and left her face marked by lumps.

She thought sacrificing the arm had saved her life, and initially she was given the all clear. But two years ago she complained of pain, and surgeons operated once more, removing a section of her spine and replacing it with what she called her “bionic spring”.

It was cutting edge technology but it didn’t work, and eventually she was told nothing more could be done. She chose to go home, where she lay in bed welcoming a stream of visitors. Cards lined the room, proudly displayed amongst them one from First Minister Humza Yousaf, and another from Nicola Sturgeon, both with tender messages.

Irene was irresistibly funny with a sharp intelligence, the blackest sense of humour, and an infectious giggle – her “Mutley snigger” as she called it.

I went to see her shortly before she died. She was propped up in bed, her devoted, irascible cat Indy taking up most of her pillow.

“Well John, look at me,” she said. “Just living the dream.” We both laughed. She was and is unforgettable.