After a brief illness, Peggy Freeman, MBE, tragically passed away over the weekend in a hospital in Nottingham. Peggy, who is now 94 years old, was one of the parents who helped create the National Deafblind and Rubella Association, which went on to become the nonprofit organization Sense.
Her four children, sons Ian and Robin, daughters Ann, who resides in Australia, and Bunty, a deafblind woman who is in a Sense residential home in Birmingham, are left to carry on Peggy’s legacy.
Peggy received an MBE in 1970 for services to deafblind people for her role in co-founding Sense. The Group began with ten founder families and assets of just £2.5s.0d (£2.25). Today, Sense is the UK’s largest voluntary-sector provider of services to people with both sight and hearing difficulties. It employs over 3,000 staff and meets the needs of thousands of dual-sensory impaired people from babyhood to old age.
Gillian Morbey CEO, Sense and Sense International and President of Deafblind International said, ‘Although small in stature, Peggy was huge in courage and determination. At a time when people thought deafblind children couldn’t be educated or live full lives Peggy battled, not only for her own daughter, but what has become the whole Sense family. Peggy made a deep impression on everyone she met and many deafblind people and their families owe Peggy a huge debt of gratitude. She is our last great ‘trooper’ from the early days of Sense and will be sadly missed’.
In 1954, Peggy Freeman caught rubella immediately before becoming pregnant with Bunty, her fourth child. Despite the assurances of the doctors, Bunty was born blind, deaf, and with heart issues. Before being introduced to other parents of deafblind children by a teacher of deaf children, Peggy had nowhere to turn for assistance.
Peggy met Margaret Brock MBE, a parent whose son had the same congenital rubella syndrome as her son, and the two of them formally founded the first parents’ rubella group in 1955.The Group’s first secretary was Peggy. People with two disabilities weren’t acknowledged or supported at the time. The Group spearheaded Sense homes, which are facilities where deafblind persons are supported with continued education, vocational training, and leisure skills, allowing them to have a complete and meaningful life. They also advocated for the provision of all deafblind children.
Peggy was a frequent lecturer on deafblindness issues until quite recently, both in the UK and internationally. Peggy travelled to Canada at the age of 85 to assist Deafblind International at a convention there.
“It is difficult to believe that a minute virus so small it can only be seen with a microscope of great magnitude, could cause impairments the vision and hearing of child even before it is born. It is also unbelievable that when a few families with rubella got together in 1955 they should start an association that in time would grow to become as successful in all fields concerned with the care of deafblind people as Sense is today.
These years have seen many changes in society and these are reflected in the changes at Sense. Changing attitudes followed a growing awareness and understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.”
Paying tribute to her, Gini Bartlett a Sense Trustee said “I simply don’t know what mothers like me would have done without Peggy. I first knew her over 45 years ago when I needed support for my son Ian who was deafblind following my contracting Rubella during my pregnancy. From the very beginning I was so impressed by how supportive she was. She was truly kind and happy to share her knowledge with me personally. I am truly indebted to her as are so many thousands of deafblind people who have received support from the organisation Sense. Peggy continued to be amazed at the growth of Sense the awareness of deafblindness throughout the world . It is an incredible legacy she leaves behind and she will be sadly missed.
In 1996 Peggy authored “Good Sense” a history of the charity. She wrote in the foreword “I wish to thank Peter who was still with me when I began writing this history of Sense and who shared all those years with me. Also the members of Sense who have worked with such dedication. Above all my thanks go to Bunty and all deafblind people. To serve them has given a purpose to my life.”
- CEO Sense and Sense International
- President Deafblind International
- Telephone: +44(0)20 7014 9320