Kathleen Simpson, from Dundee, spent her special day with her family who threw a socially-distanced garden party in her honour. Neighbours and friends gathered in the street to wish Kathleen well with a round of applause as a Highland dancer launched the celebrations.
Instead of gifts, the great-grandmother requested donations to Scottish Huntington’s Association, a charity close to her heart because of the support it has given her family over the years.
Her loved ones rallied round and Kathleen is delighted to have smashed the £500 target. Family members surprised her with the news that she has raised more than £800 so far.
Reaching the age of 100 years brings mixed emotions for Kathleen, who lost her beloved husband and both of their children to Huntington’s disease. Two of her grand-daughters have since tested positive for the disease and she has great-grandchildren who are at risk of developing it too.
There are around 1100 people with HD in Scotland and up to 6000 people at risk, with each child of those diagnosed at 50% risk of developing the hereditary disease. There are three main groups of symptoms: changes to thinking processes (a type of early onset dementia); loss of muscle control which impacts mobility, speech and the ability to swallow; and mental illness.
People with Huntington’s disease may eventually lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink, or make decisions, and go on to need for 24-hour care outside the family home.
Little was known about the disease when Kathleen and RAF serviceman David met at a dance and fell in love during World War 2. They were married on 22 December 1945, and had their two children, Ronald and Morag.
David, who built his career as a senior buyer for a Dundee hardware company and was known for his fantastic dancing, started to show symptoms as he grew older, and Kathleen cared for him until his death in 1995. Their son Ronald began to develop symptoms in his early 40s and died aged 61 in 2012. After living with symptoms for more than 20 years, Morag passed away aged 66 in 2013, a year to the day after her brother.
Speaking on behalf of the close-knit family, Kathleen’s great grand-daughter Megan Stewart (21) said: “At first, we weren’t sure what to do for my great-gran’s birthday. She has mixed feelings about reaching 100 and feeling fit and well when so many of those closest to her continue to be affected by Huntington’s disease.
“But she means everything to us and we wanted to celebrate her and the loving family she has created. It’s typical of her to want to help other people, and the money donated in her honour is a thank you to Scottish Huntington’s Association for always being here for our family and the wider HD community across Scotland.
“We’re supported by our Scottish Huntington’s Association HD Specialist, while my younger sister Ellie has a dedicated youth advisor and she attends camps and events organised by the youth service. We can pick up the phone and talk to somebody whenever we need to.
“My great-gran is thrilled at how much has been raised, we surprised her at her party with the news. It is a wonderful way to celebrate Kathleen, a wonderful mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who inspires us every day with her strength and love for her family.”
Kathleen dreamed of becoming a Wren during the war but was forbidden by her father. Undaunted, she did her bit on the home front by working in a factory sewing hammocks for sailors. She loved going out dancing with David, and the family enjoyed camping trips all over the country. Blackpool continues to be her favourite holiday spot.
After working in mills around Dundee and at the Timex factory, Kathleen was offered a position at the city’s Keillers China Shop, where she remained until retirement.
The money raised by Kathleen will go to the Scottish Huntington’s Association Coronavirus crisis appeal, Stay Home and Step Up. Key fundraising events have been cancelled and other income remains uncertain at a time when the charity’s services are being stretched as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scottish Huntington’s Association Chief Executive Officer John Eden said: “On behalf of everyone at SHA, I’d like to congratulate Kathleen on her 100th birthday and thank her and the whole family for their incredible kindness and support.”
As the only charity in Scotland dedicated exclusively to helping people whose lives are impacted by Huntington’s disease, Scottish Huntington’s Association provides world-leading services through a network of HD Specialists, youth advisors who work with young people growing up in HD families, and a Financial Wellbeing Service that supports those facing household hardship as a result of the disease.
You can support Kathleen’s birthday fundraiser by donating to her JustGiving page at https://bit.ly/3gWgJA7