Our friend Dave Bagshaw passed away peacefully on 30th November 2021 after two months in hospital.

What makes a man great? It isn’t money, wealth, power, position in society – but it is what he does with his life, and who he is to his family and friends. Dave Bagshaw was indisputably a great man – at the same time ordinary and extraordinary. Dave will always be extraordinary because of his incredible running achievements. Dave was a running legend: a three times winner of the Comrades Marathon as well as a London to Brighton race winner. Dave’s obituary can be read at here at the Comrades Marathon official Facebook page.

One of my favourite stories is about Dave getting measured for a suit after his first Comrades win in 1969. Dave tells what happened in this interview with runner Dave Jack:

DJ:      And finally, I remember a funny story about a fitting for a suit you went to buy after that first Comrades and the tailor suggesting that you should do some exercise to build yourself up because he was having some trouble finding a suit with the right fit.  Tell me about that. 

DB:   The tailor had commented on my slim build and needed to alter the trousers to fit. The conversation went something like this:

            “You should have run the Comrades”

            “I did”            

            “Did you finish?”

            “Yes.”

            “What time did you do.?”  

            “5.45”

            “You must have won” 

            “I did”

He was astonished and embarrassed and I was offered a free tie.

To me this story perfectly captures Dave’s humility and wry sense of humour. It is an immense achievement winning the world’s premier ultra marathon – never mind being a hat trick winner and winning multiple other long distance races.

Dave came into our lives (my adopted son and I) in 2014. I had joined POTATO (Parents of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation) when systemic failure meant the local authority were able to remove my adopted son against his wishes and mine and replace me with foster carers/residential care, after I refused to send him back into care under Section 20. I honestly never signed up for this when I became an adopter. I am a mother not a human rights expert or legal advocate – and my emotional involvement does not make me the right person to represent my son (not that I can advocate for him in care proceedings, under a care order anyway), as I get too upset when I feel he is badly treated and if I see him hurt and harmed due to lack of professional understanding. I lose it. It is so frustrating to be having to deal with the consequences of systemic failure, and at the same time unable to speak out because of my child’s right of privacy, which is sacrosanct as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, when Dave Bagshaw first came into our lives in September 2014 my son was living in a children’s home that cost £5k per week and desperate to come home. Meanwhile, I was fighting a lonely battle, because I could not get legal aid, which meant the case could not go to Judicial Review. No law firm would help – and to this day I have never found anyone willing to give us any legal help. Legal inequities are part of the systemic failure. Feeling I needed some moral support, I posted in POTATO asking if someone could come with me to a Child Care Review for my son. These meetings were how the council made care planning decisions. Dave’s partner, Mair Richards, was a member of POTATO and said Dave would help. So this was how I met Dave, collecting him from the station to go to the review.

It was to be business as usual at the meeting. Dave asked if he could speak for a moment before the meeting began. The Independent Reviewing Officer agreed. Dave asked everyone present to take a moment to reflect on what we were going through as a family and what my son must be feeling. He was the most gentle softly spoken of men, and his voice brought a certain gravity to the proceedings. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to anyone. But it made no difference…….winning this battle, as a parent, with no legal help, was far harder than any marathon – even with the incredible Mr Bagshaw by my side.

Dave has never stopped supporting me and my son, and he came to every meeting, every review and every court hearing – wherever I found myself in unwanted conflict with those in authority or with individuals and agencies with power over our lives, whose perspectives made them see things differently, and not as we saw and felt them to be. I remember Dave had just had major abdominal surgery when I first applied to get the care order discharged. I had no idea I could ask for the contested hearing to be postponed so he came to court in quite a state with his partner Mair to support him. The application was unsuccessful. Eventually my son and I were reunified and public law orders were discharged without contest, but we learned the remit of care proceedings is too narrow to give consideration to some of the outstanding issues that have never been dealt with due to problematic inter-agency communication. Agencies make the assumption that everything was resolved in court. This was not the case. Systemic failure and political oversight have meant we must absorb monumental injustice as an adoptive family. So, Dave was still trying to help us in 2021, before he went into hospital in September, and even afterwards, from his hospital bed – he asked to be kept in the loop – because the man is unstoppable.

Dave used to say that the first World War was four years long but our wars were longer than this. Battles and wars we never should have been fighting in the first place. This is how it is. There is little appetite for legislative reform and the narrative in the media, in this very week that Dave has passed away, is of adopters being forced to hand their children back to care. Sometimes we cannot live with our children in adoption and special guardianship – the same is true of all families where children are hard to care for and services are cut to the bone. Should we lose parental responsibility because we were let down when we needed help? Who suffers the consequences most of all when children have no one to look out for them? When those who love the child and make a lifelong commitment are treated as a failed care option during the child’s teenage years and marginalised under the auspices of ‘partnership working’?

When he had a chance to look at our case, Dave said it was a case of CYA. CYA I asked? Cover Your Arse, he explained. It came from Richard Feynman’s investigation as to why Challenger had exploded. From my perspective, Mr Bagshaw was spot on.

In 2015 I nominated Dave for a national Adopter Champion Award and he was shortlisted – we both went to London’s Foundling Museum where a glittering award ceremony was hosted by Claire Grogan. We had a good laugh as people kept thinking Dave was the filmmaker Mike Leigh. He does bear a resemblance.

Before the First 4 Adoption Awards 2015

I learned so much from Dave Bagshaw. He had studied sociology at LSE back in the day – and I mean The Day – for it must have been around the time Mick Jagger was there in the early 1960s. What a time to be a young man in London learning about the world!

Whenever I was trying to make sense of what was going on, Dave’s clear thinking and his sociology background were on hand to help guide me, and writing this now, I find myself appreciating him as one of my greatest teachers. He really understood why things were going wrong and why perspectives were so different. He would always try to help people understand – and he never talked down to anyone. I am minded of Kofi Annan (a great man of peace and like Dave a father of three), who said that conflicts could be resolved by education: “Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defence spending there is”. Dave tried to resolve conflicts through shared understanding and never ceased trying to help bring divergent perspectives together so that the child’s future, the child’s wishes, and the family’s perspective and needs could be given priority over professional role limitations, bureaucracy and sometimes flawed professional analysis or basic error. Dave never stopped trying to help me put things right that had gone wrong in the past.

My son really connected with Dave and I will never forget going to the city centre with Dave together with my son, to open his first bank account – and a cream tea afterwards -before we took him back to the children’s home. I always felt that Dave’s integrity and humanity shone through like a beacon – and my son could instantly see that Dave was someone who could be trusted, and who was on his side – with no other agenda – he had no job to protect, no organisation or agency to be loyal to. He was a gentleman, who exuded kindness and consideration. He made us feel like a family again and always saw us as one. Dave became my son’s advocate towards the end of his time in care when a relationship had grown.

When we started SG&AT, Dave came with us whenever we managed to get a meeting. Together we met with SCIE, the Department for Education, Isabelle Trowler, Professor Anna Gupta, Professor Sue White, Rt Hon Rachael Maskell MP and Rt Hon Emma Lewell Buck MP. He represented SG&AT at a Care Crisis Review meeting.

We were both interviewed in 2019 in a podcast called Voices of Family Law. You can listen to our interview here.

I must have spent hours, days and months talking to Dave since 2014. He always had time for me and for everyone. I shall miss him so much.

All of us in SG&AT, where Dave was a founder member, send our heartfelt condolences to Dave’s partner Mair, to his children and his family. A great man was amongst us and what an enormous privilege it was to have known him.

Dave Bagshaw

One thought on “Dave Bagshaw – a personal tribute to a great man

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