Love story behind Derbyshire's 101-year-old charity volunteer who cares for carers

Victor and Alicia as they looked when they met in 1957. The couple were married within days at a register office after getting a special licence.Victor and Alicia as they looked when they met in 1957. The couple were married within days at a register office after getting a special licence.
Victor and Alicia as they looked when they met in 1957. The couple were married within days at a register office after getting a special licence.
An inspirational great-grandad, who is just days away from his 102nd birthday, is continuing his mission of care for a charity that helped him when he needed it most.

Victor Shaw-Willson cared for his severely disabled wife Alicia for 47 years before she passed away in 2019.

The support that the couple received from Derbyshire Carers Association made Victor want to give back to the charity.

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"Derbyshire Carers saved my sanity," he said. “They made our lives comfortable and easy because they showed us how to get the help we needed and the financial benefits that are available for people who are ill.

"The people who work for Derbyshire Carers do it because they are committed to help those who care for people they love and the problems they face, like isolation."

Four days a week Victor meets up with carers. He said: "I have a bit of time on my hands so I can help people that need help. We have coffee together, we talk through problems. Some of them have lost their wives or their children or somebody they love. The word care means to love and that's what it's all about.”

Alicia and Victor’s love story began in Derby in 1957 when she was a pretty hairdresser who was introduced to handsome export business owner Victor by her dad. Victor said: "Three days later we had a date for dinner and dance and were in a club until 2.30am. We got a taxi home and on the way back I said to Alicia 'I'm due back in France on the Tuesday, but if you marry me I'll stay' and that's what we did. We got a special licence and got married in a register office within a matter of days."

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Victor found a job teaching modern languages in a school in Mackworth for a few months before moving with Alicia to Lancashire where he worked in the fire prevention industry.

The couple later returned to Derby where Victor set up a business delivering vehicles throughout the UK.

Victor said: "I retired from that when I was about 93. I got a call from my wife one day saying that she needed some help. I got back home to find that the nurse paid £36 an hour to care for her was reading my newspaper and my wife was sitting there in a distressed state. The nurse had a choice - walk out the door fast or go through the window!

"My wife was very, very ill and needed 24-hour care."

As a child Alicia had been in a house fire and subsequently underwent seven years of skin grafts.

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Victor said: "The toll on her heart and the rest of her body was such that the whole system broke down. In the 1970s after she came out of intensive care, she was taking 29 pills to pump the blood around her heart and keep her going. They couldn't operate or offer a heart transplant because if she had anaesthetic the heart wouldn't work. I was told 'if you want to keep her with you she mustn't have any stress, she mustn't walk or do any physical exercise’.

"How the hell she managed to smile every day, I don't know. She was loved by everybody at Derbyshire Carers Association because she never stopped smiling."

The charity helped the couple make the most of their precious time together by introducing them to the Motability scheme which provided them with a car. Victor said: "The car was the best thing we got. It was designed so Alicia could slide straight from her wheelchair into the car. We'd drive out to National Trust places and look at the birds and creatures through binoculars and have a picnic."

Alicia's final request to Victor was that she wanted to go to Calke Abbey for a picnic the following day before he kissed her goodnight for the last time.

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Victor's enduring love for his wife is heart-warming. He said: "I'm still married to her, I'm not a widower. I go to see her twice a week at Locko Park cemetery where we have a family plot. I take flowers and sit and chat to her. That is never going to end - that's part of my life."

He now requires care himself after a stroke badly affected his left leg and is looked after by his 34-year-old grandson Adam. But the Second World War veteran, who has four children, 16 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, is once again putting his experience to good use by volunteering with the Stroke Association. Victor, who lives in Littleover, said: "I tell people that it's not the end of your life, accept what has happened to you, live with it and work with it."

With an official go-ahead to carry on motoring after passing a driving assessment and medical tests this month, Victor shows no signs of calling a halt to his charity work which includes picking up collection tins for Derbyshire Carers Association. He said: "I'm going to carry on as a volunteer because volunteers are the backbone of any organisation."

His first driving experience was in childhood when he steered a pony and trap to swimming lessons. He drove pigs to market in a wagon when he was 12 and learned to drive tanks when he was in the Parachute Regiment from 1939 to 1956.

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Victor’s vast contribution to Derbyshire Carers Association will be honoured at South Normanton’s Postmill Centre on Wednesday, August 17. The party will mark his retirement from the association’s board of trustees after five years’ service and to celebrate his birthday that day.

Marilyn Hambly, who chairs the association which is based in Ripley, said: "Here at DCA, we want to acknowledge the fantastic help that Victor has given to carers over the years. For example, during the Covid 19 lockdown, he regularly delivered shopping to carers unable to leave their homes, and he kept in touch with carers who needed support.

"Victor has been a marvellous ambassador for DCA and for carers in our community. We owe him our heartfelt thanks as we acknowledge all his efforts. We wish him a wonderful day as he retires from our board of trustees and as we help him celebrate his 102nd birthday.”