Dr Diane Katherine Chisholm

5 June 1955 – May 23 1998 RIP

 Circumstances Of Death

Di was a psychiatrist when I met her in Red Rope Climbing club in 1982 but she moved into public health and made many trips to the third world and overseas conferences and visits including twinning visits with Saint Petersburg. A year before her accident she moved to the Regional Health Authority from having been Central Manchester’s Director of Public Health.

Di got quite depressed when her mother was killed in a head-on car collision in Poland in which her father was seriously injured in the summer of 1996. In March 1997 when she was visiting South Wales she leapt from a building but only paralysed herself from the chest down. She was admitted first to Bristol, then transferred to Hope Hospital Salford and finally to the Spinal Injuries Unit at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield where she was for many months. She was most despondent and told many people she didn’t want to live a life in a wheelchair. In the early winter they were threatening to withdraw the programme from her as she wasn’t really trying hard at her exercises.

She was only just thought well enough to be allowed out in the large grounds of the hospital without an escort. On Thursday 21 May 1998 she went out and hid among bushes in the grounds to kill herself. She was resuscitated by staff but needed to be put on a life support machine as she was still in a coma. Her family agreed to switch off the life support machine at 7pm Saturday 23 May.

Di Did Calligraphy Of Our Wedding Certificate

On pride of place on the middle of the wall above our living room settee is the wedding certificate signed by all the 94 people who came to our wedding. It measures about 18 inches by 24 inches. It was framed by members of The Craft Factory at Prestwich, a centre to give occupational rehabilitation to users of drugs and alcohol services. Di’s wedding present was also to pay for the ceilidh band we heard at her do in 1995 for leaving Manchester Health. She was really happy at the wedding and we have plenty of photographs taken by the professional photographer in the Creative Living Lets scheme

When I first met her through Red Rope Socialist Climbing Club she was a registrar psychiatrist at the University Hospital of South Manchester, Withington where I had done my psychiatric training before developing mental illness. Our sociology tutor Dr Joyce Leeson, now chair of the Greater Manchester Socialist Health Association, persuaded her to move to a career in public health but warned her she needed “to be a pathological optimist.”

Di’s Garden Parties

She lived in a largish terraced house with a garden at 6 Napier Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy which is the part of South Manchester where my parents lived when I was born. She was a tremendously honest diplomat who could make anyone feel welcome. She used to host huge parties twice a year of which about less than one third of those who attended would be Quakers, about one third would be Red Rope members and over one third would be a wide variety of various health professionals. The winter party would be in February and the garden party would be near midsummer. It was one of the few venues not at all on the mental health scene where one could take friends with learning difficulties or mental health problems and made to feel really welcome.

Di’s Generosity And Tolerance

After I had had most of my climbing equipment stolen from my flat when I was committed and my great crusade was to try to get a group of survivors to do some easy ice climbing in the Austrian Alps she offered to lend us her climbing equipment.

Di was the sort of person that Jason Rasku would have made welcome on his spirituality list. She was most undogmatic and had a deep understanding of Buddhism but preferred worshipping at the silent worship with ministries of the Quaker meeting for worship. She never became a member of them either. She was the sort of woman who could encourage the best out of anybody.

Di was a woman I treasured extremely highly. It was her spirituality more than anyone’s that inspired me to start attending Quaker meetings for worship. She seemed to love everyone because she didn’t see herself as separate from others. She could see the notion of an individual as a delusion. I particularly valued her undogmatic approach to socialism which was only a pragmatic means to reduce human suffering.

Visit To Refugee Camps In Tigray 1986

David Hannay, who introduced me to Red Rope when he didn’t realize that I was on the run from a 12 month section in Gartnaval Royal Hospital, Glasgow in July 1980 got a job with the Tigray Relief Association in London in approx. 1986-1988. There was a cancellation of a doctor’s place on a fact finding expedition into Tigray from Sudan which was a prerequisite for David’s job. David offered the place to Di at short notice. He took me round to see her in Whalley Range the day her slides got back from the processors. She absolutely refused to comment on them apart from telling us the locations. She seemed shell shocked from all the suffering in the refugee camps.

After she asked me if I had spare medical books from my student days to send to Tigray. I indicated I never had many and I would regard the few I had as useful reference books. I did offer The UCH Handbook of Psychiatry which is a pretty useless book. She said, “Don’t do that. They might start a psychiatric system!!”

Meeting Near The Summit Of Buchaille Etive Mor 1985

In those early days Di and Gillian Creasy with Jim Wilson, Nigel Rose and Netta Hughes were among the only Red Rope members to visit me in Cheadle Royal Hospital. I loved the little postcards she sent me when on holiday.

She once sent me a card of a mountain goat atop an extremely pointed hill. She said it reminded me of the time she met me in February 1985 when we were both walking alone on the Buchaillles at the head of Glen Etive. I had climbed an easy gully on the end of Buchaille Etive Beag, walked along all three summits and then crossed to climb all the Buchaille Etive Mor summits. I got to the second last and there was thick enough ice on the summit that I carved a couple of grooves with my ice axe to make a meditation stool. I was actually soloing because Jerry Ready had dislodged a small stone onto my forearm from 6 metres further up a scramble the previous day and I wanted to rest it. Di had assumed I was soloing to meditate.

October 1985 Edition Of Red Rope Bulletin

I met her through Red Rope Socialist Rambling and Climbing Club in 1982 and in 1983-5 she was editor of its journal. I only have one copy of a journal she edited as I got that one as a back issue. Jerry Reddy sent an article to the October Issue saying he thought Red Rope’s anti-sexism had gone too far and he wanted to remove some of the positive discrimination that was in favour of women. We are the only mixed gender climbing club in the British Mountaineering Club with a majority of women (about 56 per cent). In that issue because she was short of material she asked permission to send it to many of Red Rope’s most vocal feminists who wrote to demolish him!! Di’s response was restrained by comparison. She was a natural diplomat.

Piggybacking In The Goyt Valley In 1983

Among my fond memories of her was on the first organised Sunday day walk by Manchester Red Rope organised by Karen McCarthy in November 1983 to the Goyt Valley in Derbyshire on the train line to Buxton. About 10 of us turned up. As we were returning on a footpath made from an old railroad by the Goyt Reservoir I was talking to her about a technique for carrying an injured climber on one’s back by using a standard coiled climbing rope to make a pair of rucsac-like straps to carry the person on one’s back and still keep both hands free for simple scrambling. She asked me to demonstrate and I carried her for over half a mile. The scariest bit was when I had to climb a 3 metre ladder stile with her on my back. It was a wonderful experience and the one I used as a starting point when in the meditation on loving kindness one meditates on a close friend.

Meditating On Di At Water Hall Retreat, Suffolk 1994

For nearly 9 years I had been unable to meditate on loving kindness because of major tranquillisers but after I won my Mental Health Appeal Tribunal in April 1994 I went on a men’s retreat at Water Hall in Suffolk with members of the London Buddhist Centre and its new chairman, Ratnagosha in August. When we had come to the formal meditation I decided to meditate on the people I used before my forced drugging since 1986. We should have done five ten minute periods. However when it came time to meditate on Di in the second stage it was so enjoyable I missed the bell and went on for 20 minutes. At the end of the session I hadn’t meditated on *everyone in the world* but it was such a novelty feeling love for the first time in 8 years that I still was nowhere near finishing the session when the other men returned form the second 50 minute meditation session 80 minutes later after breakfast. When I finally finished after eleven and three quarter hours I told the other men *I’ve fallen in love with the whole world and I’ve fallen in love with Di Chisholm again.* For the whole of the rest of the afternoon I frequently broke into sobs of joy.

Written by Gustav Mahler 2-4 June 1998

“A week in Rainhill is a long time” Harold Wilson (adapted)

Manchester Evening News

Tuesday June 9, 1998

Friends in Mourning for Tragic Di Paralysed doctor thought to have taken her life in hospital


SHOCKED friends were mourning the tragic death of a dedicated Manchester doctor today after she was believed to have taken her own life in hospital. Dr Di Chisholm, who was highly respected for her work with the underprivileged and minority groups in the city, died at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield. She had been a patient in the spinal injuries unit since last April, paralysed from the chest down after tumbling from a building. Three years ago, Dr Chisholm, former Director of Public Health for Central and North Manchester had been devastated when her mother was killed and her father, Prof Alec Chisholm from Prestbury, was seriously injured in a car crash in Poland. An inquest into her death has been opened and adjourned until July 2 by the Sheffield coroner. After a health services reorganisation in Manchester in 1993 , Dr Chisholm, a keen mountaineer with a great interest in religions and philosophy, became a consultant in public health medicine with Manchester Health Authority. She then went to work in the public health department of the regional health authority. One devastated friend said: “Di gave herself wholeheartedly to working on behalf of others. Her generosity, support, dedication and love were unmatched by anyone else I had ever known. She had an enormous network of friends.” A Manchester Health Authority spokesman said that Dr Chisholm was highly regarded for her “hands on” work she did in the community to improve the health and conditions of people living in the inner city. “She had a lot of friends and will be deeply missed,” he said. “There was a great respect for the hard work she did to improve health in Manchester.”

12 Legh Road, Prestbury, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK10 4HX, United Kingdom

From: Emeritus Professor Alec W. J. Chisholm

5th June 1998

My Dear Friend,

Many of you will already know that my daughter, Diana Chisholm, known professionally and to her friends as Di Chisholm, died on 23rd May 1998.

This note is to confirm this and to inform you about two meetings which have been arranged to remember her and to celebrate her life.

Following her spinal injuries in April 1997, she was in continuous hospital care and had completed almost a year in the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield. The care she received there was truly wonderful, skilful and loving.

A memorial meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, 19th June 1998, at the Friends’ Meeting House at Mount Street, Manchester. This is in central Manchester, near St. Peter’s Square and Albert Square, and just off Peter Street. Light refreshments will be served following the meeting.

A Celebration and Thanksgiving for Diana’s life will also be held later in the year, after the summer holidays, at St. Peter’s Church, Prestbury, Cheshire, at 2:30 p. m. on 11th September 1998. A buffet meal will be served afterwards in the Prestbury Village Hall.

The letters I have already received have clearly shown me how comforting such reminders of how so very many people deeply loved and respected her can be. This would surely be true also for all those others whom she left. Sadly, as may too often happen, the person who has gone would have been genuinely surprised. Di would surely have been one of them.

Di spread her love and talents in many different areas of her life: in her family, in her profession of public health, in her serious mountaineering and in comparatively gentle walking, in her religious and philosophical interests, in women’s issues and in care for the underprivileged and minority groups, in her artistic work, in community work, in her close personal relationships; and in many others which I cannot easily label.

I venture to believe that Di’s life has many lessons for us. I hope that the two memorial meetings which are being arranged will enable us, by being reminded more of these several areas of her life, collectively to focus on what those lessons could be.

The Quaker Meeting in Manchester will be in the form of memorial which she chose herself when an early death was only a possibility. The Celebration and Thanksgiving at Prestbury will be similar to the one she helped organise for her mother three years ago, and to which she personally contributed. As a girl, Diana was an enthusiastic bell ringer at St. Peter’s, characteristically appearing to master what seemed to me the hideous complexities of change ringing. Everyone regardless of religious affiliations is warmly welcome to both occasions or either.