Tribute to Graeme Willson

IT'S not that long ago since Graeme Willson was labelled a painter from Ilkley in a newspaper report after one of stained glass window had bee unveiled at a village church near York. The description left this most modest of men unfazed.

'Nothing wrong with that!' he laughed. 'It was accurate and it did me no harm.  So long as journalists spell my name correctly I don't take umbrage.'

Now, years later, at an age when he could still have looked forward to enhancing his artistic reputation, the softly-spoken 67-year-old has been plucked from us by an illness he bravely fought for almost a year, a battle he thought he had won. And life for all who knew him is much poorer for his passing.

Only a few weeks ago he thought he had beaten cancer and was in bouyant mood as he presented a stained glass screen to the consultant surgeon James Halstead and his team at Bradford Royal Infirmary who Graeme thought had saved his life.

'James and his team were an inspiration, not least in the way they lifted my depression,' he told me the last time I saw him two months ago. 

He said: “It was in January that I first met James, who was an absolute inspiration. He and his team performed the operation which has resulted in my still being here. James has the personal and human touch which is so important in his line of work. 'His professionalism, care and attention have been absolutely life-affirming. This screen, which I designed in 2003, is my way of saying a very big thanks to him and all his colleagues and staff.”

My lasting memory of Graeme  is of him casting a glance at his painting of the Madonna of  The Moors near the Baptistry at St Margaret's a few weeks ago. Moments later, leaving his beloved church for the last time, he adjusted his rain-soaked coat, settled himself into his invalid chair and bade me farewell, saying. 'Remember me in your prayers, Mike, won't you?' I think he knew time was running out for him. He will be sadly missed. A lovely, unforgettable man.

Mike Casey