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Mallon has no regrets over giving up chance to lead party to care for wife

By Donna Deeney

Former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon has paid a moving tribute to his late wife Gertrude, who passed away last October after a battle with Parkinson's disease.

The couple, who spent their life together in Markethill in Co Armagh, and have a daughter Orla, were devoted to each other.

Mrs Mallon was her husband's strongest supporter during his early political career, assisting him financially through her work as a nurse.

In 2001 he gave up an opportunity to lead the SDLP - the party he helped form with Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume - to care for her. He left front line politics completely in 2005 as her health deteriorated.

Speaking on RTE's Sunday With Miriam Show, Mr Mallon (80) said he would have loved to have led the SDLP after Mr Hume stood down, but had no regrets about not standing for the position.

"I had no choice at all, really, because my wife Gertrude had been ill. It started off with Parkinson's disease and then vascular dementia - it was no choice.

"I had to do the right thing and look after my wife, who worked as a nurse on night duty to keep me in politics for so long when I had no income, who stood up to all of the threats that we got and all of the abuse we got in our house.

"Death is a very sudden reminder of what you do in life and I have no regrets about making that decision - it was the only one I could have made," he said.

"That period of looking after Gertrude, arranging carers, probably was the happiest period of my married life as I was able to be there with her.

"I saw her going down the hill, I saw her getting worse, and the awful thing was, the last two years we couldn't understand what she was saying so there was no communication.

"I remember one dreadful Sunday morning I had to go in and tell her that her sister Eithne had died. I told her and she started to cry.

"She was trying to say something to me and I couldn't understand her. It was harrowing because I could do nothing."

Mr Mallon dedicated 15 years to looking after his wife until her death seven months ago, but since then he has experienced a real sense of loneliness.

He explained: "When she died I had to regard it as a happy release - she would have no more pain, but that led to loneliness. Loneliness is a very subtle type of a condition. You don't realise it is there until you start doing strange things.

"For a while I called every lady who came into the house 'Gertrude', and I was in hospital and was asked 'next of kin?', and I said 'Gertrude Mallon, oh sorry, it's not that'.

"It takes a while to get used to living on your own, you have to make a lot of strict rules for yourself and one of mine is that I get up before seven every morning and take my little dog for a walk around the house and garden, do a bit of work in the garden, and come in and then have my breakfast.

"If I do that then I will get a good day's work, whatever I am doing. But if I don't, then I will mosey about and start feeling sorry for myself.

"I think the worst thing a body can do when you are under pressure is feel sorry for themselves, so this is the way I try to cope."

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