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A chance meeting in the back of a shuttle bus

It had been a long but thrilling 2 days but I was very tired when I climbed into the back of the shuttle bus from Birmingham International to my hotel. It was dark, wet and windy and I was looking forward to digging in in my hotel room. A woman jumped into the back of the bus next to me, beanie hat concealing most of her face but I could see bright animated eyes and a big smile as she declared how cold she was and that she had had to buy a hat to combat the weather. I liked her immediately and we talked rapidly and animatedly for the 5 minute drive. We discovered a mutual connection around the Royal Air Force, that she was living in a town in Australia where my best Australian pal had lived and I had visited her. That I lived 6 miles from her house in England and much much more. As we pulled up at the hotel I asked if she was there for the Chief Nursing Officer’s conference – she said that she was and that she would be sharing Oliver’s story the next day. I did not know this story but as we piled out of the bus I asked her for her email and said that I would make contact. Sometimes you just meet people and know that they are your people – someone once told me to be wisely guided by my deepest instincts and my deepest instincts told me that this woman was special her name – Paula McGowan.


I retired to my hotel room invigorated and delighted to have chatted to Paula knowing so much about her yet not so very much. The next day I opened my phone to email her and was dismayed to discover that I had lost her details somehow. I found her on the programme so knew I could catch up with her and then I spotted her in the exhibition hall and made a beeline for her. We were both looking quite different, no longer windswept, in professional mode and up for the day. We talked more about all sorts of things and then I went to her session and learned Oilver’s Story. And I saw that this woman is fierce, passionate, determined, driven, delightful. She told Oilver’s story with an authenticity and clarity that was astonishing and impressive, She closed with a simple but really effective improvisation using a member of the audience to get her message across about speaking to people in their language, not your own, about true empathy for the position that someone is in. I am now following Oliver’s Campaign and signed up with Paula to do anything that I can to help.

I once asked an activist – Rob Laurie, working in The Jungle in Calais – how do you do it? He replied, ‘one person at a time. That’s how you do it’. And Paula is working across the country, using social media from the other side of the world and making a difference – one person at a time.


Oliver is buried 6 miles from where I live. It is his birthday soon. Paula has described the intricacy of this headstone and how it symbolises so many aspects of her beautiful son’s life. I will go and visit him and my commitment to Paula, beyond what I can do for her campaign, is to visit him as often as I can so that from the other side of the world she knows that family and friends and new friends are all part of her important campaign and part of Oliver’s story.

How glad I am that I got that bus.


Written by Elizabeth Carter



Elizabeth Carter, is a feminist, radical and change leader. inspired by many – determined to enable young women in education and their careers to unlock their potential and amplify their greatness. She believes in social justice for all regardless of race, colour, sexuality, faith or ability.

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