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Lena Rustin: tributes

| 01.03.2005

Lena RustinIt is hard to speak about the death of Lena who has always been such a strong, dynamic person, and so absolutely and positively turned towards life. She was a survivor, as she used to say, and she deeply loved life.

Her professional life has been totally dedicated to stammering therapy. Her dynamism, curiosity and investigating spirit led her on new roads of stammering therapy. She placed the stammering person and not his stammering speech in the centre of the therapy, and thus came very naturally to the conception of family therapy. Nearly all therapists all over the world, use or have used family therapy, and follow Lena's example. Being invited as a trainee to follow the two-week course, I experienced the miracles that happen: difficult fathers, at first unwilling to collaborate, turned out to be the best aids for their stammering sons, just because they discovered the possibility of a real relationship with their sons, and the impact of praise.

Anyone who has had the privilege to participate or to attend this two-week course has been illuminated by the way Lena directed it.

She got the recognition for her professional mastership with the creation of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children: a realisation of a dream. The highest academic honour she finally received in 2003 was an Honorary Doctorate from the De Montford University. Lena, the little Great Lady, deserved it to the full.

During the 20 years that I have known her we became very close friends. She always was interested in my research into neurogenic stammering. On an evening walk during an Oxford conference, she pushed me to finish my PhD in her so typical way, telling me: "Henny, go for it, if you do not finish, you will always regret it". So, six months later I finished!

Knowing the progression of her illness, I came to see her and stayed in her house the weekend of December 4-5. She was very tired, but we had a marvelous time, talking about everything. Lena was much interested in my last research on stammering and other movement disorders linked to the basal ganglia. She said to me with her sparkling eyes: "Henny, you will see, we will come to a major discovery; we will finally know what it is all about". Unhappily she will never know.

Lena is survived by her husband and two of their three daughters.

Henny-Annie Bijleveld,
Professor of Neurolinguistics,
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Probably the greatest legacy Lena left was the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children that she worked to establish with her legendary grit and determination. It is thanks to her and the able band who have continued her work with the same commitment, that the UK has an internationally-renowned centre for treatment and research into childhood stammering.

I want to share with you a few of my own fondest memories of Lena that illustrate her human side. I first met Lena over 20 years ago. At the time I had been doing research into speech production control in fluent and stuttering children. The outcome was that we started a collaboration that has continued to the present, recording and archiving the samples of speech from the many children who pass through the centre.

She did many subtle things to help the research agenda, often without being asked. One example I recall, is after I had given a newspaper interview where I raised the question whether any children with hearing problems also stammer. A day or two later, Lena rang up to tell me she had been through the centre's records and to let me know the results. She was always there to help out with the media to offer a clinician's perspective on the research that was going on in stammering.

It was not just me and other researchers that she helped out. When the British Stammering Association was starting out, Lena provided valuable office space. She was also there to fight the corner for an international perspective whenever new societies were being established. I recall seeing her in action making one such feisty defence at a meeting in Nijmegen which led to the formation of the International Fluency Association.

There are many examples I could give of ways in which Lena revealed her human side, sounding my 7-year old daughter out as a potential therapist, helping me out on restoration projects (as she said 'Rustin paints are the best' and she was right). I feel the profession has lost a strong advocate and, like many, that I've lost a friend.

Pete Howell
Professor of Experimental Psychology
University College London

From the Spring 2005 edition of Speaking Out