Tribute to George Duff


George facilitating at a Real Local Voices event

George Duff worked at Real from December 2010 until December 2013. He was an Independent Living Support Worker, helping people to set up and manage their own care and support through the use of direct payments. He was indeed a character.

Alongside two other staff, George’s role was made redundant following a cut in financing for the project. As an organisation we gave George a lot of support in finding a new role, but it wasn’t enough for George. In May 2014 George took his own life. At the funeral, many people spoke of George’s determination in life, especially once he decided on a particular course of action. And George had determined that he no longer wanted to live in a world where, he felt, people weren’t valued and everything was being driven by “austerity measures”.

As CEO of Real, I spent a lot of time arguing with George! Arguing how we should combat cuts to our services, arguing what were reasonable adjustments, amicably arguing the rights and wrongs of things going on in the world at an after-work social event. George was an idealist. But the world needs idealists to stretch the vision of everyone else. George was also quite determined to be himself. Very few staff have ever been quite so open about their personal private lives as George was – the details were occasionally eyebrow raising! But that was George for you; he gave you little choice but to accept him on his own terms, and to accept the whole George.

George’s various impairments could sometimes make day-to-day life quite a challenge for him, especially when it came to communicating with others. But in many ways these challenges also helped make George the unique and inspiring person he was. In March 2014 George wrote to me, referring to his time at Real and the support he got, including the following text:

“… both of you sought to be very understanding and supportive of me for the 3 happiest years of my working life.

Whilst I am looking for alternative employment no role will give me the same degree of satisfaction that I had whilst working at Real and in believing it’s ethos of disabled people working together for real choices, that to me was very special – for once in life I felt that my impairment that had been so difficult to live with had actually been of benefit to me!”

in the weeks and months following George’s death one always wonders whether one could have done more to prevent it. I am now reconciled that we did all we could, and it was always George’s decisions that led him to live the vibrant life that he did, and end that life when he chose.

In addition to his formal role, George was passionate about advocating for other disabled people and in particular in relation to disability-related hate crime. He was driven by a desire to fight for his own and other people’s rights. In that he was an inspiration to many. A number of staff at Real (Dolores, Rob and Lucia) have been working on their own tributes to George, and this article represents our collective celebration of George. It seems entirely fitting that we should publish this tribute to George on 3 December 2014, the International Day of Disabled People.

Mike Smith

From Dolores:

George.. didn’t think I would ever have to say this but I miss you…  I miss your enthusiasm.  Your energy.  Your ability to see injustice, your strength to fight for those who could not fight for themselves.  You childlike trust in people and your lack of understanding when they eventually let you down.. you couldn’t understand how they did not repay your trust in them.

You would have been good at chess cause you could see other peoples moves way ahead – did you ever try to play?

You drove me mad at times but I could see that you had a good heart.. and you were nearly always thinking of others .. unless you were planning a trip to Berlin.. and then it was all you.. getting your rubbers patched.. booking flights and accommodation.

You loved good food… and deserts.. at lunch time – but tidying up… forget it… life was to short… I think I can see why you ended your life early – you always said you were not going to be a disabled 50 year old gay man on benefits … you weren’t… should have listened to you – but what could anyone do.. Unstoppable George – once you got something into your head there was no stopping you..

I saw a video of you preaching years ago and didn’t recognise you.. who was that guy.. what made you change.  I only saw one side of you.. and it was a privilege.

You used to say that you should have been a lawyer – well your brain was differently wired up – sort of super charged.. you needed to keep busy… needed to have something to occupy you – a new cause – a new battle to fight – a new injustice to eradicate.

I see white haired skinny guys walking (George bounded) along the street and I think of you…  the world is a less interesting place without you… less colourful .. less chaotic…

You were so many things to a lot of people but to me you were and always will be ‘Good Hearted George’.

George and Julie2

George and one of his support workers, Julie, at a Real summer barbecue


From Rob:

We are all individuals, all unique – George was more individual, more unique.

A colleague, a friend, a force of nature, George had boundless energy and enthusiasm for all that he did. I relied on George for an empathic ear, righteous indignation but, most of all, he was my moral compass.

My first impressions – a cold, frosty winter morning and as I approached the office, I saw this tall, white haired man dressed in fiery red. He was staring at the adjacent door and looking nonplussed. Are you OK? I asked. No! I am supposed to start work here today, no one is answering! I invited him into the office, telling him we could see from there when his new colleagues arrived. He was anxious, edgy but mostly irritated that no one was there at the agreed time. I would later discover George’s penchant for good time keeping! Someone duly arrived and George, bounded off down the adjoining corridor. Irresistible force? Immovable object? I didn’t know which he was going to be, at that time. Turns out he was both ……..

George was more a sum of his parts than most people – his life experiences had molded him into a complex mix of emotive and intuitive responses. You either got George or you didn’t – nothing in the middle.

It was a privilege to know him and when I think about the sadness of that George sized hole in my life, I take comfort in hoping somewhere in the great scheme of things, he will still be giving hell, when needed  …….

Oh and I misquoted Marx in his presence. You only do that once and that is another story   ………….



George having fun at dinner at the home of Barbara, one of Real’s former volunteers

From Lucia:


Man should exceed his grasp, that is what Heaven is for!


You are now up in Heaven for all the good deeds you did down here on Earth.

You went beyond the call of duty for all the people you touched.


Like an angel you were sent Ordained by God.

The mighty Theologian and Orator that you were.

Enshrined in ‘You Tube’ we can see your fervour and dedication to your cause.


You were ‘Real’, the honesty flowed out of you as always.

Through trials and tribulations, which eventually took your life, you were true to your convictions.

Single minded in your purpose, to make a change in this earthly world of ours.

You left a legacy, crumpperly shirts, red trousers and big shoes to fill.

Your humanness you bequeath.


We laugh and are in awe of your spirit, which plays games with us.

A silhouette shadow I saw visiting me before you left.

Travelling chairs, flying files, phone calls from your clients still asking for you.


On this Day of the Disabled, we hold you in esteem.

You made this place a better place and I am sure the Lord has welcomed you with open arms.

You continue to work through our thoughts, ‘That’s what George would do!’. You couldn’t do enough.

God Bless You and Keep you safe.

We miss you Mr. Duff.

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