Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

So Blessed to Have Known Sally

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

So Blessed to Have Known Sally

Article excerpt

Byline: By Barbara Argument Evening Gazette

When Down's Syndrome baby Sally Johnson was born 30 years ago, doctors predicted she would be "the village idiot."

Instead she became a talented artist and an amazing inspiration. BARBARA ARGUMENT hears her story now told in a book.

SECONDS after Sally was born, her mum caressed the fragile bundle of baby and whispered: "Hello, little one."

For Sheila Johnson who had suffered three miscarriages, it was the happiest moment of her life.

Her new daughter was beautiful.

"A face like a flower," she thought.

But then the doctor asked: "Have you noticed anything different about her?"

He told her crisply that Sally probably had Down's Syndrome ( although back in 1974 he didn't use those words.

"We think she's a Mongol," was what he said.

Sheila was warned her longed-for baby would grow up to be the village idiot in North Yorkshire's Thornton-le-Dale.

Not the loving, caring, courageous, brilliant, funny, gutsy, artistic and inspirational girl she became.

In her 25 years of life, she became loved and honoured in her village and beyond.

She was the little girl with the bright face and pebble glasses, selling balloons outside the family cottage.

The teenager who despite callipers and a wheelchair, won a Duke of Edinburgh's Bronze Award and became the first to achieve Mencap's coveted Silver and Gold awards for self-reliance and courage.

She raised more than pounds 250,000 to help others by selling her paintings.

A snowman and holly was used as a charity Christmas card and a North Yorkshire landscape was used on a poster to raise awareness of those with Down's.

It said simply: "This is the work of Sally Johnson.

"She has sold more paintings than Van Gogh.

"She also happens to have Down's Syndrome."

Overnight it turned Sally into a natural ambassador for the British Down's Syndrome Association and others worldwide.

A painting was bought for Number 10 where John Major, then the Prime Minister, said it "expressed the peace and tranquility missing from my busy life."

Sally's story has been turned into a book by Thornaby-born author and family friend Bill Anderson, who lives in her village.

For 15 years she kept a diary, hoping to write a book herself. Now Bill has done that for her. "It was a story that had to be told," he says.

"Her life touched so many people and her courage, talent and achievements continue to inspire parents of Down's Syndrome children all over the world."

When Sally died at the age of 25 in 2000 after years of agonising health problems, the village Methodist church was packed.

No one there knew more than her mum how the girl with a face like a flower had turned tragedy into triumph.

Sheila was happy for Bill, an ex-SAS man, to tell her daughter's story. …

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