It takes a special kind of courage to open the door and invite a reporter and photographer inside to produce a feature about your husband when he is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.
Pat Wilson did not hesitate and for that I will always be personally grateful because an hour or so spent in company with her and husband Ray last year was one of the most uplifting experiences of my professional career.
Ray, whose death was announced on Wednesday by his former clubs Huddersfield and Everton, climbed from his armchair by the TV to greet us with a firm handshake and he bid farewell from the window with a smile and a wave as we pulled out of the drive.
Ray Wilson, the England 1966 World Cup-winning hero, passed away at the age of 83
Wilson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004 but his physical strength survived
In between, he drew pictures and cheerily sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow and barely stopped smiling. Pat reminisced about their life together, during his playing career and after retirement when he worked in the family’s funeral business.
They had recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and football had not long since ended a year of events to mark the 50th anniversary of Ray’s finest moment at Wembley in 1966.
He often chipped into the conversation. Sometimes his words were muddled and his wife would lovingly help or correct him.
Wilson (right of front row) helped England win the World Cup on home soil back in 1966
He famously hoisted Bobby Moore onto his shoulders to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy
Sometimes his comments were even mildly inappropriate and she told him off with a playful tap and he threw back his head and laughed out loud.
Sometimes, though, he made perfect sense, with colourful stories of Bill Shankly and Stanley Matthews. Were they true? Pat shrugged and confessed she had no idea.
Football remained a passion. That much was obvious — and he knew he had achieved something special.
He watched sports on television, and was still a regular in the stands at the John Smith’s Stadium with his eldest son Russell, cheering Huddersfield into the Premier League last year.
The former Huddersfield and Everton man lived in Yorkshire with his remarkable wife Pat
Wilson would have been delighted to know they had survived this season, just as the club where he played for 12 years were thrilled to call Ray one of their own. A pair of his boots are in the boardroom and his name was stitched into one of the kits they wore during the promotion campaign.
His World Cup winners’ medal was auctioned for £80,000 soon after the turn of this century and the proceeds split between his two sons.
Wilson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004 and his mental health slowly deteriorated while his physical strength survived.
He always loved to go walking in the hills with his dogs, Pat explained, although there were times when he might return with unusual objects.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease and a heart-breaking experience for those who see it take its grip on loved ones.
Wilson (right, pictured in the World Cup final) started at left back as England won at Wembley
Wilson (right, pictured tackling Philippe Gondet) was crucial in the 1966 World Cup campaign
Pat is a truly remarkable woman and with the help of her family she tackled the challenge head on, without fuss and nonsense, an approach in keeping with her surroundings in the West Yorkshire countryside.
She was proud of Ray. Not ashamed. They refused to hide away. They fought back against the stigma and social taboos so often associated with dementia in its different forms.
In doing this, they helped to bring it out of the shadows, raise awareness, spread understanding and give confidence to others to go on living and not to let diagnosis be the end of their lives.
(L-R) Roger Hunt, George Cohen, Alan Ball, Wilson and Nobby Stiles with their MBEs in 2000
Pat knew and she stressed it might be difficult for others to be so open because not everyone who has dementia was fortunate enough to live happily with the illness like her husband. She is not one to judge, and refused to criticise football or buy into theories linking dementia to heading the ball.
There was no clear proof as far as she was concerned and, even if there was, that was not going to change anything for her or Ray.
He enjoyed his life in football. Besides, she said, there were women with dementia who had never headed a football in their lives.
Wilson refused to let me leave without giving me one of his sketches. He led me into the kitchen, produced a large back catalogue and we flicked through until settling on one.
Wilson refused to let me leave without giving me one of his black biro sketches last year
Drawn with a black biro on A4 card, it is a symmetrical figure with a vague Inca influence, or is it Mayan? Anyway, it is surrounded by bizarre swimming serpents with heads like swordfish.
‘I often wonder what a psychiatrist would make of them,’ said Pat.
This work of art stands on my bookcase and there it will stay there as a reminder of the time I had the privilege to meet a truly inspirational couple.
Ray Wilson was a world champion, the finest left back of his generation and perhaps one of the best ever.
Yet his legacy will stretch beyond the confines of the football pitch.
Anyone with concerns about dementia should contact the Alzheimer’s Society National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122 or visit www.alzheimers.org.uk.