Dr Penelope Anne Brooks 1st February 1961 – 6th November 2006

My dear sister Penny passed away on 6th November 2006 after fighting valiantly against Multiple Sclerosis (MS), for over 20 years. MS is a disease which attacks the central nervous system and interferes with the messages the brain passes to the rest of the body along the neurons because it causes scarring to these.

Penny’s first degree was in Physiology at University College, London. She then went on to do a PhD in Neurophysiology at St George’s Hospital. Despite being diagnosed with MS at the start of her PhD in 1984, Penny went on to gain her qualification. Ironically much of Penny’s research had been into the effects of MS on the brain.

Penny worked at various high-profile institutions including long periods at The National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Washington DC and Chicago Hope Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and University College, London. She also gave presentations and lectures in Canada, the USA, the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

Details of Penny’s research into the brain, which she pioneered, are available on the PubMed website. Just enter www.pubmed.gov and search under the name Brooks PA. Colleagues at Penny’s funeral told us that her work is still being used with physiology students today.

Despite being diagnosed with MS in 1984, Penny continued to work up until 1996, when problems with her walking made the journey into work impossible. Her last post was senior lecturer in Neurophysiology at University College, London, where she also conducted post-doc research and supervised PhD students.

In 1996, Penny reluctantly began to use a wheelchair. Her marriage to Ray Lo in 1998 and their move to a bungalow in Potters Bar helped her cope with her condition, but her quality of life was beginning to suffer. She developed tremors in her arms and legs and her eyesight began to deteriorate. Despite this, Penny remained resolutely cheerful and we all admired her enormously.

In the summer of 2006, Penny developed serious kidney problems whilst in an MS respite centre. Her condition gradually deteriorated and the doctors at Barnet Hospital were unable to save her. My father, Penny’s husband Ray and I were with her every day. At one point, early on, Penny rallied. There were just the two of us and I had a wonderful hour with her where I made her laugh and giggle and was able to tell her how much I loved her and how proud she’d always made me.

Penny’s wish had always been to donate her body to medical research. Unfortunately Barnet Hospital, where she passed away, did not have a licence to do this and Penny’s last wish was not granted. Penny’s husband Ray informed the BBC and this story was shown on BBC News 24. As a result of Ray’s perseverance, Barnet Hospital has now got a licence and the MS Society took this matter up with the Ministry of Health. We have been informed that all hospitals in the UK now have the required licence.

My father, Penny's husband Ray and I all want to keep Penny's memory alive. I am donating 5% of my net earnings from sales of my Real Lives, Real Listening books to the MS Society. Meanwhile my father is doing his bit by releasing prints of his paintings. (see the section My father, the artist)

I used to visit Penny most Fridays and her passing has left a huge gap in my life. I am trying to fill this with work, but I miss her terribly, as do all her friends and family.

  Richard Cauldwell of SpeechInAction shares my enthusiasm for using recordings of authentic speech:
  Meanwhile my good friends
Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald specialise in training students to analyse short segments of authentic speech: