Kathy Lacy – a woman of huge empathy who inspired thousands
Chief Executive of Changing Faces, Dr James Partridge OBE, writes:
It was with great sadness that I heard of Kathy Lacy’s death last Thursday after she’d been through a series of very difficult health problems. I’d seen her a fortnight ago and she was clearly in agony so it was a mercy.
I first met Kathy at Victoria Station in July 1992 three months after Changing Faces was launched. She had been recommended by a mutual friend who knew I was looking for someone to help me deal with all the enquiries I was receiving and run the workshops we were inventing too.
Kathy was working in health education in London at that time and had, according to my friend, completely mastered her condition – a severe form of Nf1, Neurofibromatosis, which meant that she had what she sometimes referred to as ‘lumps and bumps’ all over her face and body.
Victoria Station was a good choice of venue as it turned out because I could see instantly as I approached her in the coffee shop that she was completely unphased by the reactions of those around her. She greeted me with all the warmth and interest that I soon came to realise were her hallmarks. Despite all the intrusions and bad times she had been through, she had evolved the most wonderful way of seeing the very best in people – and of showing that very directly.
It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to realise that I could work with her – and indeed that I wanted her on the team – as my very first freelancer – and she was soon to become a full-time member of staff, a rock for nearly a decade in what we offered to people and families who contacted us for help. They were looking for someone who understood what they were going through – after the birth of their child, or with their skin condition or facial palsy, or after facial cancer surgery, burns or a car accident. Kathy understood instinctively and intuitively.
Her philosophy of life was a simple one summed up in one of her favourite epithets – and she had lots of them! “The past is gone, the future is yet to come, the present is truly a gift to be enjoyed”… and she passed that on to everyone by osmosis. And her osmosis was extraordinary. People have told me that Kathy could convey her empathy down the phone line like no-one else. Her person-centred approach – she trained with Metanoia and NLP – enabled her to reach people even those in the most serious unhappiness and isolation.
In the first few years, we ran lots of workshops together – and then Kathy ran many on her own. They were always stimulating events bringing people with disfigurements of all kinds together and enabling them, after two intense days, to live life more fully and confidently. People regularly wrote (no email in those days) afterwards thanking her for her kindness and empowerment. She was great one for saying to clients that you have to have tenacity – she had it in spades. Another of her mottos was “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback” and anyone who had a setback – or experienced the kind of intrusions that she knew only too well – was just unable to resist her certainty! Learn from your experience and move on.
In her nine years at Changing Faces before she retired, Kathy touched the lives of many people – and left a lasting legacy in the Client Service we now have which she was so rightly proud to have pioneered.
Kathy, rest in peace, you earned it.
Your tributes to Kathy
Rochelle, a former client:
Twenty-two years ago at the tender age of 24 I had surgery to remove a brain tumor which subsequently left me with a facial palsy. After a year of hiding away I went on a course run by Changing Faces that was lead by Kathy. It was that week that helped me to restart my life. Kathy taught me to walk again with my head held high, a sentiment that I have always tried to live by. Kathy was truly inspirational and although I only spent a number of days with her, I have never forgotten her and will be forever grateful for what she taught me. RIP Kathy Lacy.
Victoria Wright, Changing Faces champion and former staff member:
Very sad to hear this. I didn’t know Kathy very well but was lucky enough to meet her throughout the years. She was such a kind, warm and courageous woman. I never told her this but I looked up to her and hoped one day that I’d be able to live my life with such grace and humanity. RIP Kathy, thank you for making the world a better place xx
Winnie Coutinho, former Changing Faces staff:
Sometimes, someone comes into your life who has a significant impact on it. Kathy was one of these people for me, and I know, for many other colleagues and clients of Changing Faces. Having gone through some tough challenges in her own life, and come out the other side, she lived her life with a positive gusto which was infectious – whilst at the same time never losing her empathy for people who were still in the midst of difficult times. She had that rare ability to see the potential in people and then accompany them on the journey to realising it.
Once she had decided that you were her friend, she was loyal to the end, and would stand up to anyone who even threatened to hurt you! I was lucky enough to be called her friend and she saw the wonder of me and I certainly knew the wonder of her. One birthday, she gave me a beautiful marble design covered booklet with her trademark calligraphy: “People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the oceans, at the circular motions of the stars and yet, they pass by themselves, without wondering… (St Augustine)”. For her, it was people that mattered more than anything else.
Alison Partridge, former Changing Faces trustee:
One of the last bits of conversation I had with Kathy was at a CF annual do when she was suggesting that in a ‘good portrait’ the subject was always looking at you – even if they were looking the other way – there’s was a connection, a twinkle in the eye that reached you. I remember this whenever I go to portrait exhibitions – and I think she’s right – but it probably says more about her actually – she made the connection.
Lorna Renooy, former Changing Faces staff:
I worked with Kathy for a short time prior to her retirement from Changing Faces. As part of my steep ascent on the Changing Faces learning curve, I undertook to learn as much as I could from her. This was no small feat! Kathy possessed a wealth of knowledge and life skills. Fortunately for me and many others, she shared openly with wit and wisdom. It was a privilege to sit alongside her in workshops and observe her empathy and positivity in action. Her grace and kindness will be missed.
Lisa, a former client:
So sorry to hear this news. I met Kathy a few times. She was always very friendly, open and welcoming when I visited the London offices. A very sad loss for the Changing Faces family. Lxxx
Lizzie, a former client:
So sorry to hear this sad news. Kathy was a lovely lady who really helped me through a difficult time. xx
Eveline, a former client:
Kathy was the first person I made contact with during a workshop years ago. She was very kind to me and helped me move forward into accepting myself. With her help I regained self esteem and confidence to find work and move into a productive life. I am very grateful that I knew her.
David Bird, Changing Faces champion:
Kathy was such a lovely caring lady. I had met her several times over the years of being involved with Changing Faces. She will be dearly missed by everyone. Our thoughts go out to all her family and friends.
Helen, a former client:
Oh that’s so sad. I contacted Changing Faces many years ago when I was in my twenties, I’m 42 now. I attended Kathy’s workshops and met her one to one. She was a beautiful soul and such a happy person. I learnt so much from those times and Kathy helped me to realise my worth! (We were all a bit star struck on one course when James came and ate lunch with us. Lovely memories.) She will be deeply missed but I am sure she has touched the hearts of many others. Always a smile for everyone.
Rest in peace Kathy.
Kapil, Changing Faces champion:
Shocked to hear the news. Kathy was the first person I met at Changing Faces.
Jane Frances, Changing Faces staff member:
When I arrived at Changing Faces in 1998 for the first day of my new job, it was Kathy Lacy who opened the door. I quickly got the picture – friendly and welcoming, and ferociously busy. Kathy delivered the Changing Faces adult service pretty much single-handedly, with one appointment after another all day every day. Workshops too, of course. Sometimes face to face, mostly by phone, Kathy was passionately committed to understanding, supporting and enabling each individual client to feel better about themselves as a person, to take control, and to sort out whatever it was that needed sorting out. In between clients Kathy paused only to write up her notes, and then the next person… Lunch at desk.
On one occasion, Kathy astonished us with a delighted, triumphant whoop as she replaced the receiver after a call. So we gathered round to hear how a client with a severe disfigurement had just phoned to let her know that the tribunal had found against the doctor whose notes had dismissed Kathy’s client’s social difficulties as something he or she just imagined. With Kathy’s expert input the tribunal had required a doctor’s ill-informed and harmful notes to be deleted from the client’s medical record. Within a couple of minutes Kathy, of course, was back at her desk getting on with the next client. She didn’t waste time celebrating. Her work-rate was phenomenal. And all this was sandwiched between a grueling commute involving, as I recall, two buses and a train each way.
Retirement would surely be a challenge for such an inveterate worker. So quite soon we were invited to Farningham for an evening fundraising event consisting of poetry recitals and an excellent buffet. Very well attended, terrific atmosphere, very successful – all proceeds to Changing Faces. Even at a fairly recent birthday lunch, Kathy’s growing tendency to be subdued and sometimes confused fell right away when we got onto talking about face equality and Changing Faces.
If heaven wasn’t displaying our lovely new Respected posters when Kathy arrived, she will surely have resolved that omission by now.
If you would like to add your tribute to our website, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read other tributes on our Facebook page.
Dr James Partridge OBE is Chief Executive of Changing Faces. Viewpoint represents the views of the author and not necessarily of Changing Faces, its staff or trustees.
This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of Viewpoint, Changing Faces’ monthly email for supporters. Sign up here.