Peace Centre Founder Wendy Parry OBE reflects on how the death of her son in the IRA bombing of Warrington Town Centre in 1993, led to her becoming a campaigner for peace and reconciliation.
International Women’s Day 2022: Edge Hill University and the Institute for Social Responsibility present four women who had greatness ‘thrust upon them’, to become accidental campaigners, activists and politicians. Stemming from tragedy, abuse, or happenstance we look the impact these women have made, and what we can learn from them. In this blog piece we learn how Wendy Parry OBE turned tragedy into opportunity for peace and reconciliation.
Wendy Parry OBE
People may say that losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through, well take it from me, it’s true!
The day the Irish Republican Army (IRA) came to Warrington is etched in my mind in every little detail and it’s a day that changed our family life forever.
On March 20th, 1993, our day started as any other Saturday. Our children were going off to meet their friends and then going into town to buy Mother’s Day cards which was the following day, Colin and I were going to Manchester to see my parents. Little did we know that a very cold but lovely sunny spring morning would turn into a nightmare which felt like it would never end.
We didn’t have the radio on when we drove home from my parents and only found out what had happened in Warrington town centre when we saw the neighbours discussing what they had heard on the news. We ran into the house and started ringing our children’s friends to see if Dominic, Tim, and Abbi were there. Dominic and Abbi were fine, but Tim was still in town and his friend’s grandmother told me that they had been caught up in the bombing and had been taken to Warrington hospital. We drove to the hospital and spent what seemed like hours trying to find Tim.
Tim was stood next to the bin which exploded and took the full force of the bomb. We didn’t think he would survive the night, but he did, and the next 5 days on a life support machine. On the Wednesday morning, after more tests, the doctor told us there was no hope for Tim and we should think about turning off his support. The doctors’ words were hard to process but it was even harder to imagine turning off Tim’s support and losing him forever. On March 25th we all said our goodbyes and our happy family of 5 became 4.
Thankfully, we have never experienced anger, perhaps because we knew it would not help our family and it would never bring Tim back to us, so we spent the next 18 months trying to keep our family life as normal as we could for the sake of our other two children. The last thing we wanted was for their lives to be ruined by Tim’s death and for them to be distracted from their education by the incessant media attention that the bombing attracted.
It was 2 years after the bombing that we set up a charity in Tim’s name, and the other little boy who died on the day of the bombing, which we called The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation. Seven years after the bombing we opened a Peace Centre in Warrington, also named after the boys.
What makes people do the things they do is not always clear. In our case, I think it was just instinct; to do something in the boys’ names to ensure they would be remembered for something good, rather than something evil. However, I could never have imagined setting up a charity, or appearing on TV or meeting the Royal Family and senior Politicians; but doing all these things was the catalyst to keeping our son’s name alive.
We have always looked forward and tried to do things to make a brighter future by helping to make people’s lives better.
All the Foundation’s work is based around conflict resolution. Our portfolio of projects, resources, and services have three core components: prevention, resolution, and response.
In prevention we seek to stop violence before it starts, however when conflict does arise, we seek its resolution through dialogue and action without resorting to violence, but when violent conflict does occur, we are there to respond, and to help those affected to cope and recover. Our aim is to break the cycle of violence.
Despite all of this – I see my biggest achievement as keeping Tim‘s name alive. He could so easily have been just another statistic on the body count of those killed in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.
Many thousands of people have been helped by the Foundation’s work, and we are grateful that our efforts have been recognised.
My husband and I have both received an OBE and the prestigious Rotary International Award for ‘World Understanding and Peace’ in Japan in 2004. Needless to say, these awards motivate us to go on and do more which eases the burning desire to have what we can’t have…our son back home.
I hope our legacy will be that we kept going no matter what was put in our way and no matter how many people thought we wouldn’t succeed. I hope that when we are no long around, the Peace Centre will continue to carry Tim’s name and he will be remembered as the young boy who made a difference.