Roch Maher – An Appreciation
Champion of motor neurone disease awareness and campaigner for assisted dying
‘June 16th, 2009 I was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I thought I was going to die within the year. In time my breathing started to be affected and now I sleep with a ventilator which helps me to breathe...”
So begins Roch Maher’s testimony in the short film My Last Vote (2015), available to watch on the internet.
Roch Francis Mary Maher was born in Dublin, the sixth of seven children, to Lorcan and Mary (nee Bennett) Maher, on November 27th, 1961. He grew up in Clontarf and, as a young man, worked in the Sunset House in Summerhill, where his father was publican.
He studied business studies at Trinity College Dublin, where as secular-minded president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, he met his future wife and organised “painting parties” decorating homes and children’s events. He left with a bachelor’s degree (honours) and moved to London in September 1988.
Deirdre Malone joined him four months later and they married in 1990.
Roch joined the housing department at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.
On one occasion while duty officer for the out-of-hours hotline, he had to alert the police about a suspicious lorry spotted under the Westway flyover. It was the time of the Troubles and inexplicably his soft southern Irish accent rang alarm bells at the other end.
He rose to become an independent statutory review officer specialising in adjudicating on housing decisions. After his diagnosis, he continued to spend part of his education allowance keeping up to date with changes in housing legislation.
He was an active supporter of the defeated Assisted Dying Bill on September 11th, 2015 – ironically the same date legislators in California approved their physician-assisted dying law. He was quoted in a Mirror article alongside Dignity In Dying’s actor-patron Patrick Stewart and lent his face to their campaign poster. He remained resolutely committed to Dignity in Dying’s campaigning in Britain to give terminally ill, mentally competent people the opportunity and right to pre-plan their deaths. He passionately supported Noel Conway’s Appeal Court challenge against the ban on assisted dying.
He died on April 25th, 2018.
In My Last Vote he voices his concerns about his declining health. His fear that he would lose his voice never came about. He remained lucid and able to speak until the end. He wrote, “Yesterday was better than today – is better than tomorrow. Living a not so bog standard MND life. Many reasons for regret but I also know how lucky I am.”
Later in 2018 Roch will figure in a Channel 4 documentary series about life transitions, presented by Grayson Perry.
Roch Maher is survived by his wife Deirdre, their children Katherine and Thomas, his sisters Marianne and Laura and brothers, Mairt, Patrick, Eoin and Lorcan.