Bitter Sweet: Dr Jim Duff

Let me introduce myself, I’m a retired doctor (GP) and a mountaineer. As a climbing doctor I took part in, or led, several Himalayan expeditions including two new routes on Mount Everest (first British ascent in 1975, first Australian ascent 1984). I’ve spent four decades working, teaching and volunteering in Nepal and started the IPPG (International Porter Protection Group), a charity that works for the safety of mountain porters.

I find it exquisitely personal and painful to write what follows. That it’s taken me so long to do so is unforgiveable and I offer my sincere apologies to Jac’s sisters and friends.

That I have to write the following is a serious indictment of Perrin’s judgement and character in writing “West”, at least around the events concerning his relationship with Jac, and a testament to the pain and grief he has caused many good people.

What and why do I have anything to add to this sorry tale? Just that I was Jac’s first love and the father of our baby whom we put up for adoption. That decision was made after prolonged, intense and painful debate, and is only understandable in the condemnatory and shaming social context of the time.

The adoption was a huge mistake, an unplanned pregnancy becomes a living, breathing, beautiful child, and the subsequent pain of loss, guilt and shame is unbearable. We both suffered, as did our relationship, and I can only imagine how much more intense Jac’s suffering was, compared to mine.

Having concealed the pregnancy, we never told anyone for many years as Jac and I drifted apart. We never lost contact, or our love for each other, and occasionally met up as the decades passed. Some 15 or 20 years later Jac agreed I could start looking for our daughter. Which I did, with no result, initially…

As you can see from the well documented blog, much of what is written in Perrin’s book about Jac is a tissue of lies.

Here is my contribution, verifiable facts that can be compared with the book.

First Love.  Jac and I met  when we were sixteen and our relationship only foundered on our shared grief around the adoption. That it was a happy and loving affair is attested by the continued love and respect I have from Jac’s sisters and children; and that Jac rang me the night before she died. I was the last person to speak to her.

Verbal Abuse.  I knew Perrin on the climbing scene in Liverpool in the late 60s. After uni I hardly saw him again until decades later when he and Jac visited my wife and me at home for a meal. This was the early days of their relationship and I was delighted to catch up with Jac who seemed happy and carefree. A few days after that meal, a distressed Jac called me and described how, soon after leaving us that night, Perrin had pulled over into a lay-by and verbally and emotionally assaulted her for “not showing enough affection to him in front of [me]”. I was appalled and concerned, sharing this news with my wife. Jac also shared this traumatic event with her sisters.

Events Round Jac’s Death.  The night before Jac died, she rang me at around 10.45pm (as witnessed by my wife). She was obviously heavily sedated but we talked for over an hour. She was in no pain and said that as soon as she was allowed out she “going home to tidy up [her] studio”. It was not apparent that she was so close to death, and it was the last time she spoke to anyone.

Early next morning I got a call from one of her sisters to say Jac was dying and I drove to the hospital and joined the family (the sister who lives in Wales, and her son; the sister who lives in Yorkshire, and her son; the sister who lives in Suffolk; Jac’s daughter with her boyfriend and his mother and father) who had all gathered there. Here is my account, witnessed by the family, which is worth comparing with that in Perrin’s book.

Jac still had her intravenous (IV) lines in, so I took them out. Everyone was calm but tearful, standing and sitting around her bed; talking, and going in and out. I knew Jac was of a Buddhist persuasion so I explained how a Buddhist would like to have a calm and loving atmosphere around them at their death.

There was distress but it was quiet tears, and talking. At one point we all went to a next door room where I suggested that Jac might want us to debrief here and have a cry, but sit quietly when in her room for as long as the hospital would allow us to do so.

This felt much better and a couple of hours passed in a calm atmosphere. Then Perrin turned up. He entered Jac’s room and, with a howl of distress, threw himself across her body and started kissing her on the lips. At that point the family, who by this time had a very sour relationship with Perrin having witnessed his treatment of Jac and her children, left the room. Not long afterwards one of her sisters returned to find Perrin sitting by Jac’s bed, a newspaper spread across her body, calmly reading it…

Jac’s Funeral.  I was invited to speak by Jac’s children, as “her first love”. There were many people at the crematorium which was packed. Her children gave a moving eulogy, one of her sisters read a poem, friends spoke feelingly and Perrin also spoke. After the wickerwork coffin had been lowered to the furnace room I took her eldest son down to remove the attached balloons and watch the coffin enter the flames. Everyone moved outside, no one spoke to Perrin other than a couple of his climbing friends, as he stood off to one side.

There is just one bright ray of light to end this sorry tale…

Some 18 months after Jac died, my wife was checking our email and called out “it seems like your daughter has turned up”. That our beautiful daughter missed her mother by such a short time is one of life’s grim ironies.

Writing that even now, years later, still brings tears to my eyes. Back then I went into melt down. For some weeks afterwards I learnt you could bawl your head off, and laugh out loud at the same time.

A month later I met our daughter finding much in common; her love of mountains, wild places and craft beer. We spent a wonderful week together and when I flew home across the Atlantic I found she had written the following in my diary:

“Thanks for coming! Means so much to me!
Loved you forever, love you more now (if it’s possible).
Can’t wait to be with you again!
And meet you and yours.”

I’m awfully sorry Perrin, but love does conquer all…

Dr James MacGregor Duff.  MB. ChB.  B.Sc.