Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Learning disability campaigner Lord Rix dies

Actor and learning disability campaigner Lord Brian Rix has died at the age of 92. He had been terminally ill.

Lord Rix was president of learning disability charity Mencap. He had begun campaigning for people with learning disabilities after his first child, Shelley, was born with Down’s syndrome in 1951.

As an actor, he was most famous for the ‘Whitehall farce’ comedies, which ran for more than 30 years on TV and on stage. Rix became renowned for his trousers always falling down.

But in later years his campaigning for the rights of people with learning disabilities came to the fore, having been initially spurred on by his horror of finding out that, after Shelley was born, there was no support for people with Down’s syndrome, and being told to put her into an institution.

He became involved in Mencap – then the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults – in the 1960s. He went on to occupy the role of secretary general from 1980 to 1988, then moving on to be chairman from 1988-98 and finally president – a post he held until his death on Saturday [August 20].

After becoming a Lord in 1992 – he was a crossbench peer, so took no political affiliation – he was active in the House and in changing the law for people with disabilities. For instance, in 2006, he worked on the Electoral Administration Bill, which led to people with learning disabilities being able to vote.

In the same year he also introduced amendments to the Childcare Bill, which meant that childcare provision for disabled children was extended from 16 to 18.

He also lobbied for many years on the issue of short breaks for carers – something that became law in 2006.

Lord Rix also voted against the Assisted Dying Bill in 2006 because of worries that people with learning disabilities may become victims of euthanasia. However, in later years, his experience of terminal illness led him to change his position.

In addition, Lord Rix supported the Rix Centre at the University of East London, a charitable research and development centre that explores the use of multimedia technology to help people with learning disabilities.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of Lord Brian Rix’s death,” said Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap. “The thoughts of everyone in the Mencap movement go out to his family at this very difficult time.

“Lord Rix was a beloved colleague and friend to so many people with a learning disability and their families. His passion, zeal and humour will be sorely missed. His tireless campaigning has perhaps done more to improve the lives of people with a learning disability than any other.

“When Lord Rix’s daughter, Shelley, was born with a learning disability he and his wife Elspet were told to put her away, and forget about her. This started a quest lasting over 60 years to make the world a better place for all those with a learning disability.

“He has played a central role in many of the landmark moments for people with a learning disability in recent decades, working as Secretary General, Chairman and later President of Mencap and also in the House of Lords where he worked tirelessly into his 90s.

“His unique charm, personality and passion have been invaluable in helping Mencap grow into the UK ‘s leading learning disability charity, and with his passing the charity has lost a very dear friend.

“Lord Rix made a real difference but there is still so much more to be done. We will not stop until people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and fully included in our society. That would be the most fitting tribute that we could pay to such an extraordinary man.”

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