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The unbelieveable life story of Salford disability campaigner ‘Diamond’ Josie Browne

Friends and family have told the incredible life story of Salford disability campaigner Josephine Anne ‘Josie’ Browne who sadly passed away at the age of 72.

Her funeral takes place at 1pm on Friday 28 August at St Edmonds Church in Little Hulton, before going to Peel Green Crematorium. All are welcome to attend the service.

Close friends and family remembered her for a wicked sense of mordant humour. It was a life partly spent paralysed from her chest to her toes, but still a fuller life than many of us will attain.

Josie was a disability campaigner for most of her life, but she was also a champion of the little guy, the people in need, and those who needed comfort and support.

Hundreds of people touched by the tireless work Josie did throughout her life met left messages of support on this online forum.

Josie became chairwoman of the Salford Disability Forum in 2003 and her legacy is already set.

She pushed the group to take over the Irlam Princes Park Garden Centre, which proved to be a masterstroke in giving people with physical and mental disabilities opportunities to get on-the-job work experience, something which is borderline impossible to find elsewhere.

Read: Tributes paid to Salford ‘shining light and inspiration’ Josie Browne

Born in Prestbury on 28 September 1942, Josie was a ‘normal’ baby, born without disability.

But she contracted polio at the age of just 7, and spent 12 months critically ill in an iron lung, a tank respirator which was used to treat people in the early stages of the disease.

Death was frequent at this stage, as the virus paralyzed muscles in the chest.

Pal Joan Cooper met Josie when they were both inpatients at the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool in 1971.

“They sent her to Ladywell Sanitorum [now demolished – the site of the West One Shopping centre in Eccles].

“The worst part of this was that Josie could hear the doctors talking, so she knew at that very early age that she might die.

“But she never gave up.”

After that she had many problems, including scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and doctors tried multiple surgeries to correct it.

Josie found work at the tender age of 14 as a diamond cutter for industry, with Swinton manufacturing firm Turner and Stott.

“She was one of the few people in Salford who could hand-cut diamonds,” said Joan.

“Even in the snow she used to crawl on her hands and knees to work, she was that committed.”

“She only stopped when she fell out of her wheelchair putting the washing out. That sadly changed everything. until then she could get herself in and out of a chair herself, but she caught an infection in hospital and she ended up with scleroderma, an auto-immune system disorder which causes your hands to mummify.”

In 1971 Joan was undergoing a costoplasty at the same time as Josie, a procedure to remove sections of protruding ribs to help flatten the back after spinal fusion.

“Josie was always up for anything.

“There was this one matron, Sister Bubberlitz (who we called Sister Bubbly), a fearsome woman who wore big black boots you could hear coming down the corridor from miles away. We reckoned her previous employer was the Gestapo she was so strict.

“One time she went out and got smashed with the doctors. When they came back to the hospital late at night Sister Bubbly was on the warpath, so she hid in an alcove behind the lift and the young doctor she was with jumped on a trolley used to transport the deceased.

“Josie was always the life and soul of the ward, even though most of the time she couldn’t get out of bed.

“The tragic thing is that she walked into hospital and came out in a wheelchair.”

Despite all of this, to her friends, Josie seemed indestructible.

“She survived cancer three times,” said Joan.

“Then she was on a plane in Switzerland which crashed on landing.

“And she had a canker on her nose until one of her carer’s dogs bit it off! We nearly wet ourselves laughing about it.

“If you laughed at misfortune she’d join in with you, she was just that kind of person.”

Friend Sharon Hardman, who met Josie in Liverpool in the 1970s, added: “She was one of my best friends.

“She loved to travel, but she didn’t get the opportunity to do that very much in recent years.

“One time she went to Malta with six friends and discovered they’d booked a beautiful beachside hotel – but it was at the top of 30 steps. So her friends took it in turns to put her on their back and carry her up and down to the beach.

“You would do anything for Josie if you got to know her.”

Josie’s talents were clearly prodigious.

She was an advanced motorist, being a leading member of the Salford branch for many years, and was also a non-executive member of Salford Primary Care Trust.

A keen car-lover, she was something of a tomboy growing up.

“She knew a lot about cars and could tell you what to do to fix them, even if she couldn’t get under the bonnet herself.

“She was a very good photographer as well, and could write calligraphy, so everyone wanted her to produce their wedding albums.”

Three months before her death, Josie caught a severe chest infection.

A tracheotomy would be the only thing that would save her life. Doctors told her they would not be able to do it again without taking away her ability to speak.

“I’m sure Josie would not have coped with that,” said Joan. “Josie loved, and lived to talk.”

When she went into Royal Bolton hospital for the final time, she would have her last rites read a staggering nine times.

“She had spent her life helping others, and she had hundreds of friends. We will all miss her terribly,” Joan added.

For the funeral, the family request there are no flowers, instead please make donations to Salford Disability Forum online here.

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.