Writing, life, politics

Joanne Pullan 1970-2011

Last Thursday, at a loud and chaotic Euston station, I received a phone call from my wife to tell me that our friend Joanne Pullan had died the previous evening. Jo had been found collapsed in a park by a bystander, after suffering an asthma attack while walking to the shops. She was taken to Lewisham General Hospital, but was declared dead there.

At the time, then, I could scarcely comprehend the words my wife was saying. As I type these words, now, nearly a week later, it’s still no easier to accept that she’s gone. To lose anyone is hard; but to lose someone whose entire second half of their life was yet to be lived, is harder, doubly so when it’s to a cause that seems both trivial and preventable.

(Of course, it’s not trivial, as Jo’s death so tragically demonstrates. Asthma kills. If any good can come of her passing then it will be from people reading these words, and the many others that will be written about her, and treating asthma with more fear, and respect, than they had previously done so.)

My wife and I are going to miss Jo tremendously, not because she was perfect, but because of the ways in which she wasn’t. How could I describe Jo? There are as many ways to describe her as there are days in the year, but the words that come to mind now are that she was often mad and frequently exasperating, but always fun, engaging, warm and compassionate. Some people live life with its accelerator mashed down hard against the foot-well, careering through corners in a manner likely to cause a certain degree of consternation in those friends and family following on behind. Jo was one of those people.

Jo was my wife’s friend before she became mine. They met in the early part of the last decade when they both worked for the League against Cruel Sports and having become firm friends (my wife described Jo as her “vegan sister”), they stayed in close contact as their professional lives moved on.

After working for Leonard Cheshire Disability and Médecins Sans Frontières, Jo ended up at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, where she worked in fund-raising. Unlike my wife, I never worked with Jo, but I know she was very highly thought of, with her charm, intelligence, diligence and professionalism being the perfect tools for persuading people to donate generously to the organisations she represented.

Animal welfare was a cause close to Jo’s heart, as her choice of employers indicates. If someone close to her had an elderly cat that needed rescuing, it would usually end up with Jo. And she was a devoted step-mum to our own little four-pawed bundle of canine joy.

But when I think of Jo and animals, it’s her dog, Claude, who I think of. Claude was Jo’s closest companion for all of the years in which I knew her, and she doted on him. He might have had four paws and a flat nose, but he was very much her little baby, and this showed in the dedication she displayed when facing the health problems with which he suffered over the last years of his life.

Claude suffered not only from diabetes, but a number of other ailments. Keeping him on four paws was neither a cheap nor easy undertaking. He required twice daily injections of insulin, made harder by the fact that he also suffered from – as one vet put it – “small dog syndrome”. Add to this pills, inhalers and operations to restore his eyesight, and you had a monthly bill of significant proportions. But it was a bill that Jo never hesitated to pay. When Claude finally reached the end of his time on this world a few months ago, Jo was devastated. But sad as his passing was, it at least means he’s not faced with a life without his mummy.

Jo had an eye for taste and style apparent even to someone such as myself, universally acknowledged as something of a style desert. She always looked good, even on those occasions where she was convinced she didn’t. And each of her homes were not so much decorated as designed. Where the rest of us might think in terms of what colour to paint the walls, Jo would see a room as one big art, craft and design project.

This didn’t involve lots of money When it came to decorating a home, Jo could make a budget stretch further than anyone I know, although being Jo, that budget would still be slightly larger than the sum of money she had available. She had an eye not only for a bargain, but for a bargain that with a bit of work, a sand, a repaint, or a replacement cover, could be transformed into something fabulous. She was a demon ebayer, buying and selling, although I fear half the things she was selling were things she had previously bought. My wife would often return from a visit to Jo’s with a story of finding a new sofa or bed or floor, justified by the previous one being slightly too big, or too small, or just the wrong shade of whatever. (The story’s telling would usually end with an exasperated cry of, “But there was nothing wrong with the old sofa/bed/floor/curtains/rug/house!”)

I met Jo before I met my wife, at a London Vegans event, which she’d attended with Paivi, a mutual friend of hers and Jules. It was entirely down to those two that I met my wife. Thinking I might be right for their friend, they arranged for us to meet at a small party hosted by Paivi. It all came from that: dating, moving in, getting married.

I couldn’t say that I own Jo everything, but I owe her and Paivi my wife and soulmate, and if that isn’t everything then it’s not far off it. Initially, Jo was my wife’s friend and I was her friend’s other half. But gradually, imperceptibly, and with what I’d like to think was the ease that marks all true friendships, Jo became my friend too, and I’m pretty sure I became hers.

That Jules and I are going to miss her terribly is a truth so obvious it scarcely needs saying, but some truths deserve to be spoken, and this is one of them. Jo was not a person to pass though a person’s life unnoticed. She occupied a place in my wife’s life and she occupied a place in mine, and in her passing she leaves a Jo shaped hole in both of those lives.

We’re going to miss her terribly, and while time will blur the edges of that hole it will always remain, a gap in what could have been, and a missing part of what should have been. Jo might have gone before we were blessed with the children she so wanted us to have, but if time does bless us with those children they’ll grow up knowing about their Auntie Joanne. We will never forget her.

Jules and I were apart when we heard the news, she with her mother in Yorkshire, and myself travelling to Eastercon (the British National Science Fiction convention). My first thought was that I should abandon Eastercon and head to Kings Cross to get myself on a train to Leeds. But Jules told me to stay at Euston and head for the convention. Eastercon was where I needed to be if I wanted to meet with agents, writers and the people who will hopefully end up buying my books. She reminded me that Jo had always been one of my writing career’s biggest supporters, always urging me to stay confident, always declaring her conviction that I would one day make it big. She told me to go, that it was what Jo would have wanted.

I was originally going to stay at Eastercon until Tuesday morning, and then head straight to work, finally meeting up with my wife on the Tuesday evening. But we altered our plans so that Jules picked me up from the convention on the Monday afternoon and we drove home together.

That evening, really for no reason other than wanting something to take her mind off things, Jules got onto the web in search of the new kitchen table she’s been unsuccessfully searching for over the last couple of months. She found something on Gumtree that looked perfect, and having texted the owner and received a reply, we found ourselves driving over there to take a look at it.

On the way, Jules asked me if I thought we were doing the right thing. We didn’t actually need a new table, and this perhaps wasn’t the best time for us to be making decisions. Maybe we should check around a bit more, she said, and see what else was out there, or perhaps just stick with the one we had?

I only needed a moment to consider what she’d said, because the answer was clear. What better way was there to remember Jo than for us to make an impulse purchase of a table we didn’t actually need?

After all, it was exactly what she would have done.


  1. Bubba

    Well said… We’ll miss her too.

  2. Plantarian

    Speechless! Makes no sense. Totally unfair.

  3. Jay

    I’ll miss her – very sad to hear the news just a few minutes ago. She was a wonderful human being helping animals, people and a supportive friend.

  4. Fiona

    I was given the terribly sad news by Joanne’s director yesterday and I am still in shock after only meeting Joanne for a work’s lunch and catch up last Wednesday. Joanne was so bright and bubbly and we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch chatting about her cats and her love of art and how she was going to work on her mosaic at home. We compared our fitness regimes as Joanne excitedly told me she had joined a gym and I even offered to run for PETA which Joanne was thrilled about especially when she told me that she had the perfect costume to promote awareness of the charity she loved being a ‘lettuce’ dress! After lunch and I returned to the office I searched the internet for pictures of this dress and had to email Joanne my concern of wearing lettuce leaves and them wilting in the sunshine!
    So now in memory of Joanne and in support for PETA I WILL run a half marathon this year and although not 100% sure of the costume I know Joanne will be smiling down on me cheering me on.
    Rest in peace Joanne x

    If anyone would like me to send my fundraising link later in the year please e-mail me direct at fiona@persula.org and I will keep you posted!

  5. Jane Feagan

    Hi, I used to work with Jo at the League about 8 years ago and we kept in contact via facebook in the later years and I was so happy to see she had found someone to share her life with, her photos were so nice to see, she seemed happy and settled. I saw her at the animal aids christmas fayre and we caught up and she said how things had turned around for her. Then last week a few odd emails from various ex-lacs colleagues came through with this terrible, shocking, sad news and none, knew anymore than what they had ‘heard’ I have searched for answers and just typed in her name into google and found this, so now I know what happened. I did email Jules via fb as i knew they were great friends. I cannot believe that a young woman can die from asthma like that, I remember her suffering with it but she always carried her inhaler, maybe it was the heat we have had recently which in turn created smog? I dont know, my mind races wanting answers.
    I am glad she had some nice friends in you and the others above and my thoughts are with you and her family.

  6. Yvonne Crossley

    Hi, I shared an office at the League with Joanne (and claude!) for a couple of years and am so shocked and sad to be reading this. As you said above she could be mad and a tad exasperating, but she was also one of the kindest and warmest people i have had the pleasure of meeting and was a big influence on my life back then (i learnt alot about men from joanne!)
    It doesnt seem that long ago that we were down the Clyde with neale.
    I hadn’t seen her in several years, but i’m glad to hear that she was happy. Thank you for writing such a lovely article on her. It made me cry a bit but also smile at the memory of her.

    Kindest regards


  7. Kathy

    Totally in shock – I worked with Jo at Leonard Cheshire and stayed in touch after we left. We were the 2 ‘mad’ vegans. Our paths crossed career wise when I joined WSPA and Jo started at PETA, we emailed each other and exchanged animal rights updates. She was always determined to do all she could for animals and made the best Vegan chocolate cake! An inspiring, cheery and beautiful person we have lost her too young!

  8. Nikki Parker (nee Osborne)

    Thank you so much for this. I heard the terrible news about Jo last night and did a search to be rewarded (albeit somewhat sadly) with your wonderful post.

    I was at primary school with Jo and had been friends with her since we were 9. Having only walked past her old house in Braintree the other week and pointing out to my husband that it was my friend Jo’s parents house – they were the four J’s – John, Jean, Jane and Joanne.

    Having lost touch with her for about the last 20 years other than through Facebook, your post was so lovely to read – to know what she did in those last years. So thank you again, and this will be a lovely thing for me to share with other schoolfriends.

  9. Nikki Parker (nee Osborne)

    I should add that as a child, teenager & young woman Jo was always a wonderful friend. Very funny – with a wicked laugh. My dad adored her and she him – that was Jo.

    My friend reminded me though that Jo had always been a terrible asthma sufferer – and as you wrote, it’s tragic that something so apparently “trivial and preventable” as you said, has caused her to go so young.

    I’ll be digging out the old photos of her, although the memories are still strong in my mind and came flooding back as I tried to sleep last night – wonderful memories of a wonderful Jo. All good, nothing bad – that was Jo.

    Heartfelt thoughts go out to her family & friends. Gone, but never forgotten Jo. xx

  10. Jessamy Barker

    Another friend of Jo’s from the League years back. She was so vital, always a reassuring presence. All my love and thoughts to her family and loved ones. Thank you for writing this, and posting such lovely photos. RIP Jo xxx

  11. Colette Short

    Many thanks for posting this. I am an old school friend and always had fun with Jo at school. We lost touch after school and found each other again via Friends reunited about 10 years ago. We had some great nights out which involved plenty of laughter and wine. She was such a fun loving, compassionate girl who will be missed by many. We lost touch again in the last few years but as I saw on Facebook she had finally found someone to share her life with which was great. thoughts go out to her family and friends at this very sad time. X

  12. Nick West

    Jo and I shared a life togther for 5 wonderful years which I will never forget! She was and is the most amazing woman I have ever known and although not ‘an item’ for some time we had always remained in touch.
    The news of her passing is devestating beacuse she was so full of energy,vitality and fun..and she will be missed by so many..not only human,but animal too!
    My thoughts are with John,Jean and Jane at this time..she’s gone but will never ever be forgotten. x

  13. Jonny Nexus

    Hi everyone, Jonny here, who wrote this blog piece. I just want to say thanks for all the comments. My wife and I have read them all and very much appreciate them.

  14. Jules Howliston

    Thanks darling for a beautiful tribute to Jo. xx

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