In a poignant tribute to the life of her owner, guide dog Daphne will walk before the casket of paralympic gold medalist Jim Muirhead.
Forfar-born Jim had a staggering 13 medals from his competitive swimming career – five of them gold.
The former Madras College student who lost his sight at 16, lived most of his life in Newport before a career in physiotherapy saw him move south of the border.
Now, as his wife Angie and son Drew prepare to say a final farewell to the one they describe as relentlessly positive, we look back on the life of the man who remains Scotland’s most successful visually impaired paralympian.
Belmont Swimming Club in Dundee
James Muirhead, better known as Jim, was born on September 21, 1953 in Forfar.
His father, John worked for the forestry commission and his mother Sheila (nee McIntosh) ran the Glen Doll Youth Hostel where Jim and sister Lindsey first lived.
Both mum and dad were excellent swimmers – a talent passed on to both children.
Age 10, Jim joined Dundee’s Belmont swimming club.
A house move to Newport allowed him to attend Madras College in St Andrews after Newport Primary School.
Olympic hopes dashed
Although he had issues with his vision from a young age it was only when he reached 16 that he lost sight fully in one eye, and then later in the other.
The cause – detached retinas and glaucoma – meant that Jim had to curtail his swimming training with the prospective British Olympic team.
The Munich Games of 1972 had been his target and he pinned his hopes on surgery to correct his vision.
When the operation was unsuccessful he could have given up swimming.
Paralympic opportunity beckoned
Angie, Jim’s wife, said: “Jim always looked on the bright side – he was forever positive and upbeat.
“Even the complete loss of his eyesight was met with the same optimism; which led to the offer of training with the paralympic team.”
After school Jim moved to London to train as a physiotherapist.
A move more inspired by what he was able to do as a blind person, rather than what he wanted to do, it became a career he loved.
In a 55-year career he would eventually retire from his job as a back pain specialist.
Coming to terms with being blind
Before Jim moved to London he attended classes at the Royal School for the Blind in Fife.
“Learning how to live as a blind person is something most of us never have to think about, but I do think it prepared Jim for living the full, wonderful life that he went on to have,” added Angie.
Making use of the local facilities Jim worked at Greenwich Hospital but swam in the 50m pool at Crystal Palace.
“I actually met Jim through both using the same pool. Although he was considerably faster than I was.
“I was 33 and we just clicked right away.
“His blindness was irrelevant to our relationship. We just knew we were made for each other.”
Success on and off the podium
Angie (nee Tevenan) was a primary school teacher and in 1996 the pair wed in Woolwich Register Office with three-year-old son Drew alongside.
By the time Angie and Jim met and ‘completely fell in love’ Jim’s competing days were over.
Between the 1976 Toronto Games and the New York Olympics in 1984 he had amassed five gold, five silver and three bronze medals.
Never one to boast
Despite being Scotland’s most successful paralympic athlete Jim was never one to shout about his achievements.
“There will be people at Jim’s funeral who won’t have known he was such a successful swimmer. He never shouted about it.
“He was so modest,” said Angie.
This was evidenced when Jim was invited to carry the Olympic torch across Tower Bridge.
While most people would have told the world Jim was concerned he’d let Angie down by cutting their holiday a day short to say yes to to the honour.
“That’s just what Jim was like. We still have the silver torch in our conservatory.”
Physiotherapy and training
Jim received Sports Personality of the Year in 1974 and officially qualified as a physiotherapist in 1975 .
He returned to Scotland in 1976 to work in Dundee.
With his parents coaching him he soon received word to attend Stoke Mandeville for Paralympic trials.
Jim was selected for the 1976 Toronto Games winning two gold medals for the 4×100 individual medley, and two silver medals for the 100m freestyle and 100m back stroke.
In 1978 after resigning from his job in Dundee he travelled to the USA for three months but by 1979 it was clear that universities in America couldn’t support a visually impaired athlete.
He headed back to London to work at Greenwich hospital, and started training with Saxon Crown Swimming Club spending two-and -a-half hours every day in the pool.
While living and working in London Jim also got the first of four guide dogs, the last of which was Daphne, a labrador retriever.
Jim had the honour of teaching his own son to swim – even though Drew was more interested in football.
The family remained close and provided close-knit support following Jim’s prostate cancer diagnosis six-and-a-half years ago.
“Until then I had never known Jim to ever go to a doctor.
“So when he booked himself an appointment I knew, with his medical head, that he thought something was wrong.”
But even with a grueling cancer battle to contend with Jim always pointed the spotlight away from himself onto others.
“Jim was always such a giving person. Even on the worst days if someone asked him how he was he’d say, ‘I’m okay… and how are you?’
“He was always more interested in others than he was himself. ”
He got his final wish
Jim had always wanted his body to be donated to medical research.
“We had tried everything for Jim, but when the cancer began to spread we realised it wasn’t going to work for him.
“The blessing in disguise was learning that his body could then be used to help others following his death.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the NHS for making this happen.”
Final few months
In his final years Jim continued to live a simple life visiting friends and family, walking his dog and swimming – until the month before his death.
But the biggest surprise was the early birth of the couple’s first grandchild Albie James Muirhead on May 13th.
“Jim loved babies so when we found out Drew and Lucy were pregnant we were thrilled.
“Albie coming early was obviously a worrying time but with hindsight it was a blessing because Jim got that precious time and was able to form a bond with his grandson.”
A wee dram for Jim
After a devastating decline in his final two weeks towards the end of October, Jim passed away aged 68 with his wife Angie and sister, Lindsey by his side.
Sharing stories and having a dram in his honour, Jim was looking forward to ‘the next chapter.’
His regular pool, Charlton Lido, is planning on erecting a plaque and a photo to remember him by.
His funeral will involve the telling of his life story by six people including Drew, and his procession will be led by guide dog Daphne.
Godson Kris, nephews James and Sean will join Drew in carrying his casket.
Stop All The Clocks and The Dash will be read and one of Jim and Angie’s favourite songs, Feel My Love by Adele will be played.
“I don’t really know what my life will be like without this wonderful man.
“But I do know that I’m grateful; grateful for him, for our life and our family and for the privilege of knowing this was coming because it meant we got to tell each other, over and over, how much we loved each other.”