Ginny Williams would never forget those words from Bernie Ecclestone on a fateful day in March, 1986.
“Don’t worry about your old man. We’re looking after him. There might be something a bit wrong with his back and they want to operate to sort it out.”
The most powerful man in Formula 1 was offering words of encouragement to the wife of Frank Williams, founder of the F1 Williams racing team. Her husband had been involved in a car crash.
Frank had always enjoyed life in the fast lane. He had been driving at speed when he lost control of his car, on the way to Nice airport.
The accident meant there was more than “something a bit wrong with his back”. Frank was left a quadriplegic.
Raw and honest account
Frank’s paralysis is the subject of a book I’ve just finished reading – “Williams: A Different Kind Of Life”.
Written by Ginny Williams, with Pamela Cockerill, it’s a raw and honest account of how a tragic accident like Frank’s impacts on a family.
Frank did not come across well, even before the crash. I found myself wondering why Ginny loved him so much. And she did love him: that much is clear. I don’t think it’s stretching the truth to say Ginny’s loyalty saved Frank’s life.
Frank was heading to the airport to catch a flight back home to England, ahead of a planned half-marathon the next day.
Instead of returning to his own bed in Boxford, Frank was confined to a French hospital ward, unsure of what the future held for him.
Trying to console Ginny, he told her, “I have had forty fantastic years of one sort of life. Now I shall have another forty years of a different kind of life.”
From Ginny’s struggle to have Frank moved to a hospital in England through to years of intense rehabilitation, Frank’s condition had a lasting impact on his family, which Ginny reveals in this warts-and-all autobiography.
A story of triumph over adversity
Although Frank had nurses looking after him, Ginny had to take care of him, too.
Amongst her new, daunting, responsibilities was the need to catheterize her husband.
Ginny had lost an able-bodied husband, and she felt she had lost her home in a sense, too. With medical staff coming and going, she never felt able to relax as before, feeling self-conscious of things others take for granted, like wearing pyjamas around the house.
With other people around all the time, the intimacy between a husband and wife was gone. Their bedroom was now basically a hospital room frequented by nurses and physiotherapists.
It is fair to say Ginny found life very hard, but was unwavering in her support to give Frank what he wanted – the ability to return to work.
A determined man, Frank refused to let his paralysis get in the way of his F1 career.
The medical experts told him it was impossible. Frank wanted to prove everyone wrong. Despite even having lost his swallowing reflex for some time, Frank was back at the helm with his racing team just nine months later.
This was a fascinating account of the consequences of bad car accidents, and it’s suitable for readers who know nothing about F1, too.
This is less about the sport and more about a couple’s attempts to readjust to life following paralysis.
It is a story of triumph over adversity. A compelling read.
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