The Algarve woke up much the poorer last Thursday. Bridget Hicks, the extraordinarily feisty no-nonsense champion of the animals, died at 6am – sadly in Portimão Hospital, miles from her much-loved menagerie. It was really not the way she would have chosen.
The woman who had spent her life fighting for animals of all shapes and sizes wanted nothing more than to die surrounded by them. The tragedy has been compounded by the fact that red tape has now held her body up at Portimão morgue, awaiting the signed release from a blood relative.
“Until that comes, we can’t do anything,” Bridget’s long-term helper often described by her as her adopted daughter, Gail Morgan-Smith, told us. “We can’t even plan her burial.”
It sounds odd saying an 87-year-old woman had not planned for her death, but Bridget appears not to have done.
At time of writing, no instructions had been found to give her closest friends a clue as to what she would have wanted. It is not even certain where she left her Will.
“I know she wanted to be buried, not cremated,” Gail told us. “But I have no idea when this will be possible. None of the lawyers I have spoken with so far seem to know where the Will is. It’s all a huge muddle.”
The woman with thousands of stories – ranging from rescuing animals in the Philippines in the late 60s with Imelda Marcos, wife of the then president of the islands, to being chatted up by the Duke of Edinburgh – kept one of the most poignant to herself.
Bridget contracted polio when she was pregnant with her only child, a son, and he died as a result in a slightly-premature labour.
The heartbreak and feeling of emptiness turned her attention firmly towards the animal kingdom, and she fought for animals ever after.
When her husband’s post in what was then Ceylon came to an end, she had to choose between returning to UK to live with him, or finding a European country with no animal quarantine laws so that she could travel with her beloved Pork Chop – a severely disabled dog she had rescued from incarceration in a birdcage.
She chose Portugal and Pork Chop – and at the time was strong and able-bodied enough to set about righting as many wrongs being meted out to the resident animal population as she could manage.
It is totally down to Bridget that Lagos municipal kennels was founded and that abandoned animals started actively being ‘homed’ as opposed to being almost instantly and inhumanely destroyed.
But changes took too long and were never enough.
Towards the end of her life, Bridget seemed ‘bitter’. Gail puts it down to the fact that she was practically blind and very crippled from the after-shocks of polio and felt impossibly dependent on others.
Fellow animal champion Nana Van der Velden – who runs a shelter in Guadalupe, near Raposeira – suggests it could also have been to do with the fact that she had seen so much suffering caused by human beings, and realised it would never stop.
As animal activist and friend Michelle Jones wrote in her own tribute: “Her strength and adamant bloody mindedness will always be remembered.
“May you forever fight on in our memories, Bridget. I sure won’t forget you.”
None of those who knew her will.
As soon as the Resident knows a date for Bridget’s memorial, we will make sure it gets full coverage and timely announcement. A funeral as such is not planned as Bridget was not religious.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]