STUART Nixon retired from his job as a manager in the NHS in Wales last week after 37 years in the service.

A notable enough achievement for anyone - but remarkable in Mr Nixon's case, as he has lived with multiple sclerosis since he was 18, has relied on a wheelchair for approaching 25 years, and has had to cope with increasingly limited movement.

Despite its inexorable progress however, MS has not stopped Mr Nixon, who lives in Newport, from packing far more into his life to date than many of us could manage if granted several.

“I wanted to get to 40 years [working for the NHS], but I decided that retiring on health grounds is for the best," he said.

“As this year has gone on, I’ve realised that there is more to life than just working”.

MS is a progressive disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord. Symptoms vary significantly and fluctuate, but include vision problems, paralysis, and cognitive dysfunction.

Mr Nixon's MS has progressed to the point where he now only has use of his left hand, and is able to talk.

The MS Society’s research shows that only 36 per cent of people with MS are employed, compared to the overall employment rate of 75 per cent - and most people with MS end up having to retire by the age of 42.

Mr Nixon made the decision in 1998 to reduce his working hours to three days a week, meaning he could manage his condition better, spend more time with his family, and devote more time to his volunteer work.

While this was difficult financially, he described the decision as “absolutely worth it” - and with his hours reduced, he continued to be a prolific figure in the volunteering community in Newport.

He became a part of the MS Society in the late 90s, becoming its vice chair in 2009.


“It came to the end of my term and I said, ‘I don’t want to go, what else can I do?’,” said Mr Nixon.

“So we developed the ambassador programme and I became the first ambassador for the MS Society, a post I still hold today.

“What I love about working with the society is the difference that I feel I can make, because of the lived experience of MS that I’ve got.

“Nobody can turn around and say ‘oh, you’re making this up’, because I live it”.

Mr Nixon's work with the MS Society resulted in him being awarded an MBE in the 2014 new year’s honours. He describes the Queen as “an absolutely wonderful woman” and appreciated her kindness.

Perhaps the most famous of his accomplishments was carried out just before he received his MBE.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the MS Society, Mr Nixon walked 60 kilometres around London in 2013 on a custom walking frame. The event was called Stu Steps Up and received widespread media attention.

What makes that feat even more impressive is the fact that at that point, he had been reliant on a wheelchair for 15 years.

As an adolescent, Mr Nixon excelled in sport - particularly rugby union - in which he represented Yorkshire.

His diagnosis robbed him of the chance to continue his sporting success.

“That was one of the big things,” he admitted.

“The first thing that hit me, living with MS, was all that was taken away.

“I could spend all my time looking backwards at what MS has taken away from me, but if I do that, all I’m going to do is get extremely bitter.

“So I don’t look backwards and I don’t look forwards either, because if I look forwards and think about what might happen in the future, that’s just going to make me even more depressed.

“I focus on the now and focusing on the best day in my life, which is today. It has to be”.

Mr Nixon credits his wife of 23 years, Marie, with giving him the support necessary to do accomplish all that he has done.

“If it wasn’t for Marie, then I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things,” he said.

“The two of us together - our unit - can make a whole”.

Mrs Nixon is the current holder of the MS Society’s carer of the year after winning the award in 2019.

Her speech at the ceremony inspired pop group the Tailormade to write and release a song called ‘Team of Two’.

While MS can be like having another person in their relationship, Mr Nixon is quick to point out that there are funny moments.

He recalled a time when they were on holiday in Norway to see the Northern Lights.

He was in a mechanical wheelchair pushed by Mrs Nixon, who became distracted in conversation with somebody behind her.

“She turned around to talk to someone without realising that I was sliding off Europe sideways in my wheelchair, literally towards the cliffs!” explained Mr Nixon, laughing at the memory.

He also joked that being disabled can have benefits, such as when taking his family to Disneyland.

It is fair to say that even if Mr Nixon was never been diagnosed with MS, he would have spent his life helping others.

Originally hoping to become a doctor, his diagnosis meant that he had to abandon those plans.

Instead, he became a nurse and over the years worked his way to various management positions in the NHS.

The NHS is still very dear to him, and as part of his volunteering he gives lectures to medical students at universities, including Cardiff University.

“When I started my career in healthcare, I thought I understood what illness and disability was all about,” said Mr Nixon.

“It’s only actually when disability came on to me personally that I really understood what the impact was.

“I feel for professionals because it is hard - they need to have the lived experience to go along with all the medical knowledge that they get.

“It’s only applied by sharing. I’ll quite happily sit in front of 200 people and be extremely emotional telling them my story, because that’s how they learn”.

It’s clear that Stuart Nixon is a man that has taken every opportunity to live life as fully as possible.

“What someone tends to talk about when they’ve got a disability or a long term condition is all the doors that close," he said.

“I try to focus on the doors that open, because MS has shown me lots of opportunities.

“I’ve been to the Houses of Parliament, I’ve travelled all over Europe giving lecture talks, I’ve met loads of people - lots of different opportunities have come my way.

“If those doors are open, it’s about being brave enough to push them open”.

Though now retired, Mr Nixon hopes to carry on volunteering and trying to raise awareness for MS.

Reflecting on how his life has turned out and on his future plans, he emphasised the need to keep plans flexible.

“You’ve got to have aspirations as to what you want to do, but then it’s about very pointedly being able to say ‘right, we made that plan, but we can’t do it anymore’.

“The worst thing in the world for me would be to turn that on myself, or onto Marie and blaming each other. Blame the MS.

“Treat each other with a little bit of kindness and respect.

“I think that when we all work together to help each other, life is easier”.