Oliver highlights Syracuse Cycle and reflects on 30th Anniversary of the Lockerbie Air Disaster

Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell brought a Members Debate to the Scottish Parliament to highlight this important initiative and mark the 30th Anniversary. 

You can read the motion and his speech below:

 

  • Motion debated: 

That the Parliament remembers the 259 passengers and crew aboard Pan Am 103 and 11 residents of Lockerbie who were killed on 21 December 1988; recognises the response of the community and emergency services and shows its support for all who experienced pain and distress in the times that followed; notes that a number of commemorative events are planned; draws particular attention to the Lockerbie Memorial Tour 2018, which will see a team of cyclists undertake a continuous journey from Lockerbie Academy to Syracuse University as part of its desire to “complete” the journey that was never finished by the 35 students from the university who were on the flight; understands that the core team will consist of the tour organiser, Colin Dorrance, who will represent Police Scotland, Paul Rae, who will represent the Scottish Fire And Rescue Service, David “Heavy” Whalley BEM MBE, who will represent the RAF Mountain Rescue, David Walpole, who will represent the Scottish Ambulance Service and the “novice” cyclist Brian Asher, who will represent Lockerbie Academy, where he is the head teacher, and the wider community; acknowledges that the team also aims to raise money for the Dumfries and Galloway-based charity, Soul Soup, to support its outstanding work in providing mental health support to 12- to 25-year-olds to reduce their risk of suicide; thanks Scottish Power and the community businesses that are generously supporting the initiative; notes that the first stage of the journey will see over 1,600 pupils from the academy and the surrounding primary schools “crossing” the Atlantic by riding on exercise or their own bikes at school; understands that the second stage will be 70-mile public road cycle ride from the Memorial Cairn at the school to Edinburgh Castle by the core team, other cyclists from the town, the emergency services and members of the Ecclefechan-based cycling club, the Fechan Flyers; notes that the core team will then fly to Washington DC and cycle nearly 600 miles from the Lockerbie Cairn at Arlington National Cemetery to the university in time to join its annual Remembrance Convocation, at which they will make a presentation on behalf of the town, which will include a traditional shepherds crook fashioned by the Lockerbie Men’s Shed with wood sourced from Tundergarth; conveys its thoughts, prayers and best wishes to everyone marking the 2018 Remembrance Week; thanks the university on the important role that it plays in providing a focal point for many families, maintaining an archive and fostering links with the town, including the academy; thanks the university’s staff past and present, including Judy O’Rourke OBE, Kelly Rodoski and Professor Lawrence Mason, on their personal commitment; acknowledges the importance of the Lockerbie Scholarship, which sees two of the school’s pupils study at the university each year, with 58 scholars having taken part so far; believes that the cycle embodies the motto of the remembrance scholarship program, “look back and act forward”; welcomes the strong links that have emerged between the town, the university and friends in the United States; wishes his team well with the 3,238-mile cycle, and recalls the town’s motto, “Forward Lockerbie”.

 

  • Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con): Thirty years ago, on the shortest and darkest day, Pan Am flight 103 left Heathrow airport for New York. Shortly after it had crossed into Scottish airspace and gained clearance for the trip over the Atlantic, flight 103 exploded over the Lockerbie area, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground.

For the victims’ families and the many people in the town who were caught up in the events and aftermath of 21 December 1988, there is “before Lockerbie” and “after Lockerbie”. I was born a year later, almost to the day, and, like an ever-growing number of people, I have only ever known one Lockerbie.

I could not be more proud of my association with the town. It might be full of characters, as some American visitors have pointed out, but better characters we would be hard pushed to find. Lockerbie, more than anything, has heart. There is a quiet determination to move forward and make the best of things. It is a friendly, open and welcoming place, partly because it just is, and partly because it has had to be.

The words that were penned about “gentle Lockerbie” in “On Eagles’ Wings: In Remembrance of all Victims of the Lockerbie Air Disaster who Died on December 21, 1988”, which was written by the mother of one of the victims, are too painful for me to quote here, but they are worth reading and reflecting on. They capture the complicated relationship between the victims on the ground and the victims in the air.

Everyone thinks that they know Lockerbie, but until a person has stood on the High Street and watched life go on as normal, almost as if nothing had happened, it is impossible to understand the town’s achievement. It is by letting life go on that we ensure that those who sought to sow division and fear have not prevailed.

However, that has not come without a cost: the scars are not far beneath the surface. Visually, Lockerbie is healed, but for many the subject is still emotionally raw.

The same complexity and the same grit and determination can be found in America and beyond, where individuals, families and institutions have kept the memory alive while also focusing on the future. For many people on the two sides of the Atlantic, the strong bonds and connections that have been formed are perhaps the only universally positive thing to have come from the disaster.

It could be argued that the link between Lockerbie academy and Syracuse University in upstate New York best embodies that achievement. It is for many people the most tangible of such connections. In the aftermath of Pan Am flight 103, Syracuse University promised that it would not forget its students and pledged to honour their memory through learning and teaching, so that tragedies such as Pan Am flight 103 would not be repeated.

The presence of the 35 remembrance scholars and two Lockerbie scholars who study at Syracuse every year is one of the ways in which the institution strives to fulfil its promise to remember all the victims, including 35 of its own students. Through the scholarships, students are encouraged to exchange ideas and to educate themselves and others about the effects of terrorism.

Thirty years on, the university has not only held true to that promise but has opened its doors to the families and communities of all 270 victims. It holds an annual remembrance week in October and has built up an extensive archive to help to capture an important moment in our collective history. The success of such programmes cannot be denied, and they have inspired and brought out the best in human nature.

To paraphrase the words of a former student, there is now a network of Lockerbie and remembrance scholars who have gone on to become global advocates, educators, activists, government officials, scientists, entrepreneurs and entertainers, all the while embodying the spirit of those who were lost on Pan Am 103.

Of course, everyone who was involved in or has been touched by the events of that day in 1998 wishes that the events had not taken place, but together our communities, recognising that we are all unintended victims, have rediscovered the best in human nature.

That said, like many local people I still want the past to stay in the past. I want to remember—yes—but I want at the same time for people and the town to have the chance to move forward. That remains my view, but through the cycle to Syracuse project I have realised that there will be no closure; after 30 years, the events cannot be wished away. It is easy to think that there is nothing that we can do, or to try to sidestep the issues, which I so nearly did when Colin Dorrance first got in touch. 

In the midst of the remembrance scholarship programme there is some good advice for us all: “Look back, act forward.” For me, that is what the cycle to Syracuse is all about. In 1988, a journey began that was not completed; 30 years on, the cycle to Syracuse intends to continue that journey. It aims to complete the 3,238 miles between Lockerbie and the university in upstate New York that lost 35 of its finest students. This is a memorial tour, by the community in Lockerbie, on behalf of the whole town, to demonstrate our on-going support for the families and friends of all the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.

In resuming that journey, we remember those who were lost and those who were affected in the aftermath, and the response of the townspeople and the thousands who came to help. However, it is not just about reflecting or dwelling on the past; it is also about constructing a better future. The aim is to focus on the on-going relationship between Lockerbie and Syracuse University, and to celebrate the hundreds of bonds that have emerged and will endure forever.

The symbolism of the journey is undeniable: completing the journey, linking together our communities, creating new connections, turning words into action and, sometimes, the need just to go through the motions. Most important is that it is an excuse to talk and reflect. Even the gift of a crook, made by Lockerbie men’s shed group from wood that was sourced from the Tundergarth area where the plane’s nose cone fell, has deep meaning.

For me, though, the most significant message has come from seeing more than 1,600 pupils from the Lockerbie academy catchment area take part in the initiative—using pupil power to get the team across the Atlantic Ocean. Their excitement alone at being involved makes the whole thing worth while. Even as primary 7s, a number of young people already plan to become the Syracuse scholars of the future. There is, too, the possibility that they will benefit from local charity Soul Soup, which plans to use funds that are raised from the journey to enhance mental health support at Lockerbie academy.

At the heart of the project is an incredible team. I am delighted that they have been able to join us in the gallery. At the helm is organiser Colin Dorrance, who as an 18-year-old rookie police officer was among the first on the scene in 1988. He had the vision and determination to turn the idea into a reality and has a close connection to Syracuse University, where his son was a Lockerbie scholar.

Next up is Paul Rae, who is a serving firefighter in the Lockerbie crew. Paul is the joker in the deck, and I am sure that his sense of humour will come in handy on the home straight.

David “Heavy” Whalley, who joined mountain rescue workers scouring the hills in the aftermath of the disaster, shows that age is no barrier, and is the local favourite to be first over the finish line.

Brian Asher is the headteacher at Lockerbie academy and new to cycling, and is leading by example. He represents the wider community and a successful changing of the guard at the school.

David Walpole completes the team. Maybe it is because of his paramedic training that he looks after everyone else; he is thoughtful and reflective.

In my constituency office, we think of the team as being a bit like a boy band, and we have nicknamed it the MAMILs, which stands for “Middle-aged Men in Lycra”. Presiding Officer, you will see if you look up to the gallery that that description is more generous to some members of the team than to others.

I look forward to performing in a few weeks my role as one of the backing dancers and joining the chair of Lockerbie and district community council, J’an Andrews, on a tandem for the final miles into Syracuse. Although Syracuse is thousands of miles away, doing that seemed more realistic than joining the Fechan Flyers and community riders on the 70 miles from Lockerbie to Edinburgh castle.

The joy is that there is something for everyone in the initiative, and the core team have a grateful community behind them at home and abroad. That is why I thank them and wish the team and all those who are involved in the cycle the best of luck.

Forward Lockerbie and on to Syracuse, where we have forged so many friendships.