The story of U>Lead

Mum founded U>Lead in summer 2012. She was so excited, and we spent the summer trying to support her.

Six months later, in January 2013, she was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (Stage 4). It felt then, and still does, horribly unfair. For someone who had jogged most days since age 14, practiced yoga, looked after herself, never smoked, we couldn’t understand. Later, the consultant told us how close she’d been to death around diagnosis.

Mum fought, with huge courage. In the following 2.5 years of what was really bonus time, extra time we got because she battled for it every day, she built a successful company. We always packed her laptop for hospital stays, she’d go to meetings after radiotherapy. She loved her work, and she lit up every time she had a coaching call – everything about the exciting people she met, all of it.

Photo taken just after she started the first round of chemotherapy. (Complete with ironing board.)

One thought on “The story of U>Lead

  1. When you get to my age that terrible mystery, death, seems to be ever more present. Round every corner at Brynygwin, our country estate, there are memories of my late brother and every week a childhood hero of mine has his or her obituary in the newspaper. Every example of mortality seems to lessen that great ideal of childhood innocence. The innocence we have lost and will never regain. The innocence that we would give so much to have back.

    We never ever acclimatise or acculturate to death. It is an unknowable and we would be in deep trouble if we embraced it in the way we often embrace other cultures. We are always shocked and horrified to learn of the death of a member of our family or a friend, particularly a friend like Maria.

    It was unspeakably upsetting to learn of Maria’s death but nothing compared to what Andrey, Denny and Gigi must be feeling. All the Hristovi and the Gauntletts send you our deepest deepest condolences at this ghastly time.

    When I first encountered the Bulgarian community in England, seventeen long years ago, it was a very different world. This was nine years before Bulgaria joined the EU and you could fit the Bulgarian community in London into the main room at the Bulgarian Embassy in Queens Gate.

    My future wife, Ani, introduced me to Maria, Denny and Gigi. Andrey had been the acting Ambassador to London and his mother had been one of Ani’s teachers back in Bulgaria. Maria and the girls had settled in London and it was clear Maria was ambitious to do well in the UK.

    I am afraid I was not very optimistic about such endeavours. It is incredibly difficult for a first generation migrant to be successful, for every Michael Marks (Marks & Spencer) or Sir Montague Burton (Burtons) there are a thousand cleaners and taxi drivers who do not have business success. Previous eminence in a very different culture is absolutely no guarantee of distinction in your new home. Communist Bulgaria was about as alien to western capitalism as Tsarist Russia. So, when presented with Maria’s ambitions, my mind used to think back to stories told to me by my cousin, whose stepsisters were born Russian Countesses, about penniless members of the Russian Aristocracy in Paris before the war who were waiters, taxi drivers and took in washing. One washerwoman Princess had to contend with her father’s failure to realise his penury, which manifested itself in a weekly order to Cartier for a diamond necklace, which, unbelievably, used to be delivered each Friday (the Prince was a prolific customer before the revolution) and returned, by the noble washerwoman, every Monday.

    I was so wrong about Maria. She was made of much better stuff than all those Russians. Indeed, she was to become the most successful Bulgarian migrant to the UK that I have ever met. She was not an oligarch settling in London to make a big fortune a smaller fortune. She was the real thing. A woman who started with virtually nothing, materially but who worked her way through an MBA into a successful business. She was the living embodiment of her teaching. She understood English culture so profoundly that she was able to build a successful training business.

    She was also able to keep her humanity. She was a witness at our wedding and supported and tirelessly helped us when we faced enormous difficulties.

    Of course, Maria had invaluable assets in her rise to the top. That was the support of Andrey, Denny and Gigi. This stable family background was the bedrock of her great success.

    She (and Andrey) set up her girls so well. Cambridge and York Universities and good jobs. She ensured that her memory will be cherished by future generations of successful Jichevi. Our memories of her and her achievements live on and death cannot rob us of these assets.

    RIP Maria, you were a great person. RIP


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