Ivan Cameron was just six,a boy with a lovely smile who was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy that deprived him of the ability to walk,talk or feed himself. He spent much of his time in the hospital,sometimes with his parents sleeping on the floor beside him,helping care for their beautiful boy.
Early on Wednesday,when Ivan died after another late-night dash to the hospital,the news resonated deeply in Britain. The BBC made his death the lead item on its main news bulletins for much of the day. For the first time in 15 years,the House of Commons cancelled the Prime Ministers questions to devote time to tributes to Ivan by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other party leaders.
What made Ivan headline news at his death,and a topic of widespread public sympathy while he was alive,was that he was the oldest child of David Cameron,the leader of the opposition Conservative Party and the man heavily favoured by opinion polls to be Britains PM after an election that must be held by June 2010.
But there was something more,and that was what the British public learned about Cameron and his wife,Samantha,through the prism of Ivans life.
Many said those insights lent a powerful humanity to Cameron. This helped them shake the toff image British slang for an upper-class person,often with sniffy views about the lower classes that might otherwise be fatal to Camerons chances of winning the keys to 10 Downing Street.
Since he became Conservative leader three years ago,Cameron,42,and his wife have chosen to open their family life to public view. He was criticised for allowing the BBC to film Ivan and his siblings,Nancy,5,and Arthur,3,and for discussing Ivans illness candidly. Some felt Cameron was using Ivan to help recast the Tories from the nasty party of the 1990s to the compassionate one.
Organisations lobbying for the disabled backed him,saying Ivans story were an important step in widening public understanding.
Parts of Camerons BBC interviews about Ivan,who he once said was this little person who just wants to keep going, were rebroadcast in Britain through Wednesday. He had described to The Sunday Times the moment when he learned of Ivans disabilities: It hits you like a freight train…. But then you get over that,because hes wonderful. In 2007,Cameron said of Ivan: He is a magical child with a magical smile that can make me feel like the happiest father in the world.
Friends of the Camerons say that the couples experience had introduced them to a wide cross-section of Britons they might not otherwise have met and the experience had broadened their views.
Brown,who lost his first child,Jennifer,in 2002 when she was only 10 days old,said: I know that in an all-too-brief life,he (Ivan) brought joy to all those around him… the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure.