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Humans of Frome: Filipa de Figueiredo Lopes de Mendonça Vance.

Filipa de Figueiredo Lopes de Mendonça Vance photographed by Ciara Nolan

Filipa de Figueiredo Lopes de Mendonça Vance photographed by Ciara Nolan

“International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th, our newspapers and Facebook feeds filled with stories of women who have shaped the world,” says Ciara.

“My eight-year-old daughter looked at Marie Curie and said that’s what I want to be, a scientist! Recently she had attended science club at school which is run by this week’s Human of Frome. What followed was a weekend of science experiments in the kitchen and a healthy attitude to her place in the world.

“Filipa de Figueiredo Lopes de Mendonça Vance has a family history that could be the plot of a thriller movie. Imagine a world of revolutionary rebels, incarcerated communists, international spies and close brushes with death and disaster, and you’d be pretty close to the reality of this amazing woman. Filipa is a science fanatic and works at the Institute for Mathematical Innovation.

“Born in Portugal in the 1970s her mother joked that it took her just 16 months to take down the dictatorship. Her early years were shaped by a revolution that saw few shots being fired and carnations stuck into the muzzles of rifles; this of course was the dawning of a new day following four decades of dictatorship which her family had endured.

“There are many strong role models in Filipa’s life, her mother raised her young family alone and she was the first civilian woman to be in charge of military men. She also harboured a secret. She was an international spy, a fact only discovered in recent years.

“Her great-grandmother once rowed defiantly out to a quarantined ship to show her newborn son to his father, a soldier returned from war on a ship plagued with pneumonia. He survived against the odds, something that happily runs through the family history.

“When Filipa was nine she was sent to a military boarding school, where her name was changed to the number 233, daughter of 225. She remained in this place which dampened her imagination and fuelled her sense of right and wrong. A blind theatre and drama teacher however made her realise her worth.

“At the age of 15, a newly liberated Filipa was diagnosed with cancer. Following many surgical interventions to remove the tumours on her leg she lived with the very real threat of losing a limb. Her determined mother fought tooth and nail to take her to London where she had a knee replacement. What followed was a period of ‘life is too short’ adventure where Filipa took up running, hang gliding and other dangerous sports.

“Within three years the cancer was back and she was once again faced with very difficult times.

“Despite everything, she went to Glasgow University where she studied a degree in microbiology and the rest, as they say, is history, a phrase which can be quite throwaway, however, history is what makes us who we are, all those experiences and people who we’ve met along the way.

“In Filipa’s case this history is rich with strong role models, women who have influenced her to be the incredibly inspiring woman she is today and I’m delighted to say that this is a legacy she is passing on. My eight year old…wannabe scientist is living proof of that!”