Jan-Pieter Breugem (1969-2020), ‘JP’ was a downie and a man of the world

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The happiest was Jan-Pieter (‘JP’) Breugem when he could take up the broom at the Zwolle neighborhood farm De Eemhoeve with his head in the wind. He loved nature and the animals.

He talked a lot with colleagues and visitors, because he could communicate like no other. JP had Down syndrome, but he was much more than that. He was a man of the world, spoke English and a little bit of German and knew well what was going on in politics.

Former PvdA chairman Michiel van Hulten was a family friend of the Breugem family. ‘JP was a fan of Bolkestein at the time and I had huge discussions with him about that. Often teasing. But he was very sharp. I remember the 2006 crisis surrounding the general pardon for asylum seekers. When that came up once, JP said to me in a high tone: ‘And how is your PvdA going to pay for that, Van Hulten?’

JP Breugem was a brother of director Jaap Breugem of the Economic Board Utrecht and the television presenter Tooske Ragas-Breugem. He died of Alzheimer’s on November 21 at the age of 51.

‘In recent years, more and more positions have been dropped. That was very tragic to see, ‘says Jaap. Tooske Ragas responded to his death on Instagram: ‘My heart will never be the same again, but I trust that love is stronger than death. Her husband Bastiaan wrote: ‘Never before has someone met someone so strong, tough and independent, yet so vulnerable, delicate and dependent.’

A full life

JP came from a progressive Dutch Reformed family. He was the eldest son of a rector of a comprehensive secondary school in Zwolle. After being diagnosed with Down’s syndrome at birth, one of the doctors advised my parents to give up my brother. You still have a life ahead of you, it was said. Almost immediately, and without knowing what the future would bring them, they chose to give him a full life themselves, ‘says JP’s brother Jaap.

He says that as a child he always had to pay extra attention to his brother. “It was as if I had an extra pair of eyes in the back of my mind.” Tooske Ragas once said that the family was ‘always viewed extra on the street because of JP’.

JP attended special education in Zwolle and was able to participate in daycare from the age of 18, where he made wooden objects. But he was at his best when he later found a job on the neighborhood farm and got his own apartment in a care home.

In addition to reading the newspaper and watching the news on television, he was fond of medieval legends, such as those about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He also entered the high school where his father worked. Jaap: ‘Once there was a school trip to the Lower House. On the bus, the students had the highest word about what they were going to ask the MPs. But when push came to shove, it was JP who put the questions to Hans Dijkstal, who was a member of parliament for the VVD at the time. ‘

By publicizing a lot, his parents made an important contribution to the emancipation of people with Down’s disease. Jaap Breugem himself approached the VARA program Children for children, which in 1982 resulted in the song ‘My brother is mongool’.

In the last ten years, the trend has suddenly gone the other way with all kinds of programs with Downies, says Jaap Breugem. He has ambivalent feelings about this. ‘I appreciate the emancipatory motives, on the other hand they should not be displayed as a place of interest.

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