I recall this for no other reason than it was one of many moments when Tony could look back, recollect and laugh but then as always and in an instance look forward and dream. Its odd what floods in to you when you hear the news that someone you knew for so long and so well has gone for good. I heard the news of Tony’s passing when hiding in sunshine a long way away. Every night I looked at a new sunset and now at the end of that far away sunshine, it seems those sunsets were saying much more than they usually do. In the brief moments since I have watched a small but equally huge world in fundraising share first reflections on their loss and words of great sadness. It’s a personal loss to many and that perhaps marks out the man we came to know, and loved.
I first met Tony when glasses were huge as were his and when Saturday Superstore and Bergerac were big TV. The truth is I don’t remember exactly when, it just seems that he was always there when I first became a fundraiser. Conferences, bars, the newly formed Institute, an emerging tribe of people learning how to change the world. San Diego at AFP on a dance floor. IOF in Birmingham and Warwick. IFC plenary, dinners and gala balls where he brought people together. Tony so loved IFC. He was a driver and a thinker but more than that a force. He exuded life. Sometimes he shouted when presenting despite a mic and I tried to tell him to turn the volume down. Its only in moments like this that I realise that his volume was just his soul being amplified. I wish he shouted more now. Why be quiet when everyone else is? He believed and I think that’s why we all believed as well. He could perform and only in later life I discovered this was because he was once a dancer and performer in another world. He drew content and meaning and performed it so it would resonate and shine and challenge. It was theatre when we all needed theatre. But never light. Full. Always. How we will miss him when conferences need that unique mix. Tony at his best.
His quiet counsel was always the most valued. A small word or a direct telling. He could draw for England as well. Models, triangles, Venn diagrams. Notepads full of creative genius. He was a jackdaw, a collector. Ideas and grand schemes mixed with the hard practical delivery of a man whose experience always in the end tempered his creativity . He posed what if more than any one. He poked and challenged. He sought out can do’s and hope. He said it how it was and how it could be. He was irreverent. Knowing. And there. He was one of those who cared about people – talent. If he saw such talent he drew it out. Special. I used to meet him when I was a Fundraising Director to navigate the usual stormy waters we all understand. Last year at a conference in York, tea at Betty’s and just a conversation and catch up. Dinner in Amsterdam with a gathering as he only he seemed to be able to do. His hospitality was always warm and rich and slightly provocative like he meant for us to try a little harder.
In these last days he faced a monster. I met him the week before his diagnosis. He was having tests and wasn’t sure how they would turn out. At the time I was too and I remember being consumed with fear, as it turned out for no reason. But for Tony it was as he suspected. He focused as we would expect. Determined and positive. A task to be addressed so he could get back to the life he was living and the noise he created around the world. This in itself tells us about him. No one should judge how anyone deals with these things. Each to their own and each can be a light we can learn from, but he faced it and got on with it. I presented with him at a conference in the summer. He amazed us again and as always. In the end, like for many but not all it overwhelmed him. And so here we are. Empty, shocked maybe and sad that he has gone from our worldwide family.
One thing rings true today. As lives go Tony made one helluva footprint. For all of us wishing today we had sent that last message or said that thing we planned to say or got on with that other thing we meant to get round to, he will remind us that life really is very short. I will as we all will, will have time to reflect, mourn a dear friend, a constant when constants so often get taken for granted. But for today, I just wanted to say I am so very sorry you have left us all and that I wanted to thank you for more than I ever got round to saying. Your gift was immeasurable and generous. You were a true friend, and a great man who made a great difference.
In the days ahead the best way we can honour and remember Tony is do everything he pushed us to do and to be.