Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The end of an Era

The start of this week brought Tim and I the sad news that someone who made a tremendous difference to our lives 25 years ago, when we first married, had passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind his wife, son and grandchildren. The person to whom I refer is Professor Tony.

So, where do I start? With this there is no start, just an ending, as I try to wind my memory back to those early days with Tim and try to recall when and where I first met Tony, or for that matter even became aware of him. The only thing I can say is that I was young, na├»ve, and very much in love with Tim. My life totally changed when Tim and I started dating, and the following years were a tremendous amount of fun, as our lives – both in and out of the work place – totally revolved around the microbial research establishment where Tim, and I (for a brief time) both worked. When I look back over those years, I have such happy memories, and given the opportunity to turn the clock back, it would be to that time. There is absolutely nothing that I would change, they were truly happy days.

Tim, and myself for only a year, both worked in the largest division, headed up by Tony. I had previously been working in a different department as a secretary, but on hearing that I was experiencing harrassment problems, Tony offered me an olive branch by way of a place as one of the two secretaries in his team primarily supporting his Deputy. He asked no questions - he didn't need to. I only stayed there a year. It wasn't that I was unhappy, I just needed to move on and Tony was understanding when I handed in my notice. It was blindingly obvious that my future was definitely not in micriobial research. Having struggled to pass O'level Human Biology at school, I was absolutely no scientist. Microbiology, to me, was a foreign language that I struggled to get to grips with and after a year of working in Tony's office, he didn't bat an eyelid when I resigned. To Tony, it was probably a tremendous relief as my shorthand was so atrocious that on the very few occasions I took dictation from him I would soon be knocking on his door asking him to translate the alien hierogliphics I had scribbled on my notepad.

Tony was dynamic, forthright, visionary and incredibly loyal to the team he built up over the years. They were exciting times – it was a time when a lot seemed to be happening in the field of research, and great progress was being made. Yes, Tony demanded a lot from his team, but he also gave back so much. We were all his extended family. If anyone had a problem, no matter how large or small, either personal or in the workplace, he would always be there, to offer support. To his team, Tony was The Don, The Godfather.

As Director of the largest division, Tony was incredibly adept at obtaining funding for research in to such diseases as Aids, Cancer, possibly even Parkinson's(?), and there were many fresh faced graduates who owe their careers to the opportunities that Tony offered. Without his help, there is no way Tim and I could have bought our first house together as he found funding, goodness knows where, so that Tim could continue to work in his team, and we could obtain a mortgage. It is from that time, those precious years, that we made lifelong friends and hold so many happy memories.

Over the years, the establishment evolved and as so often happens, many of us gradually drifted away. In time even Tony left and moved on to pastures new as he set up a company near to his home. But he and his wife always stayed in touch, even if was only by sending an annual Christmas card, as in our case.

So, it was with great sadness that we heard from a friend of ours yesterday that Tony had suddenly passed away. This evening has been spent on the phone talking to old friends, finding out what happened, and reminiscing. In a weird kind of way, I have found it comforting looking back over those years, when we were young and invincible, where the weekend started at noon on Friday at the pub, and Sunday nights would be the only night of the week when we didn't go out. Tim and I will be going to the funeral, and in a perverse kind of way, we're looking forward to it, as Tony's team gather together from far and wide for the final time, to remember the old days, to pay homage to a truly great man and to mark the end of an era.

Rest in peace Tony, rest in peace.

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