Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Celebrating Steve - tributes from the family

My Big Brother by Martin, Steve's brother

A lifetime ago, when we were small, you were there.

I’ll always remember how you looked after me, your little brother.  I’m not sure you were always welcome. Sometimes you looked after me a little too well. But most of the time I looked up to you!

You were always making things, breaking things, taking things apart to see how they worked.  There never seemed to be a time when you were not making something, drawing something, painting something.  

Everything and everyone were subjects to be examined and scrutinised with your incredible sense of wonder and then reproduced through the filter of that wonder into things of beauty.

Everywhere in the house there were doodles and sketches – margins of newspapers, envelopes, schoolbooks – anything with enough clear space for a little picture.  You were always going to be the artist of the family.  You had an infallible sense of what would work and what wouldn’t.

Risk - The game “Risk” springs to mind. You must have been about 15 or 16 at the time and buying a set was beyond your means. So you made one! From a square of hardboard and different coloured Marley floor-tiles, cut to shape with a Stanley-knife. 

You hand-drew every territory card – cut from the cardboard that stiffened new shirts. The infantry pieces were quarter-inch squares fashioned from the tile offcuts. You spent hours and hours of your spare time creating this wonderful artefact. And we spent hours and hours playing the game. You won most of the time, probably because you hadn’t written down the rules . . .

As we grew older, you became a Mod, or, more correctly, a Modernist. With a hairstyle to rival Paul Weller, you’d spend hours in the bathroom getting your “look” just right.  

For me, you were the “Thin White Duke” long before Bowie picked up on the idea.  You always had style long before style was fashionable.

I guess that’s what made you the artist – that profound sense of belonging but also of otherness.  That ability to think in two places at the same time.

All my life I’ve had the honour and privilege to be able to call you my big brother.

The Elephant and the Hummingbird by Heather, Steve's niece

I was trying to think of words to describe my uncle Steve and I decided that that there are other people who will do a much better job than me.

Instead I will tell you a fable about bravery. 

One day an elephant saw a hummingbird lying flat on its back on the ground.  The bird's tiny feet were raised up into the air.

"What on earth are you doing, Hummingbird?" asked the elephant.

The hummingbird replied, "I have heard that the sky might fall today. If that should happen, I am ready to do my bit in holding it up."

The elephant laughed and mocked the tiny bird.

"Do you think those little feet could hold up the sky?"

"Not alone," admitted the hummingbird.

"But each must do what he can. And this is what I can do."

One day the clinical drug trials that Steve took part in will stop a family's sky from falling in, and that is an amazing legacy.

tribute by Katie, Steve's daughter

Thank you all for coming today. It's a difficult day for us all, and one that we all wished would be far, far into the future. 

Steve didn’t really have many strong views for his funeral, but he would certainly want today to be a celebration of life and the extra time that we were given together rather than dwelling on what we have lost. 

I'm proud to see how many people are here today, to see whose lives Steve has been a part of, as well as all the people who weren’t able to make it, but are here in spirit – I’m sure he would never have expected such a high turn out on a Thursday afternoon.

I've definitely taken on a lot of Steves traits  my boss tells me that I’m stubborn because I’m a Taurus, but I’m sure that it’s an inherited Wride trait. I’ve also become a general knowledge - cum useless information sponge. Disappointingly, we never managed to persuade Steve onto Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  He'd acquired an awful lot of general knowledge over the years and I’m sure he’d have had a good shot at the jackpot! 

I have inherited a tendency to leave everything to the last minute (including this speech) and a light-hearted/young at heart approach to life. I hope like Steve, I never really grow up.

I wish I’d have inherited some more of his creativity and artistic capability – I’ve certainly got his love for it, but sadly not the same level of skill to execute it. 

I also wish I got a bit more of the cool gene, I came to the painful realisation in my early twenties that I’m never going to be as cool or as stylish as my dad, and it was probably time to stop trying.

Steve gave me lots of advice growing up, from faking confidence 'til it comes naturally, to how to get a word in edgeways at a crowded dinner table, although at the Wride table this is still often a struggle. 

But as the stay-at-home parent as I was growing up, I’m sure I owe a lot more to him than I even realise.  He was many things to many people, but to me he was: a chauffeur, confidant, encyclopaedia, cash point, team mate, comedian, tech support, father and friend.

Now we have to start a new chapter of our lives without the physical presence of Steve, but his love and memories will stay with us in our hearts and minds forever.

A tribute by Jack, Steve's son

I had trouble writing these words.  Part of me is heartbroken. Part of me still doesn't really recognise the fact that Steve is no longer here.  And he was always Steve for me, rather than dad.  A fact for which I bless him and damn him equally, especially when trying to explain to my then six year old friends!

But for me, it was normal growing up, to spend time with Steve eating chocolate doughnuts  and watching the cricket in the school holidays, doing the school run and using him as a sounding board for the latest homework outrage during term time. 

We talked about lots of topics, as two opinionated characters do.....sport and tech more than most; England's latest selectional mysteries; the newest Apple computer.  The joy of screaming at the TV together during rugby matches.  Say what you like, I think they could hear us!

Smart and with a multitude of knowledge, he was the only person I feared to face at Trivial Pursuit.  The Wride pub quiz team is much poorer for his loss.

I'm so glad he got more time though, cramming in so much life during those years post-diagnosis, thanks to his friends, the Meso Warriors and family alike.  That support is one of the reasons I eventually got him to choose the charity for my Etape cycle ride later this year.  The amount of support received is beyond words and that's for him, not me.

I'd like to finish with a poem, so with apologies to Philip Larkin and Adrian Mitchell 

"This Be The Converse" 

They tuck you up, your mum and dad
They read you Peter Rabbit too
They give you all the treats they had
And add some extra, just for you.

They were tucked up when they were small
(Pink perfume, blue tobacco smoke)
By those whose kiss heals any fall,
Whose laughter doubles any joke.

Man hands on happiness to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
So love your parents all you can
And have some cheerful kids yourself!

Doing Something Positive by Linda, Steve's wife

Steve and I shared our lives for more than four decades.  We built up a relationship as young lovers, developed our respective careers, set up home and raised a family, eventually became empty nesters and then enjoyed "retirement" together....a pattern which many of you will recognise....nothing unusual or out of the ordinary in this mutual life journey. 

However, looking back, it WAS extraordinary in many respects and that was because of Steve.  His irrepressible creativity; his disregard for convention; his attitude towards change and all things new and exciting and last, but not least, his approach to life when told he had a terminal illness.  

Steve's irrepressible creativity expressed itself in the bold decision to give up a career in architecture and branch out into the unknown.  He'd studied architecture for a number of years (repeating several years along the way, as friends from our student days will no doubt recall!). However, although Steve was passionate about good design, when he eventually stopped being a student and worked as an architectural assistant for a few years, the job offered few opportunities to be creative, and that sapped his spirit. 

So he turned his back on a conventional career, and with his leaving present he bought himself a book on silk screening and an airbrush kit, taught himself the techniques, made his own silkscreen frames and airbrush templates, and created designs to paint on window blinds. These days, it would be called a creative start up.  Back then, we called it a shop, Glossies, and it opened in North Parade Avenue in 1976.  Some of you came to the opening, as I recall!

Looking back over the Glossies press cuttings from the national press - the Observer, Homes and Gardens, Cosmopolitan - and the local paper, the Oxford Times, I'm reminded that although it was hard work, it was a very exciting and creative time.  As well as press cuttings and photos from back then, we also have another lasting legacy from the Glossies period.  People who came through the door as customers but subsequently became close friends - isn't that a bit special?

The second area of life where Steve stood out from the crowd was his disregard for social convention. In the 1980s, it was women who traditionally gave up work to bring up children.  But when we started our family, Steve and I swapped traditional roles. I returned to work after maternity leave, and Steve became the main parent.  

These days it's not unusual to see a guy carrying a baby or pushing a buggy.  Back then it was VERY unusual.  More often than not, Steve was the only male at the baby clinic and later, the only man waiting at the gate at school coming out time.  But that drew him into the school community, first as a "Friend of West Oxford School" then as a school governor and subsequently as chair of Governors, roles which he enjoyed and which he carried out with great dedication and enthusiasm.

Steve's involvement with the school helped cement us into the social fabric of the West Oxford community.  I'm delighted to see so many of our West Oxford friends and neighbours here today.

Steve did his parenting role not once but twice.  He must have done something right as both Jack and Katie survived the experience and grew up into wonderful young adults that we're both very, very proud of.

Steve wasn't afraid of change and actively embraced the new, in particular, the era of computer technology.  These days we are used to using computers at work and at home, wearing them on our wrists and having them in our pockets.  Back in the 1970s, personal computer technology was in its infancy. Steve was introduced to new technology by a dear friend Henry, the proud owner of one of the very early Apple Macs. Given half a chance, they would spend hours together huddled in front of the big grey box with its small screen, exploring its potential and having fun. 

Steve was so enthralled by these machines that he bought a ZX Spectrum for Jack's birthday.  Jack's first birthday, I should add!  So it was clearly intended to be more of a boy's toy than something to stimulate a baby's development. 

Of course Steve spent many happy hours playing games on the computer, but he did much more besides....He taught himself to programme (not an easy task at a time when Google didn't exist and you couldn't watch a "how to do it" video on U Tube).  He made electronic music and short animations.  And he created artwork, including the wonderful graphic cards that many of you will have received over the years on your birthday, at Christmas time and on other special occasions.  

He also created fine art prints and, as an artist, he was one of the founder members of WOCart (the West Oxford Community Arts group) and took part in the group's Artweeks exhibitions for several years. 

One of the last creative things he did was to design and print my Valentines card, which he gave to me the day before he died.  That very special card has inspired the end of today's celebration, as you have probably noticed :)  I will treasure it always.

Because of Steve's interest in new technology, we were early converts to digital photography. We joined the Royal Photographic Society and gained the society's distinctions, becoming Licentiates and then Associates of the RPS.  We even had the cheek to ask the Royal Horticultural Society for a stand at Chelsea Flower Show to exhibit and sell our botanical photographs, and to our amazement they said yes!  Some of you here today helped us or visited us on the stand during the show in 2007.  It was hard work but great fun, wasn't it?

The last extraordinary element of Steve's story is how he faced up to the diagnosis of cancer in 2009.  Not just any old cancer, but mesothelioma - an aggressive  cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres for which there is currently no cure. The same cancer which had killed his dad some years before, so he was under no illusion about the significance and consequence of the diagnosis. 

Imagine how you would feel being told that you could be dead in a few months and would probably live no longer than a year or 18 months.  Imagine getting that news before you've become a pensioner and got a bus pass, in the middle of what was supposed to be a grown up gap year, travelling with your partner.....

To my amazement, Steve was calm.  He didn't panic.  He didn't give up.  He didn't make a big fuss.  He just got on with it and took whatever opportunities came his way that might offer the chance to extend a good quality of life and maybe, one day, help find a cure.

Although we'd decided to share the bad news rather than keep it a secret, I found it difficult at first to talk to people about his diagnosis without dissolving into tears.  I got things off my chest by writing a blog which I called Doing Something Positive, a title inspired by Steve's positive attitude when faced with such horrible circumstances. 

If you've dipped into the blog from time to time, you will know that life hasn't been all been plain sailing since 2009.  Radiotherapy made him fatigued.  Chemotherapy was tough.  The side effects of three early phase clinical drug trials were punishing - affecting his appetite, his gut, his skin, his heart and his hair.  Loosing his eyebrows and eyelashes was particularly difficult for him.  Christmas 2014, or the "bald" Christmas as we refer to it in the family was particularly poignant as we all genuinely thought it would be his last.  But Steve surprised us all by pulling though, and we were able to pick up again on the good times again last year.

And we really have enjoyed good times since 2009.  Lots of traveling to places we had only dreamed of visiting in our previous life....Venice, Rome, Tuscany, Santorini, Marrakech, Budapest, Heidelberg, Paris, Caracassonne, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Brussels and Amsterdam to name some of our destinations, wherever possible meeting up with friends during our stays...In truth, at times it felt like I was writing a travelogue rather than a blog about terminal illness. 

We also got out and about a lot in the UK, again often staying with friends - so I have many happy memories of trips to Yorkshire, the Peak District, Sussex, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Wales - not forgetting numerous visits to Bristol where our son lives, following in his father's footsteps, and London where our daughter now lives, following in mine.  And of course, we welcomed people to visit us in Oxford whenever we could. 

Into this mix of travel and socialising, we added art and culture, visiting exhibitions, going to events and Festivals.  We topped up the experience bank with hot air balloon flights, helicopter rides, flying a Tiger Moth and a Chipmunk airplane, with Steve taking control of the craft as he looped the loop....trips in fast boats and open top sports cars; sporting events - the Derby, Glorious Goodwood, Silverstone Grand Prix, Prescott Hill Climb, a test match at Lords, rugby in Oxford, Bristol and the Olympic Stadium in an amazing snowy Rome.....

When offered opportunities and invitations, the default answer was "Yes", working out how to do it afterwards.  From planning a year in advance pre-diagnosis, we learned how to be spontaneous, to take decisions at the last minute, to make the most of each and every day, as far as humanly possible.

You helped us do this, with your love, your support, your practical help, your understanding, and your invitations which helped us stay connected to the real world whilst living in what might have otherwise have been a nightmare. 

The global Mesothelioma community on Facebook - the self-styled Meso Warriors - have also been there for us, day and night, all over the world, offering support, advice, sharing information, celebrating the good news and sending flowers to bring a smile to our faces when we needed cheering up. 

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart and on Steve's behalf. You are truly wonderful people.

Death comes to all of us sooner or later.  In Steve's case, it came a lot later than we expected in terms of years post-diagnosis.  Although his lifespan was cut short probably by about 20 years or so, it feels like we managed to make up for that lost time with everything we've crammed in since 2009.  

However, Steve's death also came sooner than any of us expected. He'd watched England's handsome victory over Italy in the Six Nations rugby tournament the day before he died.  We'd exchanged Valentine cards that morning.  We'd had a discussion that evening about converting the first floor bedroom into a bed sit so that he didn't have to climb Everest every time he needed to visit the bathroom or wanted to work on the computer in the loft.  A spare table top was pulled out of storage, ready to take upstairs the next day to put the plan into action the next day.....Even then, he was still looking forward and being positive.

The following morning, I took him a cup of coffee in bed and he told me about a dream he'd just woken from...a dream in which he had been trying unsuccessfully to arrange numbers in the right order so as to open a door.  Less than half an hour later he was dead.  Perhaps during that short interval, he had found the right sequence, put the numbers in order, opened the door in his mind and decided it was time to go through.....

In any event, he died as he wished, not in pain, not drugged beyond consciousness, at home, in the place of his choosing.  I can't think of a better way to finish the journey of a lifetime.  Perhaps we should think of it as a happy ending, in the circumstances :)

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