Charles Kennedy’s death has produced an outpouring of sadness in the House of Commons today. The speakers tell us he was principled, witty, loyal, friendly, human – the list of adjectives describing someone who sounds a seriously nice individual went on for a good 45 minutes.
One of the speakers suggested that it was a great shame that Charles Kennedy couldn’t hear the outpouring of admiration, affection and loss. Sadly, we never know what will be said in our obituary.
It reminds me of two instances which have happened to me over the years. The first was when an author, who I had read avidly for years, died. I had been eagerly awaiting her next book and it was only when I went hunting for it that I discovered that she had died from cancer.
I was surprisingly stricken, primarily because I had almost considered her a personal friend, so much did I like her books. But I never wrote and told her.
The second instance was about a wonderful man I had worked with in my early career. A client, he was communication director for a huge industrial packaging firm, when we plotted and schemed together. Eventually, he moved to an equally huge confectionary giant in Switzerland to become head of investor relations.
He was charming, gentle, very bright and possibly the first real gentleman of my acquaintance. He treated me with unfailing courtesy regardless of disagreements on policy, tactics or – the old chestnut – budget. We had been in touch sporadically and I always thought really fondly of him. Last year, I decided that rather than dithering, I would be in touch again.
Falling back on the snooper of the world, Google, I put in his name – and found to my horror that he had died only a month before, again of cancer. And again, I had missed my chance to reach out, say hello, and also tell him what his support early in my career had meant to me. I was gutted.
This is not just about making yourself feel better, or in some way ‘repaying’ those who have given you joy, so you no longer have the obligation.
It’s making sure that people who you admire, or who have helped you, know about it sooner rather than later.
Or, as in my case, and that of some of the speakers in the House of Commons today, not at all.