Twelve months ago I received a phone call that was to define 2017 for me.
I was enjoying a summer’s day off work, so when my boss called my mobile I guessed it was something important – a major issue with one of my projects or a sudden change of plan for an upcoming meeting.
Instead, he told me that the police had just visited the office. This sounded really serious. Perhaps the place had been burgled or we were in some kind of legal trouble. But still I was nowhere near the truth.
In the days after, I replayed the conversation that followed in my head over and over again because it seemed so unbelievable. Perhaps I’d somehow misunderstood.
This is what my boss phoned to tell me: our former colleague and friend Tony had been found dead in his home and it looked like he had taken his own life.
The police had called in at work to find out if Tony had been noticeably unhappy during his time with us. He left the company the previous month with the intention of moving back to London, but it had certainly not been an acrimonious departure.
In fact we all remembered Tony for his good spirits. I met him for a drink a week or so later and he seemed upbeat about his future.
I was probably the last person to see him socially, when we went for that drink. A couple of weeks later I sent him a text asking if he wanted to join a few of us from the office at a gig in Nottingham. He didn’t respond. I assumed he was busy looking for a new job or had gone abroad at short notice (which was the kind of thing Tony would do!).
It was only now I realised that he never opened the message.
In the weeks that followed, it still didn’t make sense that Tony had died by suicide. I had to keep reprocessing it. Yes, my boss did call me with that news. Yes, that was what he said. Yes, it had happened.
A group of us from work were going to travel to the funeral in Kent, where his family were based. Unfortunately that week I became ill and was unable to travel.
Devastated that I couldn’t pay my respects in person, I decided to write a message that my colleagues could pass on to Tony’s family. I didn’t know what to say and after a few hours staring at a blank page, I just started writing down some of the funny stories and memories I had of him – this ended up being over 2,000 words long!
The funny thing was, I had only known Tony for eight or nine months. Yet in this time we became really good mates – the kind of mates who can sit in a pub setting the world to rights for hours on end, as we did on frequent occasions.
We were both website developers but with different expertise, so we had plenty of geeky stuff to talk about and learn from each other. But we also had similar tastes in music, enjoyed quality beer and shared a passion for long-distance running
Not that I was in the same league as Tony when it came to running. He would go off to different cities at weekends to compete in half-marathons just for fun – one time he even flew to Marrakesh and ran a marathon in the Moroccan heat without having done any proper training for it.
On his way back from Morocco, he bought small toy camels for everyone in the office – a total of about 25! Everyone had one of these camels on their desk. After we got the terrible news, they took on a whole new significance.
In fact, when a bunch of us decided to pay tribute to Tony in the most fitting way we could think of – a charity run at Wollaton Park last October – we put a camel on our race t-shirts as our emblem of ‘Big T’.
And that’s why, when I run the Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham this September, I’ll be wearing a t-shirt with a camel logo and once again paying tribute to my mate Tony (hopefully raising a lot of money for better mental health in the process).
During our short time working together, hanging out in various pubs and even going on the odd training run together, Tony inspired me to be a better programmer and a better runner (I was already quite good at drinking).
And he still does.
So even if 2017 was a painful year, I want to make 2018 a really positive one: first of all by getting fit enough to run the Robin Hood Half Marathon in a time that Tony wouldn’t just laugh at; and secondly, by encouraging all my friends, family and industry colleagues to sponsor me and raise awareness about the work Harmless does.
- On September 30, 2018, I finished the Robin Hood Half Marathon in 2:02:15 (which time Tony probably would have laughed at) and raised £317.50 for Harmless.
- Read more about the suicide and self-harm prevention work of the charity Harmless here.