John died on Friday last. I hadn’t even known he was ill. We hadn’t spoken for about 8-9 months and had lost track a little. I was sat on a train when I got the call. Rumbling out of Waterloo, the line wasn’t great but Sally persisted so that’s how I heard he’d died from an aggressive cancer. We divided up who of our mutual friends we should call and set about our tasks. I was flattered that Sally had called me first, she said I’d have the farthest reach amongst our alumni. Except she had called me and I didn’t know he’d died.
It had been a good day, some charity work, a little networking and then meeting a friend. A wholly ordinary day to find out my friend had died. That a guy who at one point had been the sole reason I could continue my studies was no longer around to witness my progress.
We met back in 2006 on a course. We found out we lived not far from each other and went out for a drink once in a while between modules. There was a loose gang of us in West London & John was always ready for some socialising, a chance to discuss the material. As we moved to the next level of training my company withdrew their sponsorship. John asked me if I would consider a loan from him so that we could all continue to study together. He said he’d seen a spark in me and he’d been lucky enough in life that he felt able to “pay it forward” and help me kindle that weak flame. He refused to sign a contract, charge interest or set a payment schedule – I guess as a lawyer he’d evaluated his risks – and he said that I was under no obligation to repay him but that he hoped I would.
I did repay him. As I handed him the final cheque I gave him the letter I had written to thank him. He read it, gave me a huge bear hug and wouldn’t let go for about 5 minutes. The next day he handed me a card which explained more of why he had lent the money and how he felt his judgement had been vindicated by two things. Firstly, I had repaid it, secondly he had seen the way I’d blossomed on the course and he could see me developing, he knew his investment had been the enabler. This time it was my turn to hug and not let go.
Why am I telling you all this? To assuage my grief for not being in touch with him at the time of his death? To honour his memory? Honestly, I don’t know. I think I’m just trying to find a way to make sense of it all. I got a call later on from a chap called Tom, the man with the unenviable task of working his way through John’s address book and letting people know. Selfishly I was glad I’d missed the call, it felt like I’d somehow kept John alive a little longer. A foolish vanity I know.
Earlier this week I blogged on price vs value. Although the blog was popular I felt I’d not fully made my point. Little did I know that John would make the point more eloquently than I ever could. He invested in me when I wasn’t sure of my value. There was a specific price to pay but he was willing to gamble all that money on the potential value within me.
Thank you John for that belief in me, for fanning the flames and giving me that chance. I know the money was repaid but I’ll always be in debt to that trust. I’ll miss you.