My friend Will died this morning.
We met when I was 11 and he 12. He was already Patrol Leader of The Panthers – Wolverhampton 15th scout troop, based at the Methodist Church in Pennfields. We wore shorts and wide brimmed hats and carried a scout pole for parades and such. We used them to build things by tying several together with ropes and knots. We learned crafts and played rough games as well as football. We studied for badges – First Aid, Messenger, Tenderfoot, Second class and more. At camps we played more rough games and cooked and survived on cold and wet nights.
Will had not been at our primary school and he was at another secondary school, but he lived nearby – our contact was via the scouts and the church. We both joined the youth club – styled ‘Questors’. So we met other teenagers – boys and girls. We learned country dancing and how to get on with each other, went on hikes in Derbyshire on Bank Holidays, raised funds for good causes and did some good deeds. These times shaped us and stayed with us throughout our lives.
Will was an accomplished athlete and good at soccer, cricket and tennis – in later years he took up hockey. I was never in the same class –but we enjoyed games on Questors’ holidays and talked all the time about the football – Wolves being one of the best teams in England. Local heroes.
Will had a Palm Beach bike. Triumph Palm Beach | Science Museum Group Collection Mine was more ordinary. He would come round some evenings, just to talk. He did not have a brother or sister so this gave us chance to put the world right and wonder what we might do with our lives. My dad liked to join in, but not usually my brother.
I went to London to university and Will stayed local and found his way into social work. At one stage he was a Hospital Social Worker in Birmingham. He took special interest in older people and somehow this brought us back together and I found myself talking to a gathering in Sheffield about alcohol and older people. I could and would go anywhere to talk about older people in those days. It was late autumn and the road back across the Pennines was shrouded in dense fog. I did fear for my life.
Will was perhaps more restless than I was – he moved between a number of jobs, frustrated with shortcomings and red tape of the Local Authorities and NHS, but then horrified by some aspects of work within the charitable sector. Everywhere he went he gathered friends, and they stuck with him even as he moved on. He had regular get-togethers with a group from the north until illness and disability made this impracticable.
Will was big, friendly but unassuming, quiet and a good listener – interested in other people and supportive to them.
During my time with the Community Health Trust in Wolverhampton, Will took on the management of an Extra Care facility in Bilston. It was a marriage made in heaven – A new and well-designed building right in the heart of town. Tremendous support from a sympathetic Local Authority. Staff drawn from nearby, determined and devoted to make this new venture work. Residents who had lived locally, many with relatives and friends in the area. Some had been struggling in a care home. And Will. The whole place was carried by love and understanding, ingenious innovations, and celebrations of every achievement – by residents, staff, visitors – anyone and everyone.
We have kept in touch since both retiring. Will has been sustained by a wonderful second marriage – still moving house from time to time – I should have kept a log of the addresses over the years. In this time this great, strong man became progressive disabled by a combination of arthritis and repeated strokes. He had received expert and sympathetic advice from specialists at New Cross Hospital, complemented by interpretation and support from local services, but movement got more and more difficult and painful. There were periods of confusion and uncertainty but they always cleared to allow some lucid conversation. We never tired of remembering wonderful times and wonderful people – with chuckles and warm, sometimes rueful, smiles. I treasure the mornings at Lazy Days café in Brewood, where we would take our time over ‘breakfast’, hear the Wolverhampton accents and chatter. Will might know people – some were relatives. He would flirt innocently with the waitress.
Further strokes. Now he is dead. The saddest day – but not the end.
Tears of thankfulness for these times shared.