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URSABLOG: The Measure of a Man


Do we ever really know a man? We see different sides, different perspectives, through the lenses of different relationships, dependent on what the man himself chooses to show, intentionally or otherwise. We never get the full picture.


This is true even when we consider ourselves; when we look in the mirror we only see one dimension, the one facing us. 


Have you ever walked into a lift with mirrors on the walls? You see a strange image of the back of yourself moving in the opposite direction you should be, repeating and fading into infinity. You would love to stay and examine these images, play with the perspectives, but then the doors open and you step back out into real life.


Consider your friends. How much do you really know about them? However much you love them, however much time you spend with them, you consider the friend from your point of view; it’s no-one’s fault, it’s all you can do. But then something happens, you get a jolt, and then you see your friend through the eyes of many other people. You get a completely different perspective, and have to reconsider your friend, and your relationship. You may even end up reconsidering yourself.


I have had just such a jolt: a vicious, bitter, vicious and sudden jolt. My friend Tony Smith, known to many of you in the shipping industry, died last week. I will not dwell on the tragedy of his last few days, or the torment and despair his friends and family have been through. I only want to share with you my thoughts about Tony.


Three things come to mind when I think of Tony:


-           Loyalty


-           Integrity 


-           Καλό παιδί


Tony’s friends were dispersed in small pockets around the world, most of them in shipping, not surprising considering he spent over thirty years working in the industry. So many of us were familiar with the “hello mate” he would start every conversation with when he called you. If he liked you, and trusted you, you were stuck with him. I was at first puzzled by this; shipping is such a fickle industry that we treat loyalty as suspect. “What do they mean by that?” Tony was a better man than that. 


His bosses knew this loyalty, his colleagues too. And my brother and sister brokers knew it well: he was not partial, he was scrupulously fair, but if he felt you were worth it he would help you.


Over the last few days this loyalty has been put into fresh perspective. The stories I have heard from his colleagues, his former clients, his friends bear testament to this. I know for a fact that his loyalty to his family overrode every other consideration. This is part of what makes his death now, at the age of 49, so brutally tragic. 


His integrity was harder to see, but ran deep, down to his very roots: it defined his sense of what a man should be. He was a man like most of us I suppose, with strengths and weaknesses, but there was a stubborn core in him that meant, in the end, he could only do what he thought was the right thing to do. 


He was the superlative owner’s broker. When he was bored, or preparing for action, he would call me and ask me for advice on sale contract terms. When he had completed this work of art, this labour of love, he would call again and say “I have such a kick-ass set of seller’s terms now you would not believe it.” He was half right: they did kick ass, but I could well believe it. 


As for καλό παιδί, he was simply one of the good guys. His little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness were given freely: to family, to colleagues, to friends, even to brokers. The examples are too many to mention, and as a naturally shy man he would not want me to publicise them. But he touched me deeply a month or two ago when we were out for dinner and although he himself was going through a time of personal difficulty and stress, he nevertheless interrogated me, and gave some hard and uncompromising – and welcome, and wise – words of advice. 


When someone close to us dies it is an emotional time and all sorts of feelings well up in us: some honourable, some conflicted, some generous, some angry, on many occasions all at the same time. We think, instinctively perhaps, of our own mortality, that life is too short, and we must seize the opportunities and live life to the full. We try and keep it up for a while, but then eventually, inevitably, we go back to our old ways and carry on as normal. Or we think, what’s the point? Life is so fragile and can be taken away so arbitrarily, so suddenly, that it renders us hopeless. And then we see the effect on others, and are moved by pity and sadness. Or we try and block it all and carry on life as normal. The reactions are unique to us, as different from each other as we are as human beings, but the thing about death is that life goes on, despite it, because of it.


My own thoughts have not yet settled, but the overriding impression I have of Tony is that he was someone you could count on. Not just a safe pair of hands, but a good, loyal guy who strove to do what was right. That’s fine as an epitaph, some nice words to carve somewhere in his memory, but if that is all there is left of him, it misses the point somehow. I can regret that I didn’t do enough to show him my appreciation of him as a man whilst he was still with us, but that doesn’t quite ring true either.


I miss him. In acknowledging that I have to admit to myself that he occupied a space in my life that cannot easily be refilled. But more than that, I don’t want that space filled, even if it means that the sadness and the sense of loss will not fade as quickly. That was the measure of this man. May he rest in peace.


Simon Ward