[This page has been copied from its original place of publication, my old blog, Hooked on Books, because some things just don’t fade and cannot be forgotten…]
Eulogy for Gavin Alasdair Steed
(19 May 1977 – 9 November 2009)
I’d like to thank you all on behalf of Gavin’s family for coming today.
If you are surprised as I am by Gavin’s sudden departure then you – like members of his family – are still waiting for the punchline. Gavin loved to laugh. He loved to laugh so much that he would go to extraordinary lengths to tell a good joke. Of course, the very best jokes are sometimes also very bad jokes.
I know that you are all waiting for Gavin to return and surprise us all with what would prove to be his worst joke yet, one that will bring him his biggest telling-off to date but here we are, celebrating Gavin the son, Gavin the brother, Gavin the nephew and uncle, Gavin the lover and Gavin the friend and colleague.
Do not stop the clocks, call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, play the piano or bang the drums but please, make a noise. Gavin loved life and loved living so much, it transpires that he has been making all kinds of promises to each of us that he will now never keep. Gavin did this because he wants you to enjoy yourself and for you all to enjoy life as much as he tried to.
“Are you sure you want all of that?”
“Let me help you with that…”
We can hear him still: he is the son who we expect to come down the stairs at any moment; the brother from whom we await the latest funny story; the uncle who will not see us grow up; the lover whose phone-call has not arrived today and the friend who will miss all tomorrow’s parties.
Gavin touched all of us and in each of our lives, we have enjoyed some of the magic he so generously shared because Gavin gave so much of himself.
Some men are born wealthy, stay wealthy and die wealthy. Others lose their wealth carelessly, squandering the gifts they were given, while others will build on what they were given. Some men think that wealth can be measured in money or with property but as we’ve all learned recently, real wealth is in the love you share.
As a boy, we were so sure that his entrepreneurial spirit would endow him with great material wealth but Gavin was not only sensitive and compassionate in recognising the needs of others, he was enormously intelligent. Gavin has proved to be much smarter than even we knew. When I look around today, it is incredible to realise just how much he invested in his friendships… but then Gavin always loved being the centre of attention.
Some men are born for the stage, others for the silver screen but oddly, Gavin never had the confidence of his own abilities and it is perhaps for this that we feel the most despair. Gavin was on the rise, about to begin a whole new chapter of his life and I know that among tears and through laughter, there is not a little rage at this injustice. But Gavin never gave up and on those nights at our parent’s back door, when we talked under the stars as we shared a sneaky cigarette or cigar with a mug of coffee, I want you all to know that he talked of each of you and often.
A favourite story in the family is of a bike ride we all rode on one quiet Sunday afternoon. This was at a time when we were living in England, the return to Scotland still a few years away. We lived near the Peak District and would regularly take to the hills for long walks which we also remember as the days when my dad, leading by example, tore down fences and beat his own path through unknown territory. A bike ride seemed perfect then for a family used to getting lost.
Finding your way by road is so easy that even I could do it, riding off in front on my bright red racing bike, Gavin and Sheelagh struggling to keep up. I remember hurtling down a steep hill that ended with a blind bend. I narrowly missed a big rock lying in the road. “Mind the road,” I shouted back and then stopped to watch my family come safely down. Sheelagh came down the hill next. “Mind the rock!” She shouted and stopped her bike next to mine. Next, Gavin… He was so happy to finally be able to go as fast as his brother and sister: “What rock?”
You can guess the rest. For some people, comic timing is studied, planned and engineered to perfection. For others, it is a natural talent but Gavin was somewhat beyond that, the master of the moment whose Zen-like calm was the only clue to the next round of chaos and laughter.
To have known Gavin in passing was to meet a man of great compassion, to befriend Gavin was to gain a brother but to actually be his brother was to be truly privileged. I am sure that like each member of his family, you can all feel the absence of Gavin’s great beaming smile and the warmth of his presence but to dwell on what we will miss seems selfish when reflecting on all that he gave us.
We should celebrate what we had while Gavin was able to give so compassionately and later, when we gather together, I hope that you will join Gavin’s family in sharing at least one joke, one misadventure, one comic moment of Gavin’s life with someone you’ve never met before and so continue Gavin’s great adventure in life beyond the last punchline.
Gavin died very suddenly just after 9am on Monday. We knew he sometimes hated his job but not that much.
As his older brother, I can assure you that the sentiments expressed in the eulogy were as exact as I could make them. We’re still exchanging stories about him, some of them new to those who hear them but most of them with a rotten punchline or wind-up at the core. Gavin really was sunshine and lightness in the lives of everyone he touched.
I speak for the whole family when I say that as we arrived for the last farewell at the crematorium, we were taken aback by the sheer number of people who turned out. Though it is sometimes the custom for the family to wait in-line and exchange commiserations with fellow mourners who have taken the time to come along to the funeral, we were simply not able to do this and hope that everyone understands.
We are still awaiting conclusive results of further investigation but it seems likely that Gavin died as a result of Marfan Syndrome. The gene linked to this condition has only recently been identified and it was the first his family had heard of this. With the help of many, we have so far raised more than £500 for the British Heart Foundation.
When I stood there next to Colin to deliver the eulogy, I hope that what I said reflected at least some of the man you knew whether you knew Gavin – also known as ‘Steed’ – from work or as friend. I was only his brother and only saw part of Gavin’s life. For those who knew him (and haven’t perhaps had opportunity elsewhere), please feel free to make comment below.
* * *
Addendum: it seems right moment on transferring this page across to the new blog, that I share what we have learned in the year and a half since Gavin’s sudden passing. It transpires that Gavin did not die from undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome after all. More than eighteen months after his memorial and cremation, we are still awaiting a definitive answer. Writing at this time, I have to admit that it feels unlikely there ever will be an adequate explanation.