Sometimes in this life, we’re lucky enough to meet people who truly inspire us. People who’ll be dealing with unimaginable grief but remain determined to make a difference and help others around them.
If we’re really lucky those people might become our friends.
I’ve been that lucky, Tony Harrison was one of those people and he was wonderful.
Tony died from cancer in the early hours of Friday morning, I’m in shock and I’m devastated.
I first met Tony in 2014 and got to know him over the next seven years.
I’d been aware of his story before that, you see I got to know Tony because of the work he did around suicide prevention. Tony had lost his own daughter, Vicky, to suicide in 2010, in the years since then he’d become determined to raise awareness, improve access to services and save lives.
After Vicky died, he became a trustee of Papyrus – Prevention of young suicide – he simply didn’t want anyone to go through what he had.
This was why we met.
I’ve always been amazed that Tony spoke to me when I first contacted him seven years ago.
I remember when Vicky died, he had a horrendous experience with the press, her story was used to score political points during the election campaign. It was disgusting how it had been distilled and misreported across the world.
I wouldn’t have blamed him for hating us all, somehow though he put that to one side to speak out, to raise awareness and save lives. He wanted to smash the stigma.
He always spoke openly about it and about Vicky. I always felt privileged that he trusted me with his story and most importantly with his daughter’s memory.
Tony was relentless about the work he did, it’s how we became friends over the years. We’d sit and chat after every interview, he’d tell stories, make jokes, and talk about plans he had. He’d get in touch with stories and tell me what developments and break throughs he’d had with his campaign. He’d always make time for an interview or a general catch up and always send messages wishing my a merry Christmas, happy new year and a happy birthday.
I joined his ‘Walk With An Angel’ walk in Blackburn that he arranged every July. It’d be ten miles with other campaigners who I’d chat with and get to know, it ended in a pub – which is how all walks should end to be honest – and it’d be all about raising money for Papyrus and hopefully sparking conversation. It was so much fun, he didn’t walk himself but would appear at the side of the road shouting encouragement with a big smile before giving a speech half-way through.
When I left my old job, he was among the first people I rang to tell, luckily we were able to continue working together.
I last saw him in September, he wanted to speak about world suicide prevention day. Normally he’d be running around making final preparations for a vigil he’d started in the town centre, he cared so much about getting it right and about paying tribute to those who’d lost their lives. Obviously, there wasn’t a public vigil in September but the message about getting help was more important than ever.
That’s what stood out in that interview, he was worried about the impact of Covid on people, the Hopeline at Papyrus had seen a huge increase in calls, he wanted people to know there was still help available, that we should be reaching out to each other.
He was as excitable as always the last time I saw him, that enthusiasm, big smile and jokey nature was a tonic.
He had big ideas for continuing to educate people about suicide, he played me a song he’d written for a musical and promised to send details of another big idea he’d had that he’d need help with.
I’m so sad that we didn’t get to work on that project.
So Tony, you wanted to save lives, I have no doubt that you did.
Your warmth and kindness will be missed by so many. You inspired so many, myself included, your legacy will live on (I’ll do all I can to make sure that happens).
I will treasure everything you shared with me and am honoured that you did.
I’ll miss our meetings and chats but will hold them in my heart forever. I’m honoured to have gotten to know you and proud to have been able to call you a friend.
Sleep tight, you really were one of the best xxx
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm