Today, February 8th, would have been Ian Cheewah's 45th birthday. Sadly he didn't live to see this one, passing away three short weeks ago. Ian was a true and dear friend for many years. His friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers gathered for a memorial service last Thursday. I met Ian many years ago. We worked together, we spent time together, we worked together and so on. I was honoured to have had the chance to say a few words at his memorial service:… 2010 wasn't supposed to start like this
If Ian was standing with me now, saying those words, his smile would have been broad and he'd have added "you know what I'm saying?"
And then that deep, rich belly laugh of his would have erupted. A laugh that made you laugh along with him, that forced a smile to your face, no matter what else was going on.
At this difficult time, it is that laugh that I am holding on tight to.
But truth be told, more than half the time I didn't have a clue what Ian was saying, but I went along with the laugh anyway.
Early on I realised that Ian was thinking more deeply than me – Ian knew things that I didn’t and his brain had already raced ahead of mine and I was playing catchup; and I so often played catchup.
I last spoke with Ian the night before his operation. He was at work, making sure - he told me - that everything was organised because he thought me might be away a few weeks. Little did any of us know that wouldn't be the case, although perhaps Ian had half an idea - and he was handling it better than any of us would have done.
We shared some laughs that night, in a conversation that had I known what I know now, I would have made last a lot longer. Again, he was ahead of me, only this time I didn’t catch up. It wouldn't have been difficult to talk for longer. There was never a shortage of things to talk about and time with Ian was always precious, always cut short by his travel schedule or mine, by some meeting or another, by some interruption.
But you can never know what you don't know, and you'll never know why you don’t know it.
How many of us would have chosen such a day to be at work? I know that I would not have done. And so there stands the test of the man that Ian was. Ian loved many things. Ian loved life too much for him to go so soon. He loved his work and he loved everything he did outside of work. He held his family and his friends dear whilst embracing all of the fun that life had to offer. Ian was the buddy you always wanted to have around because he made you and everyone else around you feel comfortable.
I knew Ian in a few guises. First, as long ago as 1996, I was a customer, then a friend and then both. Over the years, his teams have told me that as a boss he let you be master of your own destiny and seeded ideas for you to grow; as a customer, it was his energy and thinking that kept everyone moving, changing and striving to do great things. As a friend, it was many things – the mad ideas, the laugh out loud phone conversations, the dinners, the bars and the clubs.
I have many truly endearing memories of Ian but the ones that I savour, the ones that truly capture the Ian that we all knew, were the times at restaurants, ones like Hakkasan when Ian would hold court - that's kind of how it seemed. He’d be sitting on a couch, his arms spread wide, welcoming everyone in. Ian would be surrounded by people that he knew well, knew a little and some that he didn’t know at all. It didn't matter. People he only vaguely knew would quickly become friends - and when he saw them again, sometimes weeks or months later, things would pick up where they had left off. One big Fusion workshop.
I'm sad that it will be some time before I can pick up with Ian where we left off but I know that when we do he will be there with that huge smile and that deep laugh, ready to share the latest news and to introduce me to his new friends, St Peter on his left, Gabriel on his right.
So as we sit here in St Botolph's, the patron saint of wayfarers, know that Ian has made his way to a better place. And consider in the weeks and months ahead as you make your own journey through life,
if you could know now what lies ahead, if you could know what you don’t know, would you be doing what you're doing, travelling the road that you are travelling?2010 wasn't supposed to start like this, you know what I'm saying?
Sleep tight good buddy – ‘til I catch up with you again.