Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Roderick Alphonso Wilson
12th May 1961 - 6th April 2007

More than a couple of people noticed that I’ve been a little quiet, low-post, in the last week or so, and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Rod, whose funeral I attended last Friday.

I met Rod when we both trained as ChildLine telephone counsellors in about 1989. I know; I can’t believe it’s that long ago, either.

The nature of group counselling training is that you get to know the people in your group pretty well; people share their life experiences, childhood, the things that shaped them. Rod had just lost his brother Chris – horribly young, to cancer - and he talked about him quite a lot. In that few months’ training we connected, and have stayed in touch ever since.

Of course, living in London, it’s a big city, and you don’t see all the friends you want to see as often as you’d like; and you kinda always expect people to be there. We’d go out clubbing, meet for lunch occasionally, talk on the phone, plan to meet for drinks, get busy… and last summer, Rod called me to tell me had stomach cancer. He was pretty upbeat, at that time, about his treatment.

Rod looked like (a young) Samuel L Jackson and had a voice like Barry White. He sang at my party a few years ago, and people are still talking about it. Over the years I’ve watched him perform in the band he met at the London Transport Museum, at parties, in pubs – he had a voice that put everyone else in the shade. He was too disinterested in (his own putative) celebrity to queue up for two days to be in whatever Be Famous For Five Minutes show was being promoted, but if he had, he’d totally have outshone everyone else there (although he was always totally up-to-date on whatever had happened to Kylie or the latest daytime TV star). And also, he had a surprising lack of arrogance for one so talented and fabulous looking.

In the last eighteen years we’ve danced (together), sung (him), gossiped, laughed and cried; Rod was the best dancer I’ve ever met, and one of the warmest people I’ve known, and he had an insight, wit and warmth that I will miss, terribly.

For a long time, in the nineties, he used to come to my work Christmas party with me. He was a total hit; he could talk to everyone from the cleaner to the CEO. A couple of year ago when my (former) Famous Neighbour invited me to their engagement party, and I was worried about not actually knowing anyone else there, Rod came with me, and Famous Neighbour greeted him like a long-lost friend, and by the end of the evening he’d spotted all the celebrities, become firm friends with half the party… and boy, did we dance. You know when you dance with someone who’s better than you, and they make you look good?

That was Rod’s secret; he had a magic power to make everyone feel good about themselves. Every time we met up or talked on the phone I’d leave feeling… uplifted. Like all is right with the world. I’m not saying he was an angel; he had a wicked wit and loved to gossip, but all with the truest, deepest soul.

I’d never been to a humanist funeral before. Being an observant Jew there are rules about how things get done (quickly, no music, to a formula) and it was a real revelation to attend such an uplifting and… almost inspiring ceremony.

It feels to me like Jewish funerals are always on a rush-before-shabbes Friday afternoon at Rainsough in Manchester; it’s dark, spine-chillingly cold, windier than you can imagine, and you climb the hill to the seen-better-days ohel (hall) and it’s Wuthering Heights and it’s cold and it’s dark.

So it was incredibly moving to share over an hour with Rod’s other friends and family, in a lovely space, with a garden outside on a sunny day; to listen, sing, share, cry. His family, work colleagues, friends and partner spoke deeply movingly about Rod, and it was a true celebration of everything he was, everything he gave. Rod and I shared a real love of soul and RnB music, and I don’t think I’ll ever listen to Mary Mary again without thinking about him. But then, that’s a good thing.

I am proud to call Rod Wilson my friend. I am very, very sorry he has gone, but I will never forget all the wonderful things about humanity he taught me.

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