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Tell Them You’re Proud of Them

Barely had the new year begun than the news came through. One of my oldest friends had died.

Howard was fifty-six, a non-smoker, not a heavy drinker. He was slim and active, a member of the RNLI operating on the Thames. He’d run a half-marathon in October. This was a bolt from the blue which hit me, and our other friends, hard. I can only begin to imagine how it has devastated his wife and family.

We’d known each other since we were six when I started attending school in the small village in South Wales where we grew up. We were in the same class for most of our school lives. Over the years we fought like cat and dog, played in the same football and rugby teams, attended cubs and scouts, camped out, drank, chased girls, went on a boys’ holiday to Corfu, and did all the other things you’d expect lifelong friends to have got up to.

He was supportive of my writing endeavours and I believe was secretly chuffed I’d given a character in the Earth Haven trilogy his first name.

In February 2020, in a world only weeks away from being devastated by covid, we spent a weekend in Dublin with some of our other friends. There are photos of him on this blog from that trip: In Dublin’s Fair City. When we made our way back to Dublin airport, he hopped off the bus before the rest of us since he needed to be in a different terminal to catch his flight back to London. As the bus pulled away, he banged on the window and grinned. That was the last time I saw him.

Dublin 2020

Howard lived in London for many years. It’s where his life was, one far removed from our quiet home village. Yet, whenever we saw him—perhaps at Christmas, or at a funeral or a rugby international—we’d pick up where we’d left off, as though it had been months since we’d last seen him, not years.

And how well he’d done for himself. After qualifying as a quantity surveyor and working in private practice, he went on to hold high-powered estate management positions with the Metropolitan Police and, more lately, with the British Museum. A far cry from how our teachers had perceived him when we were in comprehensive school.

Neither of us were loud in class. We tended to keep our heads down and try not to draw attention to ourselves. Accordingly, I don’t think our teachers had any real idea of who we were.

When we were sixteen, Howard and I were asked by the school to attend a local factory which was on the lookout for apprentices. The factory manufactured staples—the sort you use to attach pieces of paper together. I have no idea why the school thought we would be interested in becoming staple manufacturers, but they asked us to go and, seeing the opportunity for a day off school, we both said yes. I don’t remember much about the visit, except that we caught the bus up the valley, attended the factory, nodded and smiled when shown around, and caught the bus home again.

Presumably the school followed up, asking whether we wanted to apply for apprenticeships at the factory, but I don’t really remember. The answers would have been two firm noes in any event. I had no idea what I wanted to be at that age, but I did know I didn’t want to make staples. And neither did Howard. (Nothing wrong with being a staple maker; it just wasn’t for us.)

I went on to become a lawyer and now a writer, and Howard, as already mentioned, went on to become successful in the world of estate management, outcomes that I imagine would greatly surprise whoever’s idea it was that we might want to make staples. It’s something we shared many a chuckle over.

I am proud of what he achieved, not only professionally but in his private life, too—his marriage to a lovely lady who he was completely crazy about; his selfless work for the RNLI; his dry wit and popularity with everyone who knew him. But here’s the thing: I never told him I was proud of him. It’s not the sort of thing blokes say to each other. At least, not among my friends.

Perhaps we should. And not just that we’re proud of each other. Perhaps we should tell our loved ones how we feel about them more often. Our friends and colleagues how much we appreciate them.

Otherwise, before we know it, it’s too late.

Corfu 1988

20 Replies to “Tell Them You’re Proud of Them”

  1. This is so so true, I think I’ve only ever told Geraint and Cerys how proud I am of them.
    For the record, I’m very proud of the way your your writing career is going.

    1. And so you should be proud of them – they’re a bloody credit to you. At the risk of making this sound like a mutual appreciation society, likewise I’m proud of you for siring such wonderful kids and all you’ve achieved over the years sporting-wise and professionally.

  2. Hello, I have just received the sad news of Howard’s passing. I taught Howard many years ago in Penyfai C in Wales Primary School when he was in the Infants. I can remember him so well. He was delightful but could be full of mischief. Another past pupil gave me the news and sent me this link, so I felt I had to say how lovely it was to have his history and to know that he’d had such a brilliant career. I am not familiar with your name, so don’t think I taught you! Although pupils don’t remember their teachers from their early years, we teachers remember our pupils and have pleasure in knowing how they have got on. It has been a pleasure reading about him and so sad to have lost him at such a young age especially as he led such a full life. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I don’t think you did teach me (I joined the school when I was six – my first teacher there was Miss Jones, who was quite elderly then), but I’m fairly sure you taught my brother Julian Griffiths. (I’m Huw Griffiths – Sam Kates is my pen name.)

    2. To correct my earlier reply, I think (and Jackie confirms it) I was in your class when you were Miss James. It might be that I joined partway through the school year and so didn’t have a full year with you, which would explain the foggy memories. Anyway, it’s lovely to hear from you.

  3. Sam, I’m so sorry Howard died so young and so suddenly. Thank you so much for writing about him. Requiescat in pace, Howard.

    I agree with you completely about telling the people you love and admire how you feel. I was a morbid child, with death on my mind, and so would kiss my mom even if she went out to get the daily vegetables. And pick wildflowers for her. She died young, 35 yrs ago this past Tuesday at age 51, but she knew how much we loved and adored her. I still miss her. And I know you will miss Howard. Sending you virtual hugs and real prayers.

  4. So sorry to hear about Howard. You had an amazing friendship and although poignant – what a lovely read. I remember having a Primary School crush on him all those years ago. You have every right to feel proud of him – I’m sure he certainly felt the same way.

    1. Aw, thank you, Mel. I might not have seen him that often, but I’m going to bloody miss him. You had a crush on him? That’s so sweet. I remember primary school crushes – they seem so innnocent now.

  5. Hey, Sam. Sorry about your friend, man. I know it sucks to lose someone who was in your life from a young age. I lost an old friend to cancer just last month. He was 45. You just never know when the world is going to take someone away.

    If Howard had kids, then I’d encourage you to chat with them a little about their Dad. Tell some old stories about him, particularly the funny ones. It’ll help all of y’all–but especially them–work through the grief.

    On a lighter note, the 1988 version of you was a devilishly handsome dude. I’m envious. I was never that good-looking. lol

    Cheers, bud. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jeff, and commiserations on the loss of your friend. 45? Man, that’s too young by far. Howard didn’t have children but, if he did, that sounds like good advice.
      Not sure about the handsome bit, but I’ll take it. Thank you.

  6. Huw/Sam, your words are just breathtaking. The sudden loss of any friend – especially your closest from Junior & Comp Scools – is not something you get over easily. Your loss of Howard brings back floods of sad memories of Dorian as you will know.
    Your words about the last time you saw him/said goodbye reminds us all to think what we should say and do each time we say goodbye to a loved one or good friend. Spare some time in your busy life to cry on your own and with others. It remains one of the best therapies from the shock. My sympathy and best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Jonathan. I suspect I, and our other friends, will feel Howard’s loss as much as you still feel Dorian’s. All best wishes to you, too.

  7. The death of anyone close to you is a tragedy and you question what you could have done more of or differently. My father died of a massive heart attack at 56 and I wish that I had told him how proud I was of him and my first love Dorian died over 5 years ago and I last saw him just before he went to New Zealand. I did tell him how proud I was of him but it hasn’t made the loss any easier. I liked Sid a lot – he was witty and kind, never judgemental and great company. The world is less kind without him.

  8. Thank you dear Huw for your wonderful tribute to my beautiful husband Howard.
    He cherished the lifetime of friendship he shared with all the gang from Pen-Y-Fai and as true friends know l, even though you may not have seen each other as often as you had wished you always just picked up where you’d left off as if you’d never been apart.
    That’s so very special.
    He loved reading your books and was so proud of your bravery & strength in your change of career Huw.
    You’re right we need to tell those we love how proud we are of them all the time.
    I’m so grateful I told Howie I loved him every single day and he always said the same to me. I’ll treasure that forever.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jo. What an emotional day Friday was and such a fitting send-off. The love for Howard and high regard in which he was held shone through in everyone there. He will be badly missed.

  9. I loved reading this, it bought a lump to my throat. And very true say it now, it’s something we all need to learn. It was a lovely tribute and Howard had a wonderful spirit and his legacy will live on .

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