October 21, 2012
Michael O’Connor Clarke
A Eulogy given at the Funeral Mass on 20th October 2012
My beloved brother, Michael, was at once a restless spirit and a man rooted in his home and family life. It is conventional to say of a departed loved one that he was a family man, but Michael’s love for his wife and children formed the centre of all that he did and was; and he was fuelled and sustained by the unconditional love of Leona, Charlie, Lily and Ruairi. The many friends and extended family members who looked on anxiously as Michael fought against illness have been stirred by the resolution and endurance shown by Leona, who stayed by Michael’s side throughout each day of what became the weeks and months of Michael’s struggle. Brave and devoted parents produce brave and devoted children. Not many fifteen, thirteen, and nine year olds could show the dignity and fortitude that Charlie, Lily and Ruairi have shown, and are showing today.
As the many tributes to Michael posted on blogs and other social media show, Michael was an example and mentor to many working in the fields of public relations and commercial and personal networking. A mentor Michael was, and also a rescuer. Michael’s courage in the face of the onslaught, for such it was, of the cancer that took his life, is typical of the physical and moral courage that Michael showed throughout his life. I have seen Michael the rescuer wade into the middle of a group of armed thugs to pluck their victim to safety, saving that man’s life. Michael the rescuer could not pass by a homeless person without putting his hand to his pocket, and Michael the rescuer went on to help establish HoHoTo, now a beacon of social concern for the Toronto homeless. Michael was a clear-sighted social and political progressive. A patriotic but not nationalistic Irishman, and adoptive Canadian, Michael championed the values of civil society, tolerance and openness which so distinguish Canada.
Michael’s moral courage was reflected also in his professional work, in which he was a principled advocate for his clients, promoting integrity in a world of spin. Michael was a pioneer of and forthright commentator on the emerging world of social media, always stressing honesty in communication. He latterly found colleagues of like minds and principles at Media Profile, where he is much missed.
I am perhaps making Michael sound too serious, too much a paragon. Michael was, of course, a man of great merriment and wit. His childhood love of the absurd and the plain silly never left him. I was in the year above Michael at our staid and somewhat oppressive secondary school in the West Midlands of England. I tried to rebel, but, alas, my parents wouldn’t let me. Michael’s rebellious instincts were stronger, and he baffled the stuffy school, which simply could not get its head around a boy so bright but also so non-conformist. So it was that Michael was the first of us to kiss a girl who was not his cousin (and when you’re Irish, that is quite something), Michael was the only one of us to play in a rock band (the “Civil Servants” – they were rubbish!), and Michael was the only one of us to wrap a car around a tree, emerging unscathed and laughing from that adventure, and many others
When Michael grew up, his driving improved. He was in fact the fastest driver I know, who never made me feel unsafe whilst driving at speed. On his last visit to England last year, to support our mother as she waged her own battle with ill health, Michael gracefully spun my 1970 Jensen Interceptor whist exploring the limits of oversteer on a frosty roundabout, and as gracefully recovered. Michael’s sporty little car here in Toronto is currently refusing to drive, no doubt in protest at the loss of its pilot.
Michael’s sense of the whacky grew ever stronger. He delighted in language, and in the comedy of words. Michael once thought of becoming an actor, and loved performance, but he could as well have been a comic scriptwriter of brilliance. He became instead an acutely perceptive commentator on corporate language and communication, and on the phenomena of language and discourse in the wired age. In conversation, Michael could tire the Sun with talking, and send it down the sky, and we did so many times, but not often enough.
Michael loved to ski, loved to jump into a cottage country lake, loved to cook, loved to argue the correct specification of a Martini. Michael sparkled in the company of men and of women, but only had eyes for Leona. He energised people around him, and could rescue a gloomy brother from the Black Dog, from thousand of miles away with a single email.
Michael supported many, mentored many, and rescued many, but in the end he could not rescue himself, or be rescued, when cancer came at him, with no warning, like a Blitzkrieg. Michael’s personal Dunkirk lasted for four months; and in the end he was one of those who stood in the rearguard and fought to the last bullet, and did not make it to the boats.
Now we face his loss, and his eloquent voice and graceful pen are silenced. Michael would not wish for us to be silent. He would want us to talk about him, to laugh at his jokes, and to carry on his rescuing. Whether it’s rescuing a homeless person from loneliness and want, or rescuing the apostrophe from abuse at the hands of the ungrammatical, Michael would wish us to continue as he did.
Before closing, I offer, on behalf of Leona and the children, on behalf of my mother Kay and my father Joe, who have suffered the hurt that each parent dreads the most, on behalf of my brothers Eamonn and Kieron, on behalf of Ann, Cathal, Wendy and Dwayne, and the extended O’Connor and Clarke families our profound gratitude to the doctors, nurses and carers of St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, for their painstaking, professional and compassionate care of Michael, and to the network of friends who gathered around Michael as he fought, and gather with us here today. Thank you.
I will end with words not my own, but of the seventeenth century metaphysical poet and divine, John Donne, a writer whom Michael, a student and lover of English literature, admired. Donne, like many of his generation, was much exercised by the idea of death, and struggled with issues of faith and redemption. He it was who wrote, famously, that no man is an island, entire of itself. Each man’s death, he observed, diminisheth me. Today, we are diminished by the loss of my dear brother Michael, but Donne gives us words of defiance, saying:-
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.