It is a huge honour to have been elected by my fellow trustees as the new Chair of PAPYRUS. It is also somewhat daunting to try to follow in the footsteps of my two illustrious predecessors, Stephen Habgood and Ann Parry.
Stephen Habgood, like most of the trustees, discovered PAPYRUS following personal tragedy – the suicide of his son, Christopher, a university student. Under Stephen’s chairmanship, since 2010, PAPYRUS has grown from a tiny charity with a handful of staff, based in a small office in Burnley, to the major national charity that it is today.
Stephen’s predecessor as Chair of Trustees was Ann Parry, one of the founding parents of PAPYRUS, following the death by suicide of her son, Lewis. Sadly she died just two days before this year’s AGM following a long illness. I did not know Ann personally, but I have been reliably informed that she was a truly remarkable woman. Following Lewis’s death, she dedicated her life to suicide prevention and PAPYRUS. She served as Chair of PAPYRUS from 2000 until 2010, was a key driving force behind the founding of HOPELINEUK in 2005 and she appointed our current chief executive in 2010. As a proud Welsh woman, Ann was thrilled to hear that PAPYRUS had set up a Wales office in Cardiff. She will be sadly missed and our sympathies go to Tony, Ann’s husband, and Owen, her other son.
As for me, I owe my involvement with PAPYRUS to my elder son, Patrick, who took his own life in 2015 at the age of 25. My wife Anna and I adopted Patrick when he was seven weeks old. He was a beautiful looking child and had a lively, magnetic personality in his early years, which gained him many devoted friends. School, however, was never the place for Patrick – apart from the playground, where he was kingpin. It was at school that Patrick learnt about failure and in his inability to concentrate in tests and exams, he regularly failed. Despite our best efforts to raise his confidence levels he felt a failure for the rest of his life.
Throughout the second part of his life, Patrick was effectively a drug addict, which reinforced his insecurities to the extent of becoming depressed, reclusive and, ultimately, suicidal.
As any parent who has lost a child to suicide will tell you, however much we might blame educators and health practitioners for letting down our children (and most of us feel justified in doing so to a greater or lesser extent), we blame ourselves more. It is this feeling of guilt that we should have done more for our child (even though the truth is that we probably did everything and more) that makes bereavement by suicide so utterly unbearable.
In the weeks after Patrick’s death in January 2015, this sad, broken parent discovered PAPYRUS while doing a random internet search for supportive organizations. And the discovery proved to be a revelation. Here was a charity dealing with the terrible taboo-ridden topic of suicide which was forged with passion, positivity, optimism and humour. I have since found these qualities personified in our amazing Chief Executive, Ged Flynn, and his outstanding team of staff.
For me, PAPYRUS has proved to be a life-saving charity in more ways than one. Like so many who are bereaved by suicide, I had little interest in life in the weeks and months following Patrick’s death. Becoming a trustee of PAPYRUS and contributing to the cause of preventing others from going through the appalling suffering which beset our family, has given me a new motivation. I am so proud to now be in a position, with our trustees, to support the vital work of our Chief Executive and his brilliant senior management team and staff in four (and soon to be five) different offices in the UK.
The family of PAPYRUS is, however, so much more than the trustees and staff of the charity. Just take a look at our website, and the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, and you’ll get a sense of the overall PAPYRUS community. The thousands of people, of all ages, most touched by the tragedy of young suicide, who fundraise by walking, running, cycling, climbing, trekking and a host of other creative and imaginative activities, and who get involved in numerous awareness raising events, and who volunteer for the charity in all kinds of ways… What people have done and continue to do for PAPYRUS is utterly awe-inspiring and makes me feel all the prouder to be, as they are, part of this astonishing charity.