5th December 1977, David Paul Staff entered this world and made our lives truly happy and at that time the happiest day of our lives. As years passed, everyone who came into contact with him grew to like him, he hadn’t a malicious, vindictive bone in his body. He was a really lovely person to be with who everyone took to. He traversed all age groups and as he grew older he developed a sense of humour and what a sense of humour, weird but wonderful, witty and funny.
In August 1994, David went on a school trip which visited Italy, Tunisia, Egypt and lastly Israel. They visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where pilgrims from all around the world put notes, prayers and so on into the cracks of the wall – an ancient tradition that has spanned centuries.
David put a note in the wall in which read: “Please let Blackburn Rovers win the Premiership.”
They did just that, but he didn’t live to see it as he died that Christmas – but I am convinced that they did it for him. It was a fitting tribute to him.
Also on the same school trip, they visited The Holocaust Museum, unbeknown to us until we visited the school later for the parents evening relating to the trip. When we later talked to him in relation to the visit to the Museum and why he hadn’t spoke to us about it, he just shrugged, put his hand on his heart and said, “its all in here”.
That had had a real profound effect on him – seeing all the candles being reflected in the walls of mirrors depicting all the people that died in the Holocaust.
Anyway, to get back to the sense of humour. In September 1994, both David and I were accepted to run in the Great North Run from Newcastle to South Shields, his first (and only) half marathon. As we were preparing to travel up to Newcastle, he suddenly said: “Let’s run in Blackburn’s home and away kit.”
As you can see from the photograph we did just that, and for 13 miles in Newcastle we endured a torrent of verbal abuse from young and old that lasted 1 hour 49 minutes – but he loved every moment of it, smiling all the way with that infectious, cocky and cheeky smile.
He died on the 27th December 1994, just 3 weeks after his 17th birthday. We had a really smashing Christmas as my father had just survived a serious cancer operation so everything seemed perfect until the devastating tragedy of David’s death at 17 years old.
He collapsed and died outside on the road, during a 10k road race. Being a marshal in the race, I watched him die as the paramedics worked on him but to no avail.
David had everything to live for. He was a good looking, intelligent lad who was studying for his A-levels before hoping to go onto university to become who knows what. Not only did I lose a son that day, I lost a true friend and that friendship and all that it meant and was blossoming day by day.
From the day he was born being the happiest at that time, to the day he died being the saddest. No amount of words can describe the devastation left behind – mum, dad, brother, grandparents alike; a hole in one’s heart that can never be filled.
David’s Headmaster respectfully asked if he could speak at at David’s funeral:
Eric J Whittle of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School
As in John Keble’s hymn ‘New every morning is the Love’. I want to praise the ordinary. He wrote,
‘The trivial round, the common task
Will furnish all we need to ask-
To bring us daily nearer to God’
In other words – the ordinary. The hymn is, of course, poetry and poetry is within my realm as a teacher in English. But whether I read poetry or novels what matters to me is that the story is based on reality. Science Fiction or Fantasy simple bore me.
I enjoy these novelists and poets who ignore the improbable, the once-in-a-lifetime flashy event but who realise the importance of ordinary. In that sense David Staff was ordinary. In that very ordinariness lies his 17 years of importance. He did things that ordinary boys do. He knew he wasn’t a genius. He was never going to be a famous scientist, writer or musician. When I taught him English during 1989/90 he didn’t find the subject easy but worked at it. Indeed, like most decent ordinary boys he grew to realise his responsibilities and put his back into everything he attempted – and that’s the next important aspect of his character – he really did attempt so many things. He wasn’t one to sit back and let life’s opportunities pass him by, but kept on having a go – and met with a decent degree of success.
In football, rugby, athletics – David showed what skills he had and set about gaining more. None of this came easy – he worked at it. Talk to those who taught him for his GCSE, especially in those subjects which he would never have chosen and didn’t choose to study for A level – Modern Languages for example – and you’ll hear the same tale. He worked at it. He didn’t just let the partially understood slide by – he asked questions. He always wanted to understand. He worked at it. He was the sort of boy teachers like having in their classes. Not the know-all; not the idle – but the good, solid, ordinary lad, helping the whole class along as he profitably uses his time.
The sort of lad who knows how to talk to anybody – neither cocky nor obsequious. The sort of lad who expects fair treatment; who knows that games, class instruction, life itself have rules – and he expected everyone to live by those rules: class-mates, competitors, teachers and, of course himself.
As he grew into a 6th Former he voluntarily saw it that younger boys were treated fairly. I know how he would step in to shield first formers form the taunts of older boys; how he would join in a game of football with them on Corporation Park without using his greater height and weight to their disadvantage.
But it wasn’t only the younger boys who knew that David always dealt a straight hand. In the classroom as part of a team, as a member of a group on a school trip, as a scout, he gave 100%. David was honest, upright, reliable. As one of my colleagues has said, ‘He was a belting lad, the salt of the earth’, – or as I said at the beginning of this ‘the ordinary’. How much we should praise the ordinary.
For the ordinary is trustworthy; isn’t deceitful; doesn’t parade itself pretending to be something it’s not; isn’t going to hurt you by hitting you with the unexpected or the disappointing. The ordinary is reliable.
I know how proud David was to be a member of Queen Elizabeth’s – but he didn’t shout it from the rooftops. He just lived it. His death had robbed us of one of our rock-solid certainties.
The ordinary boy, the ordinary young man whose true worth we only fully realise after we have lost him.
We at Queen Elizabeth’s are as proud of him as he was of his school – and I say again. How very much we should praise and thank God for having met in David – the trustworthy, the salt of the earth, the ordinary.