My Cousin Spencer

My Cousin Spencer died suddenly at the age of 41 in July 2019. We spent time together as children, but rarely saw each other as adults. Through working closely with his friends to honour his memory, I have learned what a great man he actually was.

I enjoyed the broadest mix of people and places in my childhood. My dad’s family lived in inner-city Birmingham, where they had settled after the war. My Mum’s lived in more well-to-do Lichfield. My Mum’s Sister’s family were at the other end of the spectrum and lived in a large house in the commuter belt outside London. I spent many happy Sunday afternoons in all of those places.

Four Cousins. (c. 1983) l-r Anthony, Grant, Me & Spencer.

The Steadman’s have always been very kind and generous to me. As a surly teenager, they took me on a family holiday to Florida with them. Perhaps his parents’ example helped form a young Spencer’s ideas of generosity that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. His Father nominated me for my MBE, although Spencer was aware of that, the actual award was made after he died. As someone who celebrated all things British, I think he would have been especially proud of his cousin.

Spencer and his older brother Grant, both attended Public schools, boarding at the prestigious Westminster School in London from the age of 11. I can only imagine what that must be like, how that felt. I do know that when we are tested, very strong bonds are forged with those we share that experience with. As well as and the high standard of education, pupils have access to life-changing networks and opportunities. Spencer seized those opportunities and worked hard to become the very best. He was a master SCUBA diver, an authority on Marine Architecture and a World Champion Debater. He chaired Oxford Union’s Debating Society whilst at University there.

As adults, our busy lives had moved us away from that happy childhood bubble. I would hear bits of his news through our Mums, but I had an idea that Spencer was an especially generous and kind person. He wasn’t married, but he was a beloved Godfather to many children all around the world and had a very strong network of friends who held him in the very highest regard. He always remembered my family’s Birthdays and came to my surprise 40th Birthday party. he was one of the few people I felt compelled to give a big hug to whenever I saw him. On one of those rare occasions, I must have mentioned that sitting in our garden was problematic because the strong sun and in the afternoons. A few days later, I received a text from Spencer warning me to expect a call from a local garden centre to arrange delivery of a cantilever parasol. He had also paid for installation (it was that big!) We use it every Summer and I remember Spencer’s generosity when sitting under it. I was to learn that this fixing of many problems in such a grand style was a typical Spencerian gesture.

Spencer.

After many attempts, we finally had dinner with Spencer. He arrived on-time in an electric car and of course, laden with gifts; fine wine, chocolates for my Wife and I and birthday presents for both our children. We were fascinated as he told us about his diving off the Bahamas onto the remains of the Vulcan bomber that was built for the 1965 Bond film, Thunderball. We listened enthralled as he explained how nature had reclaimed the wreck and it was now home to Turtles, Lobsters and Moray Eels. Six weeks later, when our son unwrapped his gift from ‘Cousin Spencer’, a moment of great sadness overcame us as we explained that Spencer had died just a few weeks earlier.

It was very apparent at Spencer’s funeral that his generosity was habitual and he had become something of a legend. His friends had filled the church, coming from all over the world to say goodbye. The eulogies revealed how Spencer had provided a calm, fatherly influence, just when his friends needed it most. He would take a problem and solve it, giving his advice, help, support, or most importantly, his time. Exactly as he had for us, he did time and time again for his friends. That sort of generosity is never forgotten.

I saw that his friends had set up a memorial page on Facebook paying tribute to him and promising to honour his memory in a lasting way. I reached out and offered my help. One of his friends, on his way to a New Year’s Eve party in up-state New York, called back the next day to welcome me onboard. Evidence that Spencer’s friends operated in a different world to me!

The Trust’s logo captures Spencer’s spirit.

Apart from Kate, Spencer’s wonderful sister, I didn’t know the other seven Trustees. As we began work in early 2020, the Pandemic began to bite. We met online, all making time amidst hectic work or family lives, some calling in from around the world. I felt like a bit of an outsider at first. They were definitely people I would never have met or worked with, but all incredibly kind and loyal to Spencer’s memory. We agreed to set up a Trust in his name, to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds to enjoy the opportunities that Spencer had. This turned out to be quite a difficult task in the pandemic, but eighteen months and lots of meeting later, we had registered The Spencer Steadman Trust as a charity, opened a bank account and identified several worthy projects to work with.

Helen and I at the Trust’s first event.

In 2021, the Trustees met up in Regent’s Park for the second anniversary of Spencer death. Although I had seen many of them at the funeral, I was so happy to finally meet my new friends properly. We launched the Charity at the inaugural gala dinner at English Speaking Union in Mayfair on the 4th of December. Thanks to the generosity and commitment of his family and friends who attended, provided auction items and made bids and donations, the event had raised an impressive £100K by the end of the night.

Spencer’s headstone declares his name, dates, and a simple three-word epitaph. ‘A Great Man’, now I understand why. Spencer’s greatness was in how he approached life, he knew that generosity has a ripple effect, touching people far beyond the original recipients for many years. I’m proud to have known him and I’m excited to continue his legacy. I’m also proud that in a small way, I am helping his closest friends to work through their grief. His final, unintended and most generous gift to me was to for me to get to know them.

Richard C Brown MBE

December 2021

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