Ben was a very close school friend, we were in the same house (Grenville) and hung out most days, often filling spare time listening to blues music, playing sport, and in each other’s company.
He was incredibly gifted academically, musically and with sport, and it was a wonder to me that he’d get straight A’s with seemingly no effort… (had he done any revision before exams!?)
After leaving school, we remained in touch and met up now and then. I was always encouraged by how easy it was to pick up our friendship, as if no time separated our meeting. Over the years I became more aware of his deteriorating wellbeing, and how he understood his mental health yet wrestled to resolve it. Ben did struggle with his mental health, which in turn impacted on his energy levels, exercise, and consequently led to him developing diabetes.
Ben was open, and frank about his condition and I was surprised by some of his routines, reflection and outlook when we talked about his wellbeing. He was one of my closest friends and I always stood by him, so it hurt to see him struggling. To be honest I wasn’t sure how to help until I started learning more about mental health and wellbeing whilst participating in the Movember Foundation charity ... growing a moustache in November and talking about mental health.
Then, after a jolting early morning call with the crushing news that Ben had died I found myself scrolling through Facebook and texts trying to find solace in messages he’d sent. ‘Thanks old chap!’ is the last digital footprint I have of Ben. I think part of me was looking for validation …it must be a mistake, not real, we’d only recently been exchanging texts. It took a while to sink in, and I remember at some point wondering what more I could have done to support him.
The following months were filled with the emotions we all inevitably experience, so at Ben’s funeral it was comforting to see familiar friendly faces from a time shared at West Buckland School, and to meet with his family.
As the funeral finished I remember a fellow WBS friend whispering to me “…all Ben’s life and it finishes with a memorial and a full stop at the end of his obituary”. Whilst the funeral was followed later by two other memorial events, including one in North Devon attended by WBS friends, the comment stayed with me for a while.
Then this April, Movember nominated me to run the New York Marathon on their behalf. It was an opportunity to extend Ben’s ‘full stop’. I decided to go for it despite not being a runner. Now I’ll be running over 400 miles to get fit for the Marathon held 3rd November 2019 in New York City. Since the WBS Exmoor race in 1993 I’ve not run more than a bath, so this will be interesting... if not painful.
Ben will be my motivation to fundraise as much as possible - every penny will go directly to the Movember Foundation to focus on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Testicular and Prostate Cancer. I hope to do him proud.
If any fellow WBS can support, it would be hugely appreciated. My official Movember page is https://mobro.co/timballard1
where people can donate, learn more about Movember and follow progress. Thanks.
In memory of Ben,