A friend of mine died in a car crash on Tuesday night. There have been others who have honoured him with fitting tributes to his political influence and talents, and the immense impact he had on so many lives (links at the end of my post). I want to remember him by sharing our last ever interaction: The day I introduced him to my autistic son.
My husband was driving me into work (I tutor law part-time at university). We’d stopped at a bank in New Market on the way, so I could deposit a cheque. My husband and son waited for me in the car. I was filling in the deposit form when a man comes up close beside me, and tells me to hand over my money. For the briefest of moments I did actually panic, before I realized it was Graham. The bank tellers were sending me concerned looks because of his behaviour; Graham always had a talent for putting authority figures off-balance.
He introduced me to a friend of his who was with him, he tells me he’s helping his friend with some sort of bank issue, something to do with the bank not liking his friend and him being there to stand up for and facilitate his friend’s access to banking services. Graham asks me if I agree that it it’s an injustice. Graham always had interesting friends, and frequently challenged preconceptions, stereotypes, and the injustices that accompanied them. He had the eloquence and skills to do more than just complain about what was wrong with the world.
I told him my husband and son (I only had one son at the time) were waiting in the car. He’d known my husband from our mutual uni days a few years back, so he came out to say hello. I’d gotten my son’s diagnosis not long prior, and I told Graham as we approached the car that my boy had autism. Graham’s opinion always mattered a lot to me, so I was weary of what he might say when he met my unusual boy; would he frown or make the judgmental comments I had gotten so used to, would he be indifferent or condescending, would he say anything at all..?
In his car seat, my son (who was about three at the time) was stimming up a storm; rocking side to side and flapping his hands and humming loudly and happily. Graham pops his head in to see my son, and with his classic grin, he turns to me and says, “he’s a happy kid isn’t he!” No judgment, no negativity, no “condolences,” just an observation of happiness.
That’s the sort of man he was. He was open-minded and disarming and always seemed to know what to say. Making him a powerful ally (and conversely, a formidable opponent). His ability to persuade people and motivate people to action, was something rare and quite extraordinary.
Dying in a car crash, at the age of 47, just doesn’t do his life justice. It was said more than once that he could have been the Prime Minister of New Zealand if he’d wanted it bad enough. He achieved great things in his life, but he could have done so much more if he hadn’t left the world early.
My sincerest sympathies go to his family and those closest to him, I can’t imagine your grief. Graham will be remembered by many, and remembered well.
Other blog post memorials to Graham:
- “Graham Watson RIP” Kiwiblog
- “Tribute to Graham Peter Jules Watson” Mulholland Drive
- “Old School Friend Graham Watson Has Died” The REAL Steve Gray