In the next few weeks, my research team and I will be launching far more blog entries than we have previously posted. There will be both articles and videos/photos. The blog will continue to focus on sports corruption and match-fixing, however, it will also include articles on a range of subjects from the Afghan War, social media in journalism and the Cuban/Canadian boxing worlds. There is no better way to start this new phase then a note about my former college advisor, mentor and friend – Dr. Andrew Markus.
I have many strong memories of Andrew. I would never have got my doctorate without his care and gentle advice. Despite our near constant banter, I tried at all times to listen carefully to him when he spoke to me. College life was a wonderful series of social and sporting opportunities. But after a couple of years, I remember Andrew taking me aside and saying, ‘Declan, I hope you don’t mind, but I think you have a choice. You can either have a lot of friends or you can get your doctorate. Now, I am not trying to say which one is better, but I think you should think about this situation carefully.’ Two weeks later, I left Oxford to write in an isolated apartment for nine months where I finished both my doctorate and the book. I remember before a college ball Andrew was determined that I should be able to tie my own bow tie (‘the mark of a gentleman’) so after lunch we commandeered the ladies washroom in the old College Observatory and spent forty-five minutes carefully tying and re-tying the bow. Much of the delay was caused by our laughing too hard to be able to concentrate. I remember the walks through the gentle Chiltern Hills around Oxford in the early spring when the ground is covered in bluebells. I remember his quiet support, concern and fury when I was stuck in an academic imbroglio. I remember reading concerned notes from him when I was in Iraq. It was late at night and we could hear the mortars striking the American base in Kirkuk in the distance, but his voice and care were so strong it was as if he were in the room with me.
I respect Andrew for many reasons. He was a surrogate father to me at an important time in my life, and he was also one of the last of that generation of English men who really were gentlemen (unlike those ‘Top Gear’ like buffoons that now so populate English public life). In his manner he was an old-school blend of Rex Harrison and Jack Hawkins. He was like his close friend Sir Richard Doll, the founder of our College, the soldier of Dunkirk, the prominent epidemiologist and anti-nuclear protestor. They both had great manners and courtesy. They were both part of the original group who had founded Green College. They both wanted the college to have high academic standards but also be a welcoming, friendly, non-hierarchical place. So my recollections of Andrew’s care are not unique. There are hundreds of students who share similar memories of his kindness in a university that can be very intimidating.
Along with the College and his students Andrew had a wide range of interests. He was Chairman of the Oxford branch of the Friends of the Welsh National Opera. Travel and photography were two other great passions. I cherish the photos that he would take be it from Roman archaeological sites or the great buried cities of medieval Ethiopia or an African safari. But his chief pride and joy were the stories of his family and the latest yarns from his grandchildren.
I received the news on Easter Sunday that Andrew had died the night before from advanced cancer. For those of you who knew about my latest boxing adventures it was, in part, motivated by trying to share the pain of a good friend. I write, in part, because as a medico, Andrew was never a big fan of boxing. I simply did not know how else to share something so painful and intense with him. I wish I had told him that, but knowing Andrew he would have laughed at me and told me ‘to come off it’.
Last month, I flew over to see Andrew and Patricia at their beautiful house in Thame. He was in good spirits and good shape. We spoke over lunch and we hoped that we would be able to go on another walk through the bluebells that cover the Chiltern Hills in the early spring. Sadly, it was not to be. There will not be another walk in the hills with Andrew, and I will miss it greatly.
Declan Hill, April 2012