The Funeral Director, Daniel, took good care of Mark and made sure that the afternoon went exactly as planned and Susan, the Humanist Celebrant, made a wonderful job of delivering the words which I had written in celebration of Mark's life. Many thanks to them both for their sensitivity, kindness and professionalism.
Although it was obviously a very sad occasion, there were also one or two moments when I was comforted to hear the sound of laughter rippling around the chapel as anecdotes from colleagues, friends and family were shared with those in attendance.
Mark was such a wonderful, unassuming character that he would never dream of promoting his own achievements and indeed after the funeral, almost everyone I spoke to commented on how much they had learned about Mark from the service and how astonished they were to learn of his experiences. I know that some of our overseas friends keep up to date with our lives via our blogs so I thought one or two people may find it interesting to hear some of Mark's story here too.
This is likely to be a long blog post but I make no apology for that. I was always guilty of trying to hurry Mark along in our normal life together but he would swat me away as if I was a faintly annoying wasp buzzing around overhead. He never allowed himself to be hassled so I'm certainly not going to rush through his story now but, if you have the time and you're still reading, I'd like to tell you a little about my beautiful husband, Mark Wood...
Mark was born in the West Midlands in 1954. His parents, Bob and Jeanne, were an academic, creative couple who were both employed in the education sector. Bob was a School Master in Old Swinford Hospital Grammer School and Jeanne worked as a Teacher in a number of primary schools around the area. Both parents shared a love of music and Mark recalled his childhood home being filled with books and musical instruments which were a source of great enjoyment to both himself and his older sister, Candy.
Candy has happy childhood memories of the family home being very near to a small wood, known locally as ‘The Spinney’. She recalls that both she and Mark, together with their friends, would spend many happy hours playing unattended in The Spinney, and she has fond memories of that wonderful feeling of freedom which accompanies childhood adventures.
Mark loved reading and was fascinated by books from an early age. He spent many happy hours in his Father’s study, devouring the contents of the bookshelves in there. Displaying a naturally enquiring mind, Mark had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and indeed his favourite childhood book was ‘How It Works and How It’s Done’ by Ellison Hawks. As a bright, young boy he returned to it many times to immerse himself in the finer detail of everything from the petrol engine to electricity, wireless to water. I'll never forget the look of triumph on his face when he finally managed to source a second hand copy of the book a few years ago. It's still on our bookshelf now and Mark enjoyed reading it just as much as he had done all those years ago.
After sailing through the 11+ exam, Mark attended Brierly Hill Grammer School where he proved himself to be a talented and gifted scholar. He was bright enough to be moved up a year at school and as a result, he achieved outstanding grades in all nine ‘O’ levels which he sat earlier than expected before moving on to sixth form at the age of fifteen where he achieved excellent grades across all four of his ‘A’ levels.
Mark’s school friend and childhood sweetheart, Val Cartwright, recalls that...
“Mark was a very special person and I feel privileged to have known him. We were together during 6th form at Brierley Hill Grammer School until our paths parted on going to University. Mark was a true friend and went out of his way to help others. He loved playing his guitar, particularly the music of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
There are many other memories, of laughter and of times when Mark supported me, particularly during A Level exams and the start of college. He worked hard with school work and also with Saturday jobs; first at the ‘Speedy Car Wash’ and then at a local small supermarket. He was very family minded and would often talk of Candy, wishing he could see more of her as she had moved away to London”
Whether in relation to his studies or whilst carrying out manual tasks required by his part time job, Mark’s work ethic was apparent from the beginning. His academic ability was unquestionable and in fact, he was streamed for Oxbridge at a time when it was less common to attend University. Ultimately however, Mark chose to read Chemistry at Nottingham University where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science in 1975.
Mark's friend from University, Ian McKenzie, recalls...
"I was at university with Mark from 1972 and for about a year after that he lived with Pam and me in our house in Nottingham. Then in 1976 he was best man at our wedding. So he has been a very good and close friend to us.
As his career progressed, Mark went on to achieve postgraduate qualifications in Health Services Management and in later years, would enjoy contributing to Health related programmes as a regular guest lecturer for Newcastle University. In addition to this, Mark also enjoyed delivering a number of modules for The Open University as part of the MBA weekend schools.
Mark arrived in Newcastle in 1984, where he was to subsequently spend the majority of his NHS career. At that time, there were three separate hospitals in Newcastle and Mark initially joined The Royal Victoria Infirmary. Mark ultimately held quite a unique position in that he was the only person to have worked at each of the individual hospitals before they joined together to become one Hospital Trust.
His former colleague, Jackie Wells, recalls...
“I felt an affinity with him from the very beginning of his arrival at the RVI. He was a colleague, a friend and a mate. He made me feel that what I had to say was relevant.
It was always Mark I went to for advice when I needed someone to talk to. He was bright, articulate, warm and friendly”
At the age of 32, Mark left the RVI to take on the role of Chief Executive of Newcastle General Hospital.
One of the first wave of Hospital Chief Executives, he spent four years in that role before the three organisations were amalgamated to form The Newcastle NHS Trust. Mark then took on the position of Operational Manager within the Group from 1991 – 1996.
The current Head of Chaplaincy at The Trust, Reverend Nigel Goodfellow, has fond memories of Mark, recalling that...
“Mark was a great guy and I will always be grateful for his friendship and support when I first came to Newcastle and was slightly overawed by the world of the NHS and the Freeman”
During this period, Mark lived in Dinnington, a village on the outskirts of Newcastle. He loved Northumberland and enjoyed many happy occasions walking in the countryside around this area. He was also a keen sailor and qualified as a yacht day-skipper in his spare time, spending many happy days on ‘The Wild Goose’ as it sailed out from Blyth.
Mark's friend and former sailing buddy, John Thompson, recalls...
“I knew Mark very well for many years when he lived in Dinnington. We always enjoyed a beer and a chat and in fact, it was nice to talk to someone somewhat more intelligent than the normal folk!
He joined Bob and I sailing Wild Goose when we were very active Yachties and club racers and we had many experiences, including a very memorable trip to Holland one year. There was a 6 core crew who wore caps emblazoned with ‘Team Goose’ otherwise known as the well oiled machine!”
Mark had met his first wife whilst working in Scunthorpe and, although the marriage was not to last, they were both overjoyed and proud to later become parents to Hannah and Adam.
Inspired by his Father, Mark held a great love for poetry and literature from a very early age, particularly the works of Shakespeare, and indeed Hannah recalls that one of her fondest memories of Dad was when he took her to see Romeo & Juliet by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It was the first RSC production that Hannah ever saw and she was gripped from start to finish. It became a tradition after that and every year she went to see an RSC production but she will always remember going with her Dad that very first time to see one of the greatest love stories ever told.
Hannah wanted a quote from Romeo's last speech to be included with Mark's eulogy...
"Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, o you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss"
Mark was incredibly proud of Hannah’s educational achievements and remained very close to her as she left school, studied at the Birmingham School of Acting and then subsequently moved to London, where she lives at the moment, dividing her time between teaching drama to youngsters and acting roles to help build her portfolio. Just before he died, Mark was thrilled to see Hannah secure her first contract as an actress with the BBC.
Mark was also very proud of Adam and followed his career in the Army closely, always thrilled when Adam came home on leave to visit and quick to comment favourably as he watched Adam’s life experiences help him grow from boy to man. Mark and I were delighted to attend the wedding of Adam and Carly Rose in March of this year.
Mark took a break from the NHS in 1996 and chose to expand his horizons by working in a number of overseas roles. He was involved in various projects on behalf of the Department for International Development (DFID) and he also worked for the United Nations (UN) for a period of time.
He spent a significant amount of time in Kosovo, providing expert support to the Kosovan Minister for Health and co-ordinating the re-organisation of the Kosovan Healthcare services directly after the war. Mark had fond memories of his time in Kosovo although he felt it was a strange sensation to be escorted into work each day under armed guard!
Mark’s friend, Sarah Gayton, recalls being in Kosovo at the same time as him and seeing his face light up when she made him a cheese and potato pie. A true Midlands person!
Sarah’s thoughts of Mark are that..
"The world has lost a fantastic Manager, a true friend and a man who lived for his children”
During this period, Mark also spent three years in Cyprus as the Chief Executive of The Bank of Cyprus Oncology Centre, a new-build Oncology Hospital to improve cancer care and treatment for the people of Cyprus.
The current Chief Executive, Alecos Stamatis, observes that...
“Here, Mark will be remembered as the Centre’s first Chief Executive, the first professional Hospital Manager ever to have worked in Cyprus. He had to confront and manage the difficult relations between the Founders as well as language and cultural difficulties”
Mark and I were fortunate to be able to return to Cyprus in June of this year and Mark felt incredibly humbled to be welcomed back so fondly by the Doctors and Nurses he had appointed all those years ago.
Dr Chris Constantinou remembers that...
"Mark was a very kind person, always open to new ideas and always with such a positive attitude, even under difficult work conditions.
As the first Medical Physicist to join the staff of the Bank of Cyprus Oncology Center in 1998, when Mark was the Chief Executive, I appreciated his goodhearted managerial approach. He was kind to all the staff and many times he would make the group smile with a polite joke, alleviating the situation, particularly when the decisions that had to be made were not easy.
May his memory be eternal"
Another very close friend from that time, Lina Efthyvoulou, remembers...
Mark had always been fascinated by European history and his time in Cyprus inspired a particular ongoing love of the Greek language and all aspects of Greek culture and history. In later years, Mark and I would make a point of visiting as many of the Greek Islands as possible, always trying to decide which island we preferred and usually finding ourselves equally as smitten by each of them for varying reasons.
Mark also adored words. That may sound like quite an odd statement but it's entirely accurate, believe me. As a small child, he would spend hours and hours reading through the Oxford English Dictionary, often taking it with him on family outings so that he could read it in the back of the car on long journeys to the seaside. As a result of this and his ongoing love of the English language, Mark's grammar and vocabulary range were exceptional. As I went through each of my own degree programmes, I was enormously grateful for his proof reading skills, although I was never convinced that he enjoyed my dreary accountancy assignments as much as he claimed to!
It wasn't just the English language that Mark enjoyed. He was always keen to pick up a smattering of words from the language of each country we visited and our bookcase is lined with dictionaries ranging from Hungarian to Polish, Russian to Czech. Mark already spoke French and German with a relative degree of fluency and he realised that three years spent working in Cyprus would provide an excellent opportunity to grasp a working knowledge of the Greek language too so he promptly enrolled in a language class in Nicosia.
When Mark returned to the UK some years later, he was thrilled to find a local Greek language class which he continued to attend every week until his death. He enjoyed the friendships he found within that group and was overjoyed to have an opportunity to maintain his Greek language skills.
Although Mark's foreign langauge skills were usually incredibly accurate, I occasionally found that it was unwise to depend on them entirely. I can recall a specific incident which occurred while we were in Berlin one snowy January and I was struggling with a head cold and blocked nose. Mark insisted on going to the pharmacy for me so that he could use it as an opportunity to practice speaking German and despite my concerns, he made it into a kind of 'mini test' by refusing to check the dictionary beforehand.
He emerged from the pharmacy with a triumphant expression on his face, proud to have conducted the whole conversation in German, and handed me a packet of pills. I expressed surprise to be given tablets, convinced that a blocked nose would surely warrant some sort of nasal spray, but Mark was emphatic that it was the correct medication and at his insistence, I dutifully swallowed two tablets immediately and then two later that evening.
I awoke during that night with the worst stomach pains I've ever experienced and continued to be quite ill throughout the night. It was only when Mark sheepishly showed me the dictionary that we realised that when speaking to the pharmacist, he'd confused 'verstopfte nase', the German words for a blocked nose, with 'verstopft', meaning constipation. I could have throttled him!
Upon his return to the UK, Mark worked for Macmillan Cancer Support for three years, developing services across Birmingham to support people affected by cancer. We both thoroughly enjoyed dividing our time between the North East and the Midlands and it gave Mark an opportunity to re-visit his roots and spend time with family in that area. He continued to support the work of Macmillan until the day he died and was very proud to have been part of the organisation, even for a short period of time, having a great deal of admiration for the work Macmillan does.
As part of his time with Macmillan, Mark worked closely with The Bridges Support Service in the West Midlands. He was incredibly inspired by the work carried out there and very proud to be involved with the organisation.
The Manager of Bridges, Manjula Patel, recalls that...
"It was a pleasure to know Mark and we were lucky to have worked with him. He was a unique individual with so many great attributes and I know without a doubt that he left a legacy with the Bridges Service. He had such a great way of looking at life, even as I am writing this it is hard to believe he has died"
The final stage of Mark’s career involved a return to the North East after he was invited back by Newcastle Healthcare Trust to commission the new £300m PFI ‘Transforming the Newcastle Hospitals’ project. Mark associated himself most closely with Newcastle and felt incredibly humbled by the invitation and also quite thrilled to be given the opportunity to be part of such a major project to benefit the people of Newcastle. As I worked in Newcastle at the time, we were also both happy to finally be able to live together, full time, in the same house!
Mark thoroughly enjoyed being back at Newcastle Hospitals from 2007 and quickly became immersed in the task at hand. His self effacing nature meant that colleagues automatically warmed to Mark and this helped him to quickly settle in and get on with his job in his usual quiet, unassuming manner.
Mark’s involvement with the project was interrupted in 2009 when he was found to have a glioma, a type of brain tumour. The diagnosis was sufficient to be able to take early retirement on health grounds at that stage, however, it is a testament to Mark’s work ethic and commitment to The Trust and the City of Newcastle that he chose instead to return to work to complete the project. His attitude remained as it had throughout his entire life, that he wanted to complete the job he had been appointed to do with the minimum of fuss and disruption.
After initially coming to Newcastle to manage The RVI and The General Hospital all those years ago, Mark also felt that there was a certain symmetry to be found in ending his career by commissioning the new hospital facilities at the RVI and decommissioning The General Hospital.
Mark found a great degree of satisfaction from being able to complete the job he had been appointed to do before taking early retirement in September 2011.
When faced with retirement, and after dedicating so much of his life to his career, Mark initially expressed concerns about how he would fill in his new found free time. In response, I produced a list of jobs and hobbies that ‘retired people’ often do and then laughed when Mark promptly told me to “Clear off!” He recognised that he needed a relatively long period of time to get used to retirement and he told me that he wanted us to take at least a year to simply enjoy our life together.
I'm so grateful now that he dug his heels in and resisted my attempts to give him ‘jobs’ to do. Instead, we spent a wonderful last year together enjoying our home and gardens and playing with our ever expanding gang of boisterous cats.
We also had an opportunity to travel and enjoyed relatively long holidays in Cyprus, Egypt, New York and The Isle of Wight where Mark's sister, Candy, and his Brother In Law, Michael, live. Most of all we enjoyed time with each other, which neither of us had realised would become so precious.
Mark became very ill and was admitted to hospital in the early hours of Thursday 25 October 2012. I'm sad to say that he never returned home and instead, Mark slipped away peacefully in his sleep, at 8pm on the 1st November, with me next to him the whole time.
Mark’s last words before he passed away are a true reflection of his wonderful strength of character and genuinely good heart.
He told me that he loved me, that he loved our life together and that he was so grateful that we had found one another because the relationship we shared was truly special. Mark had always said that I was his one true love and before he died he repeated that to me and told me to always remember that we were “so very lucky”.
I will be forever grateful for Mark's example during our darkest time. It is truly inspiring to me that he was hours from death and yet, he was able to concentrate on our good fortune and retain a feeling of gratitude. I simply cannot articulate how humbling it was to share Mark's end of life journey so instead, I will share with you an extract from a card which I received after Mark's death from one of the consultants at Sunderland Hospital, Dr Jane Atkinson...
"...as a Doctor, you do not remember all patients, it would never be possible, but some you do. Mark and you both taught me a lot and for that I am thankful. You both showed such dignity at the hardest of times"
We are very grateful to Jane for her selfless act of donating her crematorium fee to Marie Curie Cancer Care in memory of Mark.
I don't easily subscribe to the notion of 'soul mates' but I know that Mark and I understood one another from the very first moment we met and I know that he was right, we were indeed very fortunate.
After two consecutive unfulfilling relationships, I had decided that my judgement must be skewed and that I should remain a singleton as I clearly wasn't capable of making a decent decision when it came to choosing partners.
In public, with friends, I joked about it all but in private, I was actually quite bruised from the experience and although I was outwardly confident and self assured, the 'inner me' had taken a knock and I was reluctant to get into a relationship with anyone else. Apart from anything else, after a year of being on my own, I was actually enjoying being single more than I could have imagined and I wasn't in a hurry to give that up.
But that all changed when I met Mark. From the very first words he spoke to me I knew we shared the same, often quite perverse, sense of humour. He was so sharp and quick witted that he could often make just a small observation that would keep us both in fits of giggles for hours at a time and that never waned throughout the whole time we were together. He is still the only person who could render me completely helpless with laughter, even after ten years together. We never became stale.
Even in October of this year after he became ill, that same dry humour was ever present, keeping us both going by diffusing the tension when life became stressful and threatened to overwhelm us. I remember an example of this just two short weeks before he died, when we attempted a trip out together.
Mark had become quite poorly by then and had lost much of the function from his left side, so a trip outdoors was actually quite a task to undertake but he wanted some fresh air and our empty fridge was crying out with a stark reminder of my abysmal domestic skills, so we combined the two factors and embarked upon the lengthy job of getting him dressed and out to the car.
We made our way around the supermarket, with Mark's restricted mobility making the trip three times longer than usual, both of us feeling quite fraught with the effort of getting there and wondering if we would actually be able to cope with the new demands that life had thrown at us. Mark suddenly stopped and put his hands up to his face before telling me...
"You've taken all of that time and effort to get me dressed but you've forgotten to shave me. You've brought me out in public looking like a hobo! What chance do I stand with such a rubbish carer?"
Although I'm sure this would have sounded dreadful to a passer-by, it was the perfect antidote to the stress we were both feeling and we stood in the fruit aisle, clutching one another and trying to stay upright, whilst laughing so hard that we almost fell into the banana display.
These were some of the characteristics that made me adore Mark. He knew I felt scared that day. He knew I was worried about being able to care for us and he also knew exactly how to diffuse it. He was amazingly perceptive, not just with me but with others too, and his natural empathy always allowed him to understand what made people tick; a wonderful skill in the workplace, not so welcome when I was trying to plan surprises because he knew in an instant what I was up to!
Mark certainly wasn't perfect. Which of us is? His clumsiness was legendary and our poor cats have been trodden on so many times that they have evolved way beyond their typical feline abilities. They learned long ago to sense his presence, even when fast asleep, and move back to allow him to pass without so much as opening an eye but overall, any 'negative' characteristics Mark may have had were of such little conseqence that I can't actually bring them to mind as I write this, which in itself is a wonderful thing. Thoughtful, compassionate and loving, Mark conducted his whole life with integrity and I loved him with all of my heart.
Although we were together for more than ten years, Mark and I were only married in June this year, just sixteen short weeks before he died, and I was so very proud to become his wife.
Understandably, I am distraught at losing my husband and best friend but I know that I will find comfort in Mark’s words over time and in fact, although I am still utterly grief stricken, I already recognise that amongst the confusing roller coaster of emotions I have experienced over recent weeks, the strongest feeling is that of gratitude - gratitude for the ten years that Mark and I spent together and gratitude for our wonderful life which was filled with enjoyment, love and laughter, even through the difficult times of Mark’s diagnosis and treatment.
I asked the Celebrant to read out an open letter to Mark as part of the funeral service and I'd like to share that with you too...
I met you at a time when I had sworn off relationships forever but your wonderful humour and your kind and gentle spirit restored my faith.
I feel so fortunate that we had ten amazing years together. I adored you and I know that the feeling was reciprocated entirely.
Your quiet dignity and open heart taught me that it is possible to be with someone without having to hide behind ego or play silly games. You taught me that it was ok to show you my true feelings and that I could put my fears to one side as I realised that I could trust you never to hurt me.
I’ve learned so much from you over the last ten years; about compassion and kindness, decency and integrity and I will try so hard to live up to your memory and maintain these qualities throughout the next stage of my life.
You were the first person I ever loved, you were the only person I loved and my world is a much smaller place without you in it.
Special thanks to:-
Sir Leonard Fenwick CBE and Robin Smith for the wonderful memories they shared as part of the service to say goodbye to Mark. Thanks also to Sir Leonard, Robin and Sandra Bessford for many years of wonderful friendship.
Staff involved with Mark's treatment at The Northern Centre for Cancer Care, particularly our brilliant oncologist, Dr. Joanne Lewis.
Staff at the Acute Medical Unit, Sunderland Hospital, particularly Dr Jane Atkinson, Dr Mark Lee and the amazing nurses and domestic staff who looked after us both so well.
John Duckworth Funeral Directors, particularly Daniel, whose sensitivity, common sense and humour were the perfect antidote to a stressful situation.
All of our fabulous friends, too numerous to list individually but every single one appreciated and loved enormously, particularly Connie, Gill, David and Heather with special thanks to Lindsay who looked after us both as if we were family when we needed her most.
Thank you so much from both of us.
The collection at the funeral raised £320 which I will share equally between Macmillan Cancer Support and The Bridges Support Service; two organisations which were very close to both of our hearts. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed.
I will not be posting any further updates on this blog. I will always ensure that the site remains active in Mark's memory but all future updates will be posted to my own blog, www.iamjules.com
Thank you for reading