It is with great sadness that theirishscouter learned of the passing of Colin J Heas.
Colin and I knew each other for many years. We were not what one might describe as close ‘friends’, but the word ‘acquaintance’ would probably not do the relationship justice.
We belonged to that by no means unique to scouting dynamic, whereby we would bump into each other on occasion, sometimes months or even years apart, most often at National Council, the talk shop that punctuates the Scouting year and where one of the more pleasant features is the chance to catch up with old friends, debating opponents and, if lucky, get to pick the brains of the associations thinkers in reasonably convivial surroundings.
I was in no doubt as to the esteem in which Colin was held in his native Cork, nor was there any lack of clarity around the truly immense contribution he made to local Scouting through a variety of roles over many years. His ample frame merely hinted at his status as a true giant in Scouting terms.
To a cynic like theirishscouter, one of many characteristics I greatly admired in him was that his unyielding passion and towering commitment to the movement we shared a love of, in no way seemed to tire him, nor did the many imperfections of Scouting dilute his enthusiasm, nor the cynicism of others (including my own) make him any less positive.
He and I would steal a few minutes together; in a hotel lobby, in a crowded bar or on one occasion in an ornamental garden, to discuss the issues of the day. I would pour out my frustrations and he would nod sagely. I would be gratuitously undiplomatic and he would give me a wry smile – he had too much tact to join me in a tirade of exasperation but the smile was enough.
On other occasions, our encounters were more unexpected but nonetheless always a pleasure. Our paths might cross at some other national event or on a campsite, whilst strolling across a field, parking the car, getting a coffee. The exchange usually brevity personified, as we both hurried about our business. But always warm and friendly.
Once we bumped into each other ‘off duty’ as it were, on Patricks Street in Cork. Colin, smiling, pleased to see me and as always not far away from yet another Scouting related task or project, as he hastened away with a departing wave.
Our connection, infrequent and ad-hoc as it was, illustrated for me yesterday as I reflected with sadness on his passing, that curious bond that many of us in Scouting have to each other. We can’t all be close friends. We can’t all see each other every day. We can’t all agree on everything all of the time. Yet in the final analysis life can be cruelly short. Distant friends whom we assume are busy at work in their little patch of Scouting, can be gone before we realise it.
In the context of some of the daily squabbling we all engage with, designed to improve things from our perspective, lobby for change (or try to prevent it) ensure our voice gets heard, challenge convention, stand up to others, it is worth remembering sometimes, just how unimportant all this stuff can be, versus the rich bonds we forge with others along the way.
I suspect most of us won’t remember in years to come the arguments we won, the motions we got passed, the events we ran or the policies we crafted. We’ll mostly remember the people and the experiences those people helped bring to life.
I am all the better off for having had the honour of knowing and getting to spend time, albeit infrequently with Colin J Heas.
Rest in Peace old friend. I will miss those debates and your wise advice. I will be thinking of you when I’m Scouting next week in Ireland and I will tell my son about you as I hold his hand, strolling through the July sunshine in Larch hill.
Photo credit: David P Barry