It was a year ago today that one of my best friends from university, Sam Best-Shaw, died from a brain tumour.
It is almost 21 years since I first met Sam in our first week at Exeter College, Oxford. He was a maths undergrad; I was (supposedly) a chemist. We quickly became friends, sharing many interests in common – music, good beer, politics (he was far more committed to all three than I was) – and generally getting more out of life than evenings surrounded by a pile of textbooks. The usual sort of thing.
Sam and our group of friends were in no way members of the in-crowd, but we were certainly well-known faces in the common room and could often be found extracting volumes of cash – for which, read ‘beer money’ – from quiz machines all over the university. There are so many memories of good times we shared: in bars, on the boundary at the University Parks, punting on the Cherwell, late night chats about music, politics and more music …
After uni, we went our separate ways but continued to stay in touch, albeit infrequently. Sam travelled and worked all over the world, meeting his wife Elena. I was hopping around the south and south-east of England wherever new jobs took me. I think our paths probably crossed every two or three years, and we saw each other a couple of times in the last five years of his life. Not nearly often enough.
In the year since his passing, Sam would no doubt have been gratified to see his beloved Liberal Democrats finally gain a measure of power at May’s general election, and would no doubt have had something suitably arch to say about the elevation of two of our university contemporaries, Louise Bagshawe and Jacob Rees-Mogg, to the House of Commons. He would also have had some suitable words of commiseration for Dr Evan Harris, who lost the seat in Oxford West and Abingdon which he had held for 13 years. Sam and I first met Evan in 1990 when canvassing for the Lib Dems in the Oxford local council elections; whereas I was volunteering out of interest more than anything, Sam nobly gave up his college room to serve as campaign headquarters, and often spent nights sleeping on other people’s floors as a result.
And much has changed in my life too in the past twelve months, with the birth of our second son, Toby, and my diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. But those are part and parcel of a ‘normal’ life for which I am thankful, and not one truncated as prematurely as Sam’s.
I honestly don’t think I have ever met a more kind and gentle soul than Sam. There was sarcasm and sometimes cutting wit, but cruelty or malice were simply not part of his vocabulary. And watching his interactions with his elder child, Adam, I know for sure that, having only recently qualified as a secondary school teacher at the time of his death, the profession lost a huge asset. I know without question that Sam would have been a great teacher – he possessed patience, knowledge and a quiet passion by the bucketload – and I would love to have been taught by him. In some ways, I feel I was.
Never has the old saying about only the good dying young been more apt. The body may have gone, but the memories live on.
Samuel Stevenson Best-Shaw
Husband of Elena
Father of Adam and Rebecca
Always the sun.