Stoke Gifford is a strangely quiet place today. One of its favourite adopted sons has slipped away. Things will never be the same again.
The first time I saw Steve Radford, I said, “Who is that?” A giant bear of a man, all power and muscle, seemingly as wide as he was tall, you would not want to be in his way on a rugby field. If he had collided with me, I might not have got up again. “Oh, that’s Steve. He’s a one, he is!”
He was wearing what became his favourite uniform. A vest, a pair of short rugby shorts and sandals. But it was not his dubious dress sense that set him apart from the crowd: it was his larger than life personality, his raucous laugh and his very obvious love of life. Oh, and his very obvious Welshness.
We were more acquaintances than friends and that, I know, was entirely my loss. A few weeks before Christmas, I messaged Steve to suggest we went for a coffee. Friends had told me he was not long for this world, his cancer had not and could not be cured. He readily agreed and replied “Everyone wants to be my friend now I am in God’s waiting room!” I’m afraid I had to laugh at that. Although we were not close, that seemed to sum him up.
What goes on behind closed doors, we may never know. I saw a man determined to wring every single ounce of life in the time he had left. When he told me about his diagnosis, followed by the shocking news that any treatment he had would purely be palliative, I wasn’t sure what to say. But Steve made it clear that life would go on. That cancer would not define him. And it never did.
From the outside, it seemed he never changed. He still looked the same, acted the same, did the same things. Cancer had chosen the wrong man. If cancer wanted a fight, then it would bloody well get one. Whether he was cycling long distances, whilst raising money for good causes for goodness sake, or working out at the gym with a ferocity that would put a top athlete to shame, this man raged against the dying of the light. As others showered their love on him, so he reciprocated.
On Boxing Day, I saw him for what would be the last time. In the Beaufort Arms, of course. He had lost a lot of weight but there was no doubting who this was, no denying his zest for life. Again, I said we should meet for coffee and it never happened. Last night, I heard about his death.
I was sad at this awful waste of a life so well lived, I was sad for all the suffering he went through, I was sad for his lovely wife Hazel, I was sad for his family and friends, I was sad for the village which has truly lost a legend.
And it is the suffering and the pain I think about most. I have lost family and friends who have gone through hell on earth and on each occasion, their passing was, for them, a deliverance. There is only so much a person can take.
I hope through the tears and sadness that we can celebrate his life. I will miss it when he rubs my nose in the dirt when Wales beat England at rugby and when I rub his nose in it when one of his bets doesn’t come in to mess up his accumulator. This will be but nothing to the family and friends of Steve Radford who have lost a major part of their lives.
Sleep well, Steve. You made the world a better and brighter place and if there is a heaven above, that rugby clubhouse will be a very noisy place from now on.