Menorca has lost one of its more charismatic and colourful characters. Tony Perkins, founder and proprietor with his wife, Chris, of Autos Victoria, died on 8 August, after more than four years dealing with prostate cancer. He was born in Leicester on 21 October 1956, and although he has become firmly Menorquin, there was a core that remains firmly rooted in the Leicester of his boyhood. Tony had three brothers: Michael, Paul and John (who predeceased him).
Tony and Chris were married in 1984 and moved to Menorca in 1985 to join Tony’s father, who was already living on the island. They have a daughter, Victoria (hence the name of the car rental company, Autos Victoria) and a son, Alex. Victoria provided two grandchildren: Valmes and Aaron. These are some of the basic details of his life.
When I was a child, we used to be careful when we walked through graveyards. There was something about not wanting to tread upon the dead. Nowadays, it’s not so much about the graves – for one thing, in Menorca, it would involve walking up walls. But when we come to consider those who have died, we have to tread carefully, for we walk not upon the bodies of the dead, but upon the emotions, feelings and sensitivities of the living.
Those who know me will realise that I am not one for glib platitudes. I’m sorry, but ideas such as, “God wants a new angel,” do not represent any kind of loving, caring God as far as I’m concerned. Which leaves us with an unresolved mystery.
Death hurts. It hurts those who are left behind. It hurts when someone we respect and admire, someone we care about and who has cared about and for us, someone we love and have been loved by, dies and leaves an emptiness in our lives. It would be unkind and foolish to ignore that pain.
And it seems unfair.
It’s unfair that someone who had so much of life in them should have it fizzle out, extinguished by cancer. It’s unfair – and unnatural – for a parent to have to mourn their child (never mind two of them). It’s unfair that a man who was willing to bestow so much love upon children and grandchildren should suddenly leave them without that love.
But that’s death. Don’t ask me to rationalise it for you. I can’t. In almost every case death hurts those who are left, and it seems unfair that life has been ended when there was still more of it that could be lived. And that’s true whether someone dies at 32, or 62, or 92.
But in a way, that’s the point, isn’t it? Death hurts because the life that has ended has given us something, especially in the case of Tony Perkins. It might be friendship. It might be fun. It might be the father and son golf trophy. It might be the legacy of a successful business. It might be love. It might be one of countless favours that have been offered to many people. It might be all the times that he said, “Yes,” when someone asked him to support a charitable cause. (For example, when survivors of the Dunblane school shooting came to Menorca as the guests of the Rotary Club, he supplied all the cars and people carriers.) It might be many things. All of value. All worth grieving, because they were the essence of life that has been lost to us.
And therein lies the heart of Tony Perkins. The essence of life.
Here’s a man who has been enduring treatment for cancer for more than four years. Yet as far as I can tell – supported by plenty of anecdotal evidence – here is a man who grasped life, even in the face of a terminal illness.
“How’s Tony?” I would ask one or another of his friends.
“Oh, he’s been playing paddle.”
Or, “Busy running the business.”
Or, “Riding his bike.”
Or, one of a number of things that people with advanced cancer aren’t supposed to be doing. Most people don’t return to the golf course shortly after prostate surgery.
He stared death, in the form of cancer, in the face and said, “Get stuffed!” Or words to that effect. He relentlessly chose to live life despite the cancer.
But to do that requires a team effort. So Chris, Victoria, Alex, all those friends who kept playing Paddle with him when other people would have backed off: well done. Wonderful team effort. You helped him to have life in the face of death.
I was asked to thank those friends who helped along the way. Well, thank you – but thank one another, because those who were part of Tony’s life team have done a great job. It’s like the Tour de France: for the main rider to succeed, the rest of the team have to play their part to help him across the line. That is what you have done.
In many ways, the last four-plus years of his life have simply brought into focus the man that he was for all of his life.
He was a man who couldn’t sit still. Who worked hard, but never missed an opportunity to participate in – and excel at – sport. Any kind of sport. Golf. Cricket. Paddle. Mountain bikes. Darts. Football. Snooker. Oh, yes, he was good at that: he beat Rex Williams.
Oh – and here’s a thing – sometimes people take things for granted to such an extent that they forget to mention them. It was only a casual mention by a friend that told me that he had all this sporting success with only one eye.
He was a man who loved his family overtly, who shared 35 years of marriage with Chris, who played a huge part in caring for his grandchildren, who phoned his mother, Margaret, every day, and, even when travel became very difficult for him, managed to travel to England to see her.
And, of course, to take part in the ‘Blue Army’ celebrations when his beloved Leicester City became Premier League champions. Well, a man has to have his priorities. He probably didn’t mind being called the silver fox when his hair turned grey; after all, we know which football team’s nickname is “The Foxes.”
So he seized life, even when mortality reared its ugly head. No one knows how much denial there was in all of that, or how much was a determination to make the most of the life that was left to him. Probably the latter. Because he sold his bike. Apparently he was worried that Chris would sell it for a fifth of what he actually paid for it. Because that’s what he told her he paid for it! So he must have sensed that he would not be riding again.
In all of this, he lived life to the full. Life is a gift – well, maybe not a gift – perhaps it is better to say that life is lent to us, to invest and care for to the best of our ability. One might regard life as a divine investment in humanity. In Tony’s case, the investment paid back richly.
Death is a pain. It’s unfair. It comes to all of us. It’s an unresolvable mystery about why it takes whom it does when it takes them. It has taken Tony. You can’t have him back. But you’ll never get rid of him. For those who knew him, he’s in your memories, in your hearts and minds, in your lives. Grieve the loss. But be thankful for what remains and what there was.
And, if it brings you comfort, remember that for many of us, there’s some reassurance in the belief that we might not see him again in this life, but there’s a next one in which we will see him again. Probably with a golf club in his hand.