Tribute by Susan Marqusee
London, 20 January 2015
Over the last week, I have been overwhelmed by the tributes and obituaries written about Mike. I wondered and worried, what could I possibly add? But I know what Mike would advise me: “just tell them what you know – your perspective”. Mike was my big brother – and he was a great big brother: in his own way and in his own style, he taught me, he looked out for me, and he made me feel special. I think these are the same three characteristics that made him a great friend, mentor, and leader.
Mike is almost 8 years older than me. I think I was more than ten years old before I realized that Mike was not actually the authority on everything. I certainly did not realize that there were people who did not agree with everything he said. My sister Ellen and I were your typical baby sisters – annoying and in the way. Mike and Jeff were typical older brothers – annoying and bossy. However, Mike was also there for us, ready to jump in and let our parents know when they were being hypocritical or unfair to us. Mike also found us interesting and amusing – he was sort of intrigued by the workings of a little kid’s mind. He would often play mind games and torment us by engaging in philosophical or political discussions – usually I had no idea what he was talking about. He named our first real pet – a cat – Antigone, something a six year old can’t pronounce, much less spell. I was 10 when Mike left for University here in the UK.
When I was 11, however, we moved to London and it was then that Mike became an important part of my life. This is when my memories of Mike go from being just the oldest of my many siblings, to someone with whom I had an independent relationship. For the whole time I lived in London, it seemed like Mike was always around. When we first arrived in London, oddly, Mike picked us up from school to help us navigate our way back home. When he lived in Devon, I remember what a special treat it was for me to go on the train by myself to spend the weekend with Mike. Then, when he settled back in London, in his own way he ‘helped’ us navigate the teenage years. Once I was upset because it was Thursday and nobody had asked me to the Friday school dance. Mike, however, wouldn’t let me feel badly – he immediately started lecturing me about how sexist society is, and how traumatic and hard it is for a teenage boy to ask a girl to a dance. He insisted that I ask a boy, he made me practice with him and then watched me phone a boy and ask him to the dance. Mike took me to my first Clash concert, he taught me what to do for a hangover, and of course, introduced me to Cricket. I went to school in St John’s Wood, and Mike clearly felt that I would get a better education if I skipped school and met him at Lords. He was always amused by his American little sister’s crushes on certain cricket players.
My most treasured and meaningful interactions with Mike, however, have been during my adult life. I live in California, but I often have the opportunity to travel to Europe and when I do, I always try to stop and see Mike and Liz. Whether watching TV, taking a walk, or going to a restaurant, a visit with Mike always comes with a very detailed explanation of history and purpose. It’s like having your own private audio tour. While after my visits, I would often feel so ignorant about so many things; visits with Mike also made me feel special and worthwhile. Whenever Mike asked me how I was or what I was doing – he truly wanted to know the answer. I am a biochemist – a rare subject that Mike is not an expert in – Mike would listen to me explain what I do and how the scientific research process works, then he would replay it back to me to let me know he appreciated it and valued it. He did that with everybody – letting you know that you were worthwhile, that you were special. He was exactly the same way as an Uncle. Fascinated by them as individuals, not just as his niece or nephew.
Oddly, my most special memories are from the extended periods of time that I spent with Mike and Liz during these last seven years when Mike was ill. Mike and I share the same HLA type, which means I was a match and could serve as a donor for a stem-cell transplant. When I first found out, I felt like I had won the lottery – I had the ability to try to help him. But I was also petrified; I was so worried that I would do more harm than good. Mike, however, would not let me worry about that and only let me feel good about it.
Even though Mike was so sick, he worked hard to make sure I was ok. He was so concerned that I might be in pain. And when I did feel some bone pain (nothing compared to the pain he was in), Mike eagerly showed me to the best place in his house: the comfy couch and a blanket in front of the TV. Even though the transplant went well, Mike would constantly remind me that the Myeloma would come back – trying to prepare me for the inevitable. Whenever I feel low about myself or my science – I can always remember that for that one time, I got to be that special person for Mike. It was an amazing experience.
Liz – thank you so much for everything – for being his soul mate, for being our sister-in-law.
You know, you don’t get to choose your siblings; a sibling should be the longest relationship of your life, longer than your parents, your partner or your children. I am so glad I got Mike – I can’t imagine life without him. I already miss him terribly.