It is with great sadness that we recognise the loss of our friend and colleague Matthew Coates, recently Information Officer in the Faculty of Medicine & Health.
Matt passed away on Wednesday 15th December after a prolonged battle with a rare and aggressive cancer. Obituaries typically capture the highlights of a fulsome working career and key lifetime milestones, yet Matt was only 31 years old and had barely begun living his life. His best years were ahead.
Matt, a proud native of Halifax, commenced his career at the University in 2004 as a Finance Clerk in the Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications, before moving on to a similar position, in 2005, in the Finance Office in the Faculty of Medicine & Health. In March 2008, he moved into the role of Information Officer within the Faculty Office and remained there until leaving the organisation in June 2010 due to his poor health.
Matt was a popular member of the Faculty Office and it has been frequently mentioned how he was always one of the first people to welcome new colleagues, helping them to understand the ways of the office and help ease them in to their new environments. He was a gentleman with strong personal values and was always willing to help anybody with any task no matter how difficult or inconvenient. He was also always looking for a laugh and had a wicked sense of humour which warmed those around him.
Those who worked with him have remarked that, in the role of Information Officer, he had never been happier in his work. His responsibilities seemed to bring out the best in him. No task was too mundane, lengthy, detailed or complicated. He was adapting extremely well to a new subject area and a new pace of working and was really pushing himself to enhance his knowledge and experiences. His perseverance, attention to detail and strong work ethic enabled him to achieve early success with a range of projects and praise was rightfully received. Above all, it was his willingness to listen and learn and demonstrate an enthusiasm to really progress his career that saw him begin to carve out the beginnings of a niche.
One of the many cruel aspects of the timing of Matt’s illness was the fact he discovered news of his diagnosis during a week of training that would have equipped him with significant new capabilities and potential opportunities for his career. The fact he was unable to build on this period of professional development is terribly sad yet we can take some comfort from the fact he had managed to find a certain degree of contentment in his working life.
Outside of work Matt had a particularly great appetite for socialising, travelling and for pursuing new experiences. He was a keen football fan and supported Liverpool. Illness would sadly deny him the chance to commence and complete a couple of major vacations that he had been planning and excitedly anticipating for so long. Earlier in the year though, he did manage to experience a wonderful holiday in Turkey which helped to raise his spirits immensely.
One of the most enduring acknowledgements of the high regard in which Matt was held by colleagues was demonstrated in the lead up to Christmas 2009. During the previous summer Matt had had his ‘University cycle scheme’ bicycle stolen from outside a shop in North East Leeds. He had just been to visit his Mum who was very ill in hospital. It was an expensive and treasured bike that had helped to transform the burden of his often unreliable commute from Halifax but without insurance he was left to continue paying for a bike he no longer had nor could afford to replace.
At the early stages of his cancer treatment Faculty office colleagues decided to try and raise some funds to replace his stolen bike, providing him with a return to mobility as well as representing a gesture of support in Matt for the long term. In a short space of time, extremely generous donations were received from all quarters and the monies collected more than exceeded the initial plan to replace his bike with an alternative model. Indeed, we managed to get him the exact same model that he loved so much and also have it delivered to him in time for Christmas.
We don’t know if he was ever subsequently fit or well enough to use the bike but that didn’t matter. We knew that it would give him a timely boost and hopefully a sense of the good will and warmth of support he was receiving from everyone at work.
In the context of a critical illness, the term bravery is often used to describe the extent to which a person battles to prolong the duration of their life. However, bravery is better measured in other ways through the sustaining of dignity and integrity, maintaining a strength of character and resolve to never give in and protecting loved ones from the true pain and suffering that privately takes place. Matt demonstrated all of these characteristics to the absolute full. He never gave up, he never asked ‘why me?’, he never buckled under the relentless volume of treatment he received, he never lashed out at others. He was a credit to himself and those of us who knew him will never forget this.
Our thoughts go out to his family and friends who have supported Matt wonderfully throughout his illness. We will be joining them to say goodbye to Matt on Friday 24th December. They had hoped to be blessed with him for a final Christmas together but tragically this was not to be.