"When a friend leaves, a very empty place is left behind, that can never be filled with the arrival of another friend". The words are from Argentinean composer Alberto Cortes. The feelings are profoundly mine. "I am ready. I am done. You all can go now," were my friend Phillip Gould's last words to his wife and two daughters. He had fought a courageous battle against cancer. In dying, he showed us all how to live. He had been my very good friend and mentor. I cried his death as one cries the death of a father.
Phillip had devoted his life to the world of politics as Tony Blair's strategist and pollster . With Blair he was one of the intellectual fathers of New Labor. Both Blair and Gordon Brown attended and read at his funeral service. I did not attend, preferring instead a private visit to his wife, Gail. Phillip was not a political celebrity to me. We met by chance and became friends. Over a very intense five year period we shared many breakfasts, lunches and dinners in San Francisco, New York and London. We always talked about the challenges of leadership, the power of a moral compass and the need for living all aspects of life with purpose. True to our roots, I always had coffee. He always had tea.
My last visit to him was in July. By then he had been fighting cancer for four years and was given only three months to live. He mentioned two things that I will never forget. First, the fact that living with the certainty of death had made him find a deeper level of meaning in life. He was able to organize his time to search for a deeper level of intimacy with his loved ones. He reviewed his life journey with Gail. They talked about the good times, the bad times, the horrible times and the extraordinary times. They reviewed what they had done right and the things they wished they had done differently: raw conversations on the meaning of their lives together. In the process he dared to admit that he had always feared that he loved her more than she loved him. In those long talks they grew closer together than they had ever been. Through the conversations he realized that they were both blessed by the fact that they married the love of their lives. He also had long talks with his two daughters, where the big questions of life were asked or anticipated. He wrote them long letters for the future. He found peace with distant relatives and spent quality time with friends. For those of us that have the blessing of health today, Phillip showed what intimacy could be if we only dared. And for those of us who dream of peacefully dying in our sleep, Phillip demonstrated the virtue of having a planned and purposeful death.
The second thing he told me was that his only regret was the time he had spent on the superfluous. In his latter stage he only had time for the transcendental and the truly important. What struck me in his words was that what he defined as "transcendental and important" was not only the time he spent with his family and friends. He devoted his time to his life work as well. He wrote passionately and prolifically during his last months. He re-edited his Opus Magnus, "The Unfinished Revolution". He wrote a five parts series for The Times of London on his experience with cancer. He gave interviews to the BBC on his political and personal views on leadership and intimates interviews on the process of dying. He also wrote notes for a book that will be published posthumously about his last three months process. He was passionate about family but also passionate about his work and legacy. He chose to spend his last days in the same way that he had spent his life but with a greater sense of purpose and urgency. " What else is there in life but our work and our family? Antonio", he told me as I departed. I could not help to think what could happen if we added more purpose and urgency to our lives.
Phillip carried his passion for work and family to the end. Gail mentioned that when he could barely speak he would ask her to write down some thoughts. Many could not be understood but every now and then something brilliant and insightful came through in a clear voice. "The problem it is not that God judges us. It is that we judge ourselves", words for the book that will be published posthumously.
At the end, he did have a peaceful death and died in his sleep, surrounded by Gail and his two daughters. Gail told me that when he passed, she did not feel sadness. Instead she felt something warm and powerful, something close to bliss. That bliss lifted her up for two days and helped her go through the funeral services. Perhaps it was a sign of the depth of her connection with Phillip. Perhaps it was just her mind helping her to cope with the loss. I would like to think it was Phillip, kissing the love of his life goodbye.