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Saturday, 7 April 2018

Vale, Simon Robert Agius

In the houses of my dreams, my bedroom is always in the sun room. A liminal place, not quite of the house, but not quite outside it. In my mind, that was the relationship Simon had with the world - marginal, individual, and quirky. But that's not a true image at all.

Simon was someone I mainly knew from school, so to talk about him, I suppose I need to explain a few things about the gladiator academy in which we grew up. I'm very proud of my school, of its standard of education, its standing in the community, and its honour roll, but I'd be lying if I said it produced uniformly kind and humble people. In fact, I can hear a great horse laugh rising from the sum of old Aloysians at the idea of kindness or humility ever being valued by the school. We're known for many things, many of which are positive, but what we're very much famous for is arrogance, entitlement, and that curious smiling intolerance peculiar to Irish Catholics.

When I attended his funeral last Friday, I met Pauline, Simon's mother, who said she had been initially annoyed by the long shadow cast by our school. She complained that he always had our motto, 'Ad Majora Natus' (Born for Greater Things) on his lips. She felt that this was arrogant, and possibly a little stupid. But then she looked into it some more, and found out about the deep Loyolan roots of social justice that lay behind this seemingly elitist message, and found peace with it. I understand this. When I think of Simon and my school days, I imagine The Great Hall crammed with boys soaking up the idea of themselves as some kind of special, chosen cohort, born to make their mark on the world. All except one – Simon – who must have known all along that the true meaning of this pat little saying was rooted in service to others. It helps to explain the way his entire life was shaped and pointed squarely at the single goal of helping the entire world to be and get better.

Simon was a part of the music department, as was I, and I believe that in the generosity of his heart he wished to be my friend. I took this very much for granted, and assumed that there was no requirement for me to reciprocate his many kindnesses, because I am the exact type of entitled arsehole which our school loves to produce. Simon was emphatically not this kind of person. As boys, we always put at least as much effort into being smooth and plausible as we did into becoming adept, and this was definitely a learning culture we received from the institution. I say 'we', but this was never true of Simon. He never seemed to care a jot for how he looked to others. He loved singing and songs, so he sang. He loved God and his church, so he went. He loved business, so he wheeled and dealed. He loved his fellow man, so he always and everywhere practised kindness and generosity. He loved Vanuatu, so he waded in, two-fisted, to fight for free market and democratic principles on that tiny island as if he were doing battle for the soul of the world. And never once in all of this did he seem afraid of looking silly, or worried about what others thought of him. It is with deep regret that I realise now that I never saw the enormous value of his immense heart and courage when I was a boy.

If I were ever to commit the gaucherie of attempting to 'sum up' a person in a few words or a single idea, I would describe Simon as relentlessly positive and earnest. The way he treated everything he encountered and liked was a kind of mad rush to embrace it. Simon had the kind of energy and commitment we associate with entrepeneurialism, despite having not a shred of the greed, mendacity, or selfishness which can all too often be the other side of that coin. He was passionate about creating, through business, that elusive invisible hand of Adam Smith. His big project in his final years was an app which would help people ensure that the produce they were buying was part of an ethical supply chain – organic, natural, and productive of fair payment to the farmer. Simon believed passionately in so many things, but it would seem that what he cared about most of all was the idea that by doing good, he could make the world a better place. His enthusiasms remind me of a knight of the crusades, riding out into a sea of iniquity to carve out a space where people might live in harmony with their highest principles. Simon was ever Utopian in his imaginings, which requires a greatness of soul few ever possess, and even fewer are capable of preserving into adulthood.

So it is with deep sadness that I farewell my old schoolmate, Simon Robert Agius. I don't believe in God, but he did, with an earnestness and love which has always confused me. But given that, it would be churlish of me not to wish him good journey in the manner I think he would have preferred. So I offer a prayer for his soul, casting it out into the ether in the hope that his faith was justified, and that the legion of souls who I know are pleading for his salvation are heard by a god as passionately in love with right and humanity as he was himself.

Pie Jesu Domine, 
Dona eis requiem. 
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
Dona eis requiem. 

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