I’d been self-employed for only a few months, but it was becoming clear my business strategy was flawed and things were not going to plan. At the same time, we’d had to deal with my baby daughter having open-heart surgery and the emotional strain on the whole family had been huge.
Against this backdrop I saw an advert for an “Intro to Science” evening class, which sounded interesting and I thought would give me something entirely different to occupy my thoughts for at least a couple of hours each week.
It had been organised by Des Gallagher, the local council’s Adult Education officer, who was also attending the course himself. A highly intelligent, strongly principled man, Des was from a Scottish working-class background, which fed into a passionate drive for education for all - especially those who’d been let down by the system.
Inspired by the course, I began toying with the idea of running an “Introduction to Philosophy” evening class, and with Des’s support and encouragement I was able to develop and run it. It went down so well I was asked to create an “Introduction to Moral Philosophy” evening class to follow it up with.
Emboldened by the success of the courses and increasingly influenced by Des’s passion for community education, in the following months I conceived of an idea for creating a voluntary organisation whose aim would be to help community groups to build and develop their own websites.
I approached Des for guidance. With his network of contacts within the community of Clackmannanshire, along with his support and ideas, his role was critical in helping to establish the creation of ClacksNet. Over several years, it helped many local community groups bridge the digital divide and use the Internet for the benefit of hundreds, if not thousands, of local people.
What was clear throughout this time was the personal integrity and commitment of Des to his belief in helping the disadvantaged in our community. He saw how education and technology could help adults to advance themselves and the people around them. My respect for his vision and for him as a man steadily grew.
As our professional relationship developed, so did our personal one. Our family circumstances were not dissimilar in that he was the father of five children and I was the father of two, plus the stepfather of three more from my wife’s previous marriage, who were living with us at the time.
In any household that contains a range of children from infants to teenagers, there are times when parenting is not easy. We do our best, and make decisions that we believe to be right for the development and protection of all our children. To be able to talk to someone who understood the difficulties and particular nuances of parenting a larger family was a useful thing for both of us.
For many years Des was one of my closest friends.
We didn’t see so much of each other once I moved away, but when he finally discovered Facebook we hooked up again, and recently I was delighted to see the photos posted of him in the role of immensely proud father at his daughter’s wedding.
So when his brother, Tom, phoned yesterday to tell me Des had unexpectedly passed away, all I could feel was an intense sense of loss and a terrible sadness for his loved ones.
He was a good man, and the world is emptier without him.