Last week I heard some sad news. It wasn't the publication of the Francis report which was sad and I will write about this in another blog. No the sad news for me last week was hearing that my friend, mentor, former colleague, supervisor and boss, died unexpectedly last weekend. They probably broke the mold when they made Dave Skidmore. He was a giant of a man who was never happier than when he could help you. A keen motorcyclist, Dave had an interesting background, policeman, Olympic standard fencer, nurse, researcher and educator. He was well read and loved telling stories. His wit and good humour were legendary.
Although I had been aware of Dave for a large number of years, (as a mental health nurse in the 1970s it was hard not to have heard of him, such was his influence) it was 1995 when I first met Dave. At the time I was working for one of the largest NHS mental health services in the UK, and was growing desperately unhappy with my role. I was doing some work with a colleague on developing a distance learning leadership programme for nurses, and the programme was to be facilitated and approved through Manchester Metropolitan University. Dave was Head of the School of Nursing there.
That first meeting was life changing. Within 6 months I had left the NHS and taken up a post as a Principle Lecturer at MMU, and was as happy as the proverbial pig in muck. Dave introduced me to teaching, which I loved, research which was so exciting, and academic tourism – which he was particularly good at sorting out. Through the opportunities Dave provided I was able to travel the world.
Often he would come with me and together we shared many, many adventures. The first paper I ever presented at a conference was one that Dave basically wrote and very generously allowed me to be second author in 1996. This was at the Slovakian conference I have been supporting ever since. On that first occasion we arrived at the conference venue at 06.00 in the morning having travelled overnight on a train. We looked so cold the conference organisers gave us each a pint glass of local apple brandy to warm us up.
When I stalled with my PhD studies and my supervisor was ill, Dave stepped in and rescued me. And he was like that. Always ready to step in and help, never asked for anything back. 10 years further on when I was ready to leave MMU and take up a role as a professor at the University of Salford, Dave was there supporting my application and providing words of wisdom that I gratefully took on board.
As news of Dave’s untimely death spread across the mental health and nurse education world I have been cheered by the number of people who have emailed me to tell of the way Dave touched their lives. It was a phenomenal response of recognition, respect and acknowledgement. On Friday we say good bye to Dave. His impact and influence on mental health nursing, nurse education and for so many people who knew him is immeasurable. My thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.