This day began early, as a taxi brought me through flooded streets to the 98FM Radio Studios at the Malt House, Grand Canal Quay. The leaden Irish summer skies weeped a deluge and mirrored my mood as we drove through the deserted early morning Sunday streets. Laughter and tears followed as friends and colleagues gathered on air to pay tribute to the lionhearted legend that was Johnny Lyons. For 20 years I worked and fought with this amazing man. Luminous and effervescent in his passion, brilliance, and extreme love and curiosity for life. He challenged me, he thrilled me, he infuriated me and he never let me down. So cruel and heartless. Snuffed out and snatched away at 49, when he had so much living left.
Flying towards Addis Ababa at 39,000 feet and a speed of over 500mph, the big man’s memory is still hammering around inside my head. Conversations had and yet to have playing out as I watch the hours speed by. Hours denied to Johnny.
Later today and back in Dublin, Johnny Lyons’ funeral mass will remember his life and look to his legacy; the family that loves him and the radio family that grew around him. I won’t be there and I’m both hurt and relieved. I just can’t cope with the image of Johnny Lyons contained by anything, especially boxed in by death. As the opening hymns begin, I’ll be reaching the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Over the next week I’ll be trekking towards the top of the world, imagining Johnny’s spirit seeing through my eyes the wonder of the earth.
This time I won’t be returning to Dublin to record my findings to the big man over steak and chips and mushroom sauce. His hunger for all things living, pulling apart my trip with probing questions about the climb, altitude, geography, anthropology and me.
Johnny proofed my book after Nepal, laughed at my terror on hearing the thunder of white water rapids on the Nile, creased his brow with wonder at my icy tales from Elbrus in Russia, and gushed with anticipation in advance of my return to Africa. I should be going home in September to share my new adventure with him but this time there will be a gaping hole in my story.
Moments after hearing the news of Johnny’s untimely death, as the air struggled to fill my lungs, I realised that my world had shifted. But even in death he’s inspiring me to never waste a second. To live life hard and well, to be true to your ideals and beliefs, to take time to love and make time matter. With his departure, Johnny has taken with him a little piece of my heart. But I will carry a little piece of his with me. Always.