I didn't realise it at the time, but after 10 years in Edinburgh, my relocation to Verona 4 years ago came at just the right time. Professionally, personally and geographically, I was ready for a change. And so, I've no regrets about coming to Verona. Of course there are things (like diluting juice, baked beans, afternoons spent in the pub, fish and chips, a fry-up and a good curry) and people (family, friends and former colleagues) that I miss, but we've generally just been too busy getting on with life here in Verona to dwell much on what we've left behind. Anyway, Verona isn't exactly a million miles away and, with Facebook and Skype, events at home never seem too far away.
But with the illness and tragic passing on Saturday night of a great friend and former colleague, the short distance between our lives in Verona and our family, friends and former colleagues in Scotland suddenly seems much wider.
Jude was a wonderful colleague. When I joined the research department from another part of the Scottish Parliament, Jude's was the warmest welcome. I was fortunate enough to share an office with him during my last 3 years in Edinburgh. If he was approaching, you would invariably hear him before you saw him. His contagious fits of laughter would frequently reverberate around the Scottish Parliament's hushed research library. But Jude was so much more than the just an office clown. He had genuine (and first hand) expertise in his field (unlike me who just pretended) and knew better than most the political environment in which he was operating. His passing will leave a gaping hole, not just in SPICe where he worked, but throughout the organisation as a whole. He was an unsung hero of the Scottish Parliament, a genuine character whose personality transcended the various silos that inevitably exist in such an organisation.
Jude was more than just a colleague.
We would often share a couple of drinks together after work (following his kidney transplant, he wasn't a big drinker, but would enjoy an occasional Jack Daniels and diet coke). Again, with his warm sense of humour and contagious laugh, he was a consummate and generous socialite. He was also a great armchair companion and we enjoyed watching many memorable football matches together. Cheering on Scotland to yet more glorious failure, following the Old Firm in Europe as (ahem) interested neutrals and, on one indelible occasion, encountering a particularly voluble follower of the so-called "pope's eleven" while we enjoyed a quiet pint in a Rose Street hostelry.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend a rainy afternoon with Jude at his home in Joppa. With his kidney problems and then his recent illness, Jude had more reason than most to feel hard done by, depressed, angry, subdued. But he wasn't. Despite being gravely ill, he was the same old Jude. Warm, funny, engaging. Full of gossip and curious about my life in Italy.
Surrounded by the well-wishes of his friends, colleagues and neighbours, and above all by his devoted wife Ali and his beautiful children (of whom he was justifiably so proud), and fortified by his faith, which was profound, he didn't fear death. His thoughts, typical of the man, were for those who he would leave behind, and above all for his wife Ali, who he told me had been his rock throughout his illness. He was genuinely surprised and deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support he had received in recent weeks - in his humility, somehow he had been unaware of the genuine respect and affection in which he was held by so many.
It was bitter-sweet life-affirming afternoon for me. It was such a pleasure to be in Jude's company again, but heartbreaking to contemplate that it might be for the last time.
Until the very end I was hopeful of a miracle (if anyone deserved one it was Jude), so the news, when it came, was still a gut-wrenching blow.
Jude, it was a privilege to work with you and an honour to call you a friend.
I miss you.