IN MEMORY OF MIKE
A final tribute to the friend who made this website possible
First contact was by email, a short and sparing account of one man’s search for truth. Clergy increasingly receive these kinds of approaches, but in the late nineties it was rare. He had some questions about the Christian faith and wanted to ask them of his local vicar by email. Thus began a protracted digital conversation which only after a long period culminated in a face to face meeting. Thus began Mike Wallbridge’s encounter and eventual embrace of the Christian faith.
Although it was time consuming, I liked the way Mike expressed his questions carefully on the computer, giving me time to reflect on the answers I made. In a way he was a member of the Nicodemus network: people who prefer to find out about the faith in private and discrete ways, apart from listening ears and prying eyes. I had no idea who he was or where he was coming from, but he had the sense he could relate to me. Once we began to meet this became manifest. Perhaps it was a shared love of the West Wing. It is said that no two countries that play cricket will ever go to war with each other (though those who say this haven’t looked closely at the enduring enmity between India and Pakistan); by the same token, the Burton-Jones principle is that two fans of the West Wing will always find mutual friendship.
Mike was a BT executive by background and he compelled his churches to embrace digital technology as a friend and an outlet which would serve the Gospel well. There is nothing exceptional about this stance now, but at the time it was pioneering. He could see possibilities in the way marketing executives do and was persistent and undeterred in his goal to get the church away from analogue thinking. It was his idea to set up this website; without his imagination and start-up funding, it would never have happened. Mike would never let me get away with sloppy thinking or slapdash contributions and yet he did this in the most unobtrusive fashion, always respecting my space.
I took his funeral in March 2013, too early. We think we know one another, but researching and attending a funeral always turns up surprises in those we know. When he worked for Philips, he demonstrated his quick-wittedness and shameless ability to blag as he came up on the spur of the moment with the personal job title of Corporate Publicity Manager so the BBC would allow him to present an athletics award live on air with Brendan Foster. The next day his boss conferred the title on him with a pay increase. Yet it was his spell at Mirror Group I knew nothing about.
Mike reported directly to Robert Maxwell and had the unmitigated joy of attending board meetings where his boss would arbitrarily fire people, like a caricature Spitting Image puppet. Maxwell once asked Mike why he should continue to pay his salary, to which Mike implacably responded: if you had read any of the material I sent you, you would know what I am doing for you. In the way of bullies, Maxwell respected this strength. Eventually his luck ran out – this usually happened to the person who sat opposite Maxwell in the boardroom – and he was dismissed. Moving on to BT, Mike was to become a prime mover of their direct marketing strategy, which has enabled the company to prosper since.
Everything about Mike was big: his frame, his appetite, his love for people, his love for life. In some men, this kind of size and drive can become overbearing, yet in Mike it was informed by a spirit of gentleness and generosity, which made him such refreshing company. There was an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn; despite his giftedness, he was self-effacing.
He leaves behind his wife, Karen, and children, David and Kerralie, among others; they will miss him most acutely. Mike was an honest and self-questioning person, who would have been surprised to know just how influential he proved in the lives of those who knew him; it’s the kind of thing we’re often not aware of. This website remains one tribute among many to his gifts; every time I get to work on it, his gentle encouragement will continue to echo.
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