A tribute to my friend, Mark Hanson

Like most modern day romances, our Mark and I met on the Internet. Really, in fact, it was on an American political blog (the DailyKos, sometime in 2005)

“Death is a release from the impressions of sense, and from impulses that make us their puppets, from the vagaries of the mind, and the hard service of the flesh.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Mark Hanson We all miss him dearly – and there are so many emails I’ve started that I’ll never be able to hit the send button on. I did a search for all emails I’d received from Mark over the years – And as I went back in time, sifting through page after page of emails, I realised he was always there for me. There for me when I had girl troubles. There for me as my partner in crime when I had an idea for a new project for a client. I know I’m not the only one here with an inbox full of emails asking me how my night out was, and also in the same email reminding me about the proposal for a client that I’d promised him last week. See the thing about Mark is that he was just, always there.

Each and every single person I’ve spoken to has said the same

“he was always there for you, even before you realised you needed him.”

The last time we met after work, it was just after Valentine’s day. We talked about how we’d met our amazing significant others (his wife Clare, and my girlfriend Janet). We ended up talking for a few hours about love, it’s true value, and how rare it was in today’s world. His idea of love – which can only have come out of his relationship with Clare – was essentially a deep connection based on friendship, trust, and understanding.

It’s a shame that only after his passing did so many of us realise just how much friendship, joy and meaning Mark had brought to our lives.

I thought I’d share with you some insight into the work and achievements Mark had accomplished over the last few years of his life – these were the only years that I’d known Mark, but like so many other people I’ve spoken with since his death, his significance in my life will far outweigh the time I knew our boy Mark.

The Mark I knew was all about scribbling notes into his writing pads – I once asked him if I could get him a moleskin notebook for his birthday, and he shot me a glance that conveyed a sense of “I’m a grown-ass man and an Everton supporter. I wear a thumb ring. I’d never let myself be caught with a moleskin notebook.” Just like when I told him I’d been a Manchester United fan for over 15 years. That conversation never went very far either, but I can picture him scribbling:

“Jag: red devil. Must kill soon!”

into his writing pad.

But in all seriousness, Mark was all about action plans and lists. There was a ruthless precision to the way he worked, with everything so carefully mapped out. He understood competition – either you do it right, or someone else would do it in your place, plain and simple – and for our Mark, you did it right. He’d give you a dressing-down if necessary, but he had this way of making sure it didn’t seem like a character critique. His way of making you take your feet off the table would be to quite literally tickle you until you put them back on the floor.

He may have called himself an old-school PR hack, but our Mark was truly a new-media fanboy. He knew the value of a good story and he knew the best way to tell it. He understood the concept of a “narrative” – a story that is created in a constructive format. Even through his death, he got the message across. He was trending on Twitter!

Through his work for the Resolution Foundation, or the IPPR, or the Fatherhood Institute, or the Centre for Cities, or World Vision, or the Labour Party, he’d touched thousands of lives. They all involved helping worthwhile causes communicate in a way that’s more human, authentic, and real. I loved that he was a PR man who wasn’t afraid of advertising. Or campaigning. He was a big picture kinda guy, but with Mark there wasn’t a hint of self-aggrandizing behaviour, and that’s another thing that made him so special.

Over at Labour HQ, there were loads of talented people with great ideas wanting to make big contributions, with maybe even bigger egos – but Mark actually got things done. Every time Labour had an internal crisis, it was Mark who brought in the right people from the various corners and factions to talk things through. And sure, maybe it was a Northern thing, he told it like it was, but this genuine willingness to engage meant he didn’t complain – he just got on with the task at hand.

At the last general election, Mark was instrumental in helping our party not just overcome the Conservatives’ incredible spending advantage in the run-up to the election, but also in helping the party recover afterwards and in the run-up to the leadership election. Mark’s legacy will be that he helped us discover our online soul, and then helped strengthen it. Mark changed the trajectory of my life, and I know I’m not the only one.

There’s a quote on a tombstone that follows something along the lines of:

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Mark, we’re grateful for the memories. We love you Mark, and we will remember you. Farewell my friend.

I read this tribute out at Mark’s funeral and remembrance ceremonies.

More reactions here: Stuart Bruce, LabourList, Wolfstar, Iain Dale, Jed Hallam, Staniforth PR, Laura Hastings.

If you’d like to contribute to Mark’s legacy, please donate via Stuart Bruce’s JustGiving page or visit the Mark Hanson page we’d set up.

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