The first of the gang to go

By | 21/01/2020

Ewan Calder Smith

Throughout my life I’ve been blessed by the character, quality and fun in my friendships.

Ewan was one of the very best. A top person, he cared deeply for his friends. He regularly visited our mutual pal Charlie, who was confined to a hospital ward for three continuous years with acute anxiety. Ewan never forgot Charlie, never wrote him off and visited him regularly whenever he was on dry land. Ewan’s work-patterns allowed him to support Charlie (and me) for long stretches at a time: He worked six months on / six months off in the Merchant Navy.

Laughter, the best medicine

He performed greater healing miracles for me than many a doctor. He was one of very few people whose gentle, daft sense of humour could lift you from profound lows into comedy. He could easily have made a living as an entertainer.

A new mental patient naturally goes through a process of rethinking their life and their future, contemplating questions like:

Have I lost my mind? Will I get it back?

Is my useful life over?

Are my dreams and goals dead in the water?

Will anyone ever want to marry me now?

Although these thoughts aren’t likely to be true for most people, they can certainly seem so. It’s an understatement to say that a collapse in your mental health is frightening. It’s so strange and so incomprehensible.You genuinely don’t have a clue what’s going on.

Having a reason to smile or an unexpected laugh when you’re mentally ill is incredibly uplifting. Ewan had a knack for it. He could even lift me in a short chat on the phone.

Go on, use your GSOH

If you have a good sense of humour, why not use it to bring health, life and laughter to the ill or unhappy, starting off with your friends?

Ewan’s commemoration service was full. The officers from his ship were there in full uniform. Everyone gave their all, singing great hymns of the sea, including “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?”

Through a door

Ewan’s death came in the middle-land that I inhabited between full atheism and full Christian belief. Obviously, as an atheist, I’d believed there was nothing after death. I wasn’t yet a 100% believer, but I couldn’t accept that all the energy, positivity and human warmth residing in Ewan had just dissipated, that he simply didn’t exist any more.

I felt he’d passed through a door.


After the service I spoke to Ewan’s father. I didn’t want to cause him any more heartbreak but I wanted him to know what an incredible friend his son had been to me. Also that although his life was short, it was Great in the full meaning of that word.

I pay tribute to anyone like Ewan who unselfishly helps others, particularly those traumatised and stigmatised by mental illness, who will value every smile offered to them.

Moving on to the next world

I hope that if I manage to follow the narrow path and go on to life everlasting that Ewan will be there waiting, holding out a pint of Paradise’s Best.

Ewan Calder Smith: Only the good die young.