Yesterday I heard about the suicide of Neil Sears, head teacher of a special school in Cambridgeshire where, five years ago, we began our work in schools.
Neil was one of Young People Speaking Up's earliest backers and was instrumental in bringing other heads and senior teachers on board throughout the county. He was found dead on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the end of the school day.
When I heard about Neil's death (he was 52), I was, of course totally stunned. He was an inspriational, likeable figure, just the right kind of personality for the head of a school which was in the process of transforming itself into becoming mainstream.
I was last at the school in the second half of last year on a `Back to the Floor' visit to see our Young People's project in action. Afterwards, I spent most of the lunch hour with Neil, talking about the school, how well it was developing.
He was one of these people I always felt glad to see. He always made me welcome, pumped my hand, told me how delighted he was with our work in the school, what a big difference it made to the kids.
He also talked very openly about things. Over the lunch-hour it became clear that although big stides had been made in getting the integration going with the mainstream school down the road, it had been hard-going. He was, though, overwhelmingly positive.
All the children were eating dinner while we stood talking. Laughing, chatting occasionally being brought to order, strictly, but kindly by Neil.
His devotion to the young people in his care was recognised and reciprocated by the clear affection, even adulation, he inspired in pupils, parents and staff. I remember leaving thinking how glad I was he was in charge there.
I am seldom impressed when I go into our schools. So many of the staff seem tired and disengaged. But even after 13 years at Meadowgate, Neil showed none of that, publicly at least. He came to our AGMs, brought the kids to events, always willing to go beyond what would be expected. He was probably our biggest single supporter in all the schools in which we now work.
About three years ago I think, he took the Headship of the school after a long stint as Deputy. I spoke to him at the time, a few months before his appointment, encouraging him to go for it. Neil wasn't a massively confident man, but he went for it and got it, to the delight of many us, myself included.
I don't know how the job sat with him in his own mind but I get the sense, somehow that he struggled with parts of it. Whether the job played a part in all of this I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised, somehow, if it did.
When somebody this good takes their life, it just feels terrible. His pain must have been profound and his loneliness unbearable.
The world has lost a great teacher and a brilliant leader this week. Not one that was ever celebrated or known beyond his own town but someone who has left a mark on many lives.
Including mine and those of my staff who saw him twice a week for the last five years. Their sense of loss is, of course, intense and all the more powerful for their close acquaintance with him.
Today is a truly day for everyone who knew Neil Sears.