Tony Sparks and Graham Carrick had been together for almost thirty-one years. A while back, when they had discussed the possibility of death, Tony insisted Graham make him a few promises: –
No sad funeral music.
And definitely no Jacques Brel or Andrea Bocelli.
The no-tears part was tricky, but Graham, in his bright red shirt, would have made Tony proud. In fact he made everyone proud as he stood, filled with love and vulnerability, bidding farewell to his life long partner.
Tony died unexpectedly on the 29th of July 2014, complications from an enlarged heart. Given the size of the memorial service, it was clear that Tony’s heart was indeed large. And very, very generous.
The garden at Graton Guest House, Tony and Graham’s baby, was filled with family and friends and overwhelming love and support. There were friends from work, the theatre, the Johannesburg Public Library, Wits University, the Rosebank Region Accommodation Association (www.johannesburg-guesthouses.co.za), dance friends, music friends, old friends and new friends.
There were family members, tons of them, including a few of his six godchildren and a whole bunch of nephews and nieces. Everyone described Tony as ‘the glue who held us together’, and all were heartbroken at the loss of someone so dear. They laughed at how he hated the word ‘Uncle’, but agreed that he was definitely the most-cool Uncle possible.
The word that described Tony best was passion. He gave a hundred percent to anything he put his mind to, and was indeed passionate about theatre, dance, music, literature and of course, family.
For Tony, his biggest achievements were: –
Teaching a godchild how to tell the time at age two and a half!
Teaching all the kids to dance.
And sharing his love of music and theatre with every-one.
Tony had studied drama at UCT, and in 1986 he founded a Theatre Club – ‘By Invitation Only’. The members were still ‘clubbing’ up until Tony’s death, with the SAME four couples they started off with. Tony had a list of every play ever seen, the price of the tickets, and a short review. Each couple had a chance to choose the show, although Tony was known to ‘interfere gently’ almost every month.
In his honor, the Theatre Club’ went to theatre at Gold Reef City on the Saturday night after his death, to see ‘My Favorite Swings’. I imagine it was the hardest thing any of these good friends, and Graham, had ever done, but it felt important for them to continue, knowing that Tony was with them in spirit and probably doing the Rumba, albeit from a distance.
Graham spoke about the courage Tony had given him to be openly gay and how Tony had helped him ‘take the brown paper bag’ off his head at gay marches. Tony had worked at the Gay and Lesbian Library when it first opened, and today that library is known as the Sparks Cooper Library. Both Tony and Graham were openly involved with the ‘Out in Africa’ Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and Graham and all Tony’s friends, will continue to support it.
On a personal level, we really don’t know what we are going to do without Tony as Chairman of our Rosebank Region Accommodation Association. He did incredible work both at regional level for Rosebank, as well as at provincial level for the Gauteng branch of the National Accommodation Association (NAA-SA). He was the editor for the NAA-SA newsletter – another task he tackled with talent, energy and commitment. He was a man of great responsibility, ethics, caring and professionalism – somebody who earned respect rather than expected it, and he always acted in the interests of the greater community of the accommodation sector.
Tony was astonishing and will be sorely missed.
The memorial ended with a magnificent ‘balloon release’, everyone participating in the act of letting go. The balloons were black and white, Tony’s favourite colours. The tears were real.
A leading man. A wonderful man. Tony Sparks. RIP.