February 4th 2013 by Andy Rogers
In my last Editor's Diary I mentioned the loss to leukaemia of UK Pro ET crew member John Byrne; little did I know then that we were about to experience another nightmare with the loss of SPRC Club Secretary, and my good friend, Paula Marshall to the same disease.
The leukaemia was up against one tough customer with Paula and there were times when it appeared that she was starting to get some of her blows in. But leukaemia is a spiteful and vindictive disease and on the evening of 6th January I got the phone call from Ian which I had been dreading.
The hundreds of tributes posted to Paula told you pretty much everything you needed to know about her, both literally and figuratively. There were tributes from all over the planet to the Club Secretary, the racer, the wife, the mother, the daughter, the sister, the friend. Paula was taken from us far too soon but her tribute page bears witness to just how much she was, and will continue to be, loved and just how much she achieved in her life. The sport across Europe, and we as individuals, will be forever in debt to Paula for her hard work and her friendship.
Paula was an early and steadfast supporter of Eurodragster.com, and a very regular contributor. I think that Paula saw the potential of the web site even before we did and because she knew her audience she suggested some features which are nowadays taken for granted including entry lists and pre-event notices to racers. It helped that Paula knew everything. She wasn't one of those people who thought they knew everything, she genuinely did know everything. I would ask her the most obscure questions about rules and so on and she would have the facts at her fingers' ends.
Although we had a strong working relationship Paula and I were, more importantly, good friends. I am really missing our weekly phone calls: Paula's cheery "Hullo!" followed by the business of the day and then gossip and the swapping of stories of who had pissed us off that week. Everything I told Paula, however indiscreet, never went any further. That was worth so much because those who have been involved in drag racing long enough know that it is just about impossible to have private conversations, but I could tell Paula anything and it would go into some kind of black hole and never come out again.
When Paula went into hospital we stayed in daily touch via text message until she became too ill even to use her mobile phone. Paula's parents John and Margaret sought me out after her funeral to tell me how much those text messages, and our friendship, meant to Paula. I will be forever grateful to John and Margaret for that gesture at a moment when we were meant to be trying to find comforting words for them. Ian has long commanded huge respect but he and Holley also showed tremendous courage and strength throughout Paula's illness and since her passing; Holley was particularly brave at Paula's funeral when she read a eulogy to her mum. She's Paula's daughter alright.
Sometimes in life you are given gifts which you particularly cherish and which you keep in a special place. Paula was John and Margaret's, Ian and Holley's, and Gillian's cherished gift to us and she will always have a special place in my memory.
As I write this Diary we are a few days from the UK Championships Dinner Dance and Trophy Presentation. Paula and Big John both enjoyed partying and would not want us moping - in fact my frequent tears have more than once been dammed by Paula's voice in my head asking "What the **** are you doing?" - but those two empty seats at table will mirror the gaping holes in our hearts.