Our thoughts are with the friends, family, and work colleagues of Sean Morrin who died at the weekend in Derry.
I heard the news about Sean’s passing late on Sunday night, and immediately I thought of our friends in The Rainbow Project where Sean worked. But Sean’s life touched many more people than them.
Two members of UNISON who knes Sean much, much better than I did, wrote the following tributes, which I received in an email as a UNISON member.
“Sean Morrin who was a lifelong gay rights activist and our first ever UNISON ‘out’ gay member in the early 90s died suddenly over the weekend at his home in Derry. He was a founder member of Foyle Pride, both a volunteer and staff member with the Rainbow Project, set up AA/NA for LGB&T people in Derry, was involved in history projects and arts projects to raise the profile of LGB&T people, was a volunteer with Foyle hospice and more recently had been supporting the Trans Derry group. In between that he just helped and supported people in his own quiet way, offering his sofa, a listening ear and hope to many. When he wasn’t adopting people he was fostering cats and dogs, trying to get new homes for them. I will always remember him for his positivity of spirit and his optimism, he really did see the good in people even when it could be hard to find. I will be among many who will miss him. A rainbow flag is currently flying at half mast over the Free Derry wall. For those who would like to attend his funeral, it will be at 10am mass on Thursday in St Mary’s church in Creggan.” said Fidelma Carolan, of UNISON.
Another member of UNISON, Ronan Doherty, who is currently in Cuba as part of his medical training at Kings College (he started with the Union as a nurse) wrote a lovely tribute which gives a real sense of Sean even to those who didn’t know him.
“I was sitting in Cuba when I received the horrifying news of Sean leaving us! There happened to be some Irish people there so before I realised I had a whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other! I was surrounded by people who I made friends with on my travels! I was physically unable to speak and shaking so hard I couldn’t smoke the cigarette I’d been given!
“When I finally managed to utter some words I realised that there was a grief in all their hearts just from seeing the effect of this news on me! There were 2 irish, 2 cubans, one indian girl and me! Eventually one of them asked me to please tell them about Sean! It seemed a fair point as they sat with me and grieved for a man they’d never met!
“I sat trying to find the words to describe the man I loved and who now I’d lost! However I struggled and I realised at that point that there were no words! No words seemed to do him justice! Kind, generous, radiant, forgiving, protecting, loving…. No words are enough! However I tried to tell them about Sean and how I’d come to love him!
“I’d spent my short time with these people discussing and debating life! (Usually over a bottle of rum). We had discussed everything from right and wrong to life in Cuba and uk and Ireland, poverty, wealth, health, homelessness and human rights! It was in those moments of trying to describe Sean that i realised how many of my values I had inherited from him! Basically all of them. And in everything I discussed about my opinions, values and principles over the past few weeks and probably past years- there he was!
“I met Sean Morrin when I was 15! Life was out of control and I was struggling with many things! It’s not a unique story for a young gay man but at that time I didn’t know this! All I knew was life sucked! I loved Sean the minute I met him and his radiance, smile and ability to make you feel whole and worth something emanated out of his every fibre!
“Soon after I first met him I came to meet him for dinner one evening in derry! I was in my school uniform and he would often remind me of that and laugh! I didn’t know what I needed but knew I needed something! I’d decided to move out of home and asked Sean if I could rent once of his many rooms at the time that he seemed to have for wayward gays!
“I had it planned that I would get a part time job to pay my rent and remain at school! In hindsight it was a ridiculous plan that never would of worked! However I was determined and Sean never disagreed or disrespected my ideas! I imagine he knew it was not a feasible idea and something would give but he never dismissed me! He said as long as I can pay my way I’m welcome in his home!
“Thankfully I never did follow through with that plan and on reflection I didn’t really need to after that! Just hearing that it was fine and that I had the option was support enough! As sure as I know Sean knew it was a ridiculous idea I think he knew I just needed the reassurance that I had options and his respect and support were more than enough to help me more than anything!
“He helped me in so many ways that they would be impossible to list! I have no doubt that I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him! How do you repay someone the debt of saving your life! A good friend of mine now, who i later learned Sean also lifted from despair, and I often talk and laugh about Sean’s influence on our lives! And we wonder about how many other people have the exact same story! How many people would not be here today if it were not for him! I’m sure it must run to hundreds if not thousands!
“You see, I know my relationship with Sean was special and unique to me however i also know that Sean’s relationship with me, although just as special to him was not unique! He helped and befriended everyone and had such an impact on lives it’s hard to even begin to count!“Sean loved people! Many people describe Sean as an LGBT campaigner or a gay rights activist! Personally I find this a little upsetting! It is true that Sean had an immeasurable impact on the LGBT community and that’s where he is most known! However for me Sean was not an LGBT activist, Sean was a human rights activist! His campaigning and work and life not only influenced the gay community but dozens of other causes! Sean loved the Martin Luther king phrase “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and Sean would combat injustice anywhere he could see it and especially for anyone who couldn’t combat it themselves!
“And his love didn’t even stop there! He loved animals to such an extent I sometimes feared his house would turn into a sanctuary! His love seemed to have no limit and know no bounds! It was like a bottomless well that never ran dry! Sean always forgave people no matter how many times they made mistakes- myself include! Most people have a limit to their forgiveness but his was immeasurable and was never exhausted! He believed in the good in people despite any odds and gave people chance after chance! One of his favourite things to tell me when people did something wrong was that “only hurt people hurt people”.
“Many times I watched him give someone his last £5 because he knew they needed it more than he! I would get angry and ask how was he going to manage now and his response was always “the universe will provide”. His generosity knew no bounds and he never kept count! Sean is the reason I always give homeless people money even when friends argue that they just want it to buy alcohol! He taught me that giving to those with less is everything we can do and respecting that person as a human means giving without conditions and without keeping score!
“I read the hundreds of facebook comments people where posting and it proves what I already knew in that his effect on me was not unique and hundreds of other people have felt the love, respect and warmth of knowing Sean Morrin! The last picture I saw on Sean’s Facebook was of him at foyle pride holding a banner saying “marching for those who can’t”! I found this so appropriate as the friend I’ve now lost devoted his life “marching” for those who couldn’t!
“There is a huge dark hole in the earth today where his presence once stood and an even larger hole in my heart! The world feels like it had stopped spinning! However there is also a new star in the sky which shines just as bright as he did on earth! In true Sean style I choose to focus on the light and not the dark! I’ll carry everything he taught me in my heart and continue to live by the principles he taught me- respecting every other person, fighting for those who can’t, and giving to those who need! Although I have no doubt I will never be the man that he is I don’t fret! For even if i live twice as long and yet I only manage to do a thousandth of the good he did in his lifetime I will die a happy man!
“RIP Sean Morrin!”