Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Letter to an old friend [June 6]

Today i went to the funeral of an old friend of mine. Deborah Cass was a brilliant woman and an unofficial mentor. This is an edited version (for reasons of privacy) of a letter i sent her a month ago, knowing how ill she was. I am so very glad she got to read it.

Dear Deborah,

I have been meaning to write this letter for a while now. Years, really. It’s a letter of gratitude to someone who has had an intermittent but incredibly positive influence on my life.

At university you were a glamorous feminist role model for me. You were like royalty, except that we were all republicans. At political club meetings you were always quietly offering the wise advice of someone who had been around politics for a long time and understood how it worked. You always asserted – and were given – equal status to the inevitably noisier boys. You were smarter than most of those boys but you didn’t need to work hard to prove it. And of course you were also beautiful and sexy and cool, none of which should matter, but all of which usually do matter, somehow.

As a Farrago editor you gave me some of my first and most enjoyable opportunities to be published in print, experiences that have had a profound impact on my professional life. (There was a deeply personal article i wrote) that you were happy to let me publish anonymously – otherwise I wouldn’t have dared. Then you passed on to me an inquiry from a publisher who wanted to re-print that piece in a school textbook – my first professional publication – and the first official recognition that I could write well enough to be paid for my work. Priceless.

Somehow our paths kept crossing over the years. The Victorian Trade Union Choir, where your obvious enjoyment of that nutty mob made me feel proud to have brought them together. RMIT, where I always left our occasional coffee dates with something important to think about – either to do with writing, or work, or relationships.

I vividly remember our conversation about my qualms about (working with my then partner) and your quiet reminder that I needed to preserve my separate independent professional reputation. And I was always full of admiration for your determination to keep working on your book, in spite of the pain you were enduring.

In fact my admiration for you has only deepened and strengthened over the decades. You are brave on so many levels. Your endurance has been Herculean. Or perhaps Amazonian? Your ability to preserve your dignity in the face of whatever challenge came your way has been the best role modelling I could have had from a friend.

And in the past year, when we were both (dealing with the loss of something) we had valued deeply, it was an incredible comfort to me to be able to speak freely, angrily, philosophically, politically, unguardedly about what I had been going through with (a friend) who was going through something just as painful.

So for all those reasons, and for all the ways you have made a difference in my life, I thank you, Deborah. It is a pleasure – and privilege – to be your friend. If there is anything at all I can do for you right now, or in the future, please let me know.

Lots of love

Sian