Gary Rogerson died on the 28th September after a short and sudden illness. He was 45 years old.
Gary had been part of the Phoenix family for 23 years. In 1996 he walked through the doors of the Phoenix Sheffield Residential rehabilitation service (Storth Oaks for those of us that know it well). A young man with issues to resolve, not least a love of Shakin’ Stevens.
His experience with us in those early years never left him. The learning, support and love that he got from that house and his peers set him on his way to his life work.
He did dabble in a life without Phoenix – working in completely unrelated sectors for a few years before he came back to work at Storth Oaks in 2003. He used to talk to me about that time away from the sector as a really important period to test out what he wanted to do with his life in recovery.
As a drug worker at Storth Oaks he was inspirational and challenging. His experience was important to him but equally too was his desire to be the best drugs worker he could be. He hoovered up knowledge and expertise and supported others to do the same.
He then took that knowledge, expertise and drive to our Barnsley structured day service that operated out of Blucher Street. That was when I first met Gary in the smallest of buildings doing the biggest of tasks. That building was what people today would call a ‘day hab’. The structure and challenge and therapeutic work was just as you would find in a residential service and there was just as much food too! A few years later he led the Phoenix delivery of the treatment system in Barnsley. That was our first community service as lead provider subcontracting our prescribing services to the local NHS trust. Gary was determined to make that the first truly recovery focused treatment system in the country and he did through his drive, compassion and humanity. His ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey helped too.
During that period, I often asked him if he would consider moving back to support residential services. His answer was no – in community services he could use his experience to bring real hope to people. He said – in a residential you see loads of people that are in recovery. In community services that isn’t what you see everyday and people need to take hope and inspiration that if they want to live a life free of drugs, they can.
Following Barnsley, he became a Head of Operations supporting a broader range of services over a wider geography and then in 2017 Gary became the Director of Operations.
Gary’s guiding principle was to give people hope. His very position as Director of Operations was an inspiration to many who knew his recovery journey. And that wasn’t everyone. But anyone who knew him never doubted his complete dedication to helping people recover. In his application for the Director role he said
‘whilst I don’t always feel the need to tell people about my own past – I do admit to shamelessly using it to breakdown stigma and inspire others.’
He held the spirit of Phoenix in his soul. He wanted the very best for the people that used our services, wherever they came into contact with us. His passion and vitality and eagerness to get things sorted was infectious. When someone makes such an impact on a group of people you can’t help but feel their loss acutely.
His son Liam said at the funeral – although I miss my dad so much, my friends have told me whenever I talk about him I have a smile on my face. And that is what Gary leaves us. Whether we have achieved the life we wanted using his good counsel and support, or felt more motivated to achieve the very best standards in care for some of the most excluded in our communities, we have all known someone that was genuinely a lovely man that dedicated his life to helping others.
On 14th October we said goodbye to Gary in a service that perfectly represented his love of life and the loss we all feel. His ode to his partner Vicky – ‘Baby I’m Yours’ by the Arctic Monkeys was his final song and a very fitting way to leave this world.
“Baby, I'm yours (Baby, I'm yours)
And I'll be yours until the stars fall from the sky,
Yours, until the rivers all run dry
In other words, until I die’’
We are very grateful to Gary’s family for donations from the funeral. It will be used wholly to fund a placement for a young person to access our Sheffield Residential rehab service. It is where Gary started his recovery journey and many others have followed.