Saving lives and honouring dad’s memory – Chris and Tom’s story

February 26, 2021
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After Martin Peel passed away in 2018, his sons Chris and Tom decided to keep his spirit of kindness going. Chris talks about how his family’s rugby club, which Martin was a part of for over 50 years, is now helping save the lives of more people with blood cancer.

A note from dad

Before dad died, he left my brother Tom and me a note that said: ‘Don’t open this until I die’. In the note, there were details of what he wanted to happen at his funeral and how he would like his ashes scattered. He wanted a simple coffin and a single white rose to symbolise Yorkshire, and he wanted any donations to go to Anthony Nolan.

He did a lot of work for charity did dad. That was his passion and he became such a champion of Anthony Nolan. They found a stem cell donor for him but, sadly, the transplant didn’t work. So we’re carrying on his legacy.

We got a lot of people to sign up to the stem cell register while he was still alive and then, after he died, it really brought home to people the gravity. It made people get behind the charity even more.

He touched so many people’s lives

Baildon Rugby Club has been part of our family for generations and it’s actually where my parents met. We scattered dad’s ashes there. It was just such a huge part of his life. When we organised the charity tournament, there was no hesitation from anyone – they all wanted to be there for dad. Rugby attracts such a community and people came from far and wide to support it.

Dad was one of those people who always put others before himself. I remember sitting in the car with him once, and he said something that really stuck with me: ‘The most important thing you can do for someone, is take an interest in their passions.’ It wasn’t a rule he had, it was just his way. He loved talking to people and hearing them get excited about their passions, then he’d go away and learn more. After he died, it really became clear just how many people’s lives he touched. He was unique. He forged his own path but he was never a showboat. At parties, he was usually off in a corner talking to someone, really listening to them. People loved him for that.

One of the things I liked most about him was that he was his own person. He wasn’t flamboyant in any way, but he completely had his own dress sense – he didn’t abide by the rules of fashion! He thought it was important that we had our ‘five a day’ so he’d be the dad at the end of a rugby games giving us fruit. As a 10-year-old, you’re like: ‘This is so embarrassing!’ but he was never bothered about being different, he just did what he thought was right. I think that’s why he was so loved by everyone at the rugby club.

The rugby community are coming together to achieve his legacy

I think for anyone who experiences grief and loss, doing something like this is difficult at first. Dad took us to that rugby club from the age of four, so all my life, all my memories, are of being there with my dad. It was difficult to start with, but I got through that.

Tom is more extroverted and really good at public speaking so he will stand up and spread the message of Anthony Nolan and get young people to sign up to the register. We’ve got charity buckets at the rugby club all the time. You can see that it’s having an impact. The best thing for me is that two guys who I’ve played with have come up as matches. So something that dad started, despite his death, will go on and have the potential to save other people’s lives.

We don’t do it for the sense of personal achievement. It’s more about the feeling that dad’s legacy is carrying on and doing some good in the world. It’s something that brings people together as well. Having these events, people love them. They love coming together. And at the same time, we can get so much out of them – we get people on the register, we raise money, we play rugby. There’s just a great sense of community.

It feels fitting that he’s still there, where he spent 50 years of is life

Dad’s friends do a lot and there’s a constant presence at the rugby club in Baildon and with Tom’s club in China, but we also plan sponsored games twice a year.

I think we’ve raised about £12,000 now, which is phenomenal and most of that has come from past and present rugby players as well as other people who dad worked with. Another good thing about rugby is that a lot of young adults are getting involved in it, so it’s an opportunity to engage people who can join stem cell register – it’s a great partnership.

On ‘Yorkshire Day’ last August, we scattered dad’s ashes on the start line. Two days later, we did the first sponsored game. I don’t know if this sounds morbid or not, but the last time I was there you could still see his ashes and I found that comforting. The rugby pitch is the windiest place in the world, so I don’t know how they managed to stay there. That place meant so much to him. He used to support games every Saturday, until he physically couldn’t anymore. So it feels fitting that he’s still there, where he spent about 50 years of his life.

For the sponsored game, I picked a team, Tom picked a team and we played. So many people wanted to get involved and we had some truly great players coming back to get involved which was wonderful. Dad used to volunteer with the Bumbles – a mixed ability side – and they were there to support us on the day which was great. Then after the game, we have live music and a pop-up cocktail bar. Everyone kindly donated all their profits. It was a great night. It was amazing to see all the people that came. All his old teammates came back from all over the world.

We did another sponsored game in January just gone and we’ll be doing one in August again this year. Dad’s birthday is the 22 August so we’ll play the game between Yorkshire Day, on the 1st, and his birthday. It feels fitting.

Keeping dad's spirit of kindness alive

My daughter has just been born and, for me, the saddest thing about losing dad when we did was that he never knew that he was going to be a grandad. He would have just loved that so much. Before he died one of the last things he said to me was, ‘I’m trying to hold on so I can be a grandad.’ It’s really sad that he never got to do that.

I’ve been creating videos and that’s really important to me. I wanted to capture moments with dad so we can all look back. Then my daughter, as she grows up, will be able to watch videos of her grandad, which is just brilliant.

I feel some obligation to keep doing this. I feel like it’s a way of carrying on dad’s legacy. The emotion that I feel knowing someone’s life could potentially be saved because of what dad started – that’s the best thing about it. If people’s lives are saved from what we’re doing as a community, in his memory, I don’t think it’s a big step to say that people’s lives will be saved because of dad.

It’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes in a way, from beyond the grave. He’s still continuing to help people, which is what he loved doing all his life.

You too can help people, like Chris & Tom have

A gift of £5 a month helps build a stem cell register that gives everyone the best chance of survival