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There may have been a braver, more beautiful speech in the history of travel retail, but if so it came before I entered the business back in 1987.
I’m talking about the words of Ray Martin, co-owner with his wife Christine of UK company Travel Retail Training, organisers of the annual Inflight Sales Person of the Year awards, which were held near London last week.
The five-day progamme, aimed at recognising, rewarding and improving cabin crew skills in inflight selling, culminated in a Gala Dinner and awards ceremony on Friday night.
Ray, a veteran of the travel retail industry (for many years he ran costume jewellery company Attwood & Sawyer), was diagnosed with cancer last September. Since then he has been undergoing chemotherapy, while doing his best to help run the family business.
On Friday night he was welcomed on stage by Christine as “the bravest man I know”. What followed was a humbling and poignant few moments as he paid tribute to his wife and two daughters (both in the audience), ISPY team members, family friends (several of whom had travelled from Wales to support Ray and Christine), and industry friends (of whom there were many).
He noted: “When cancer strikes it affects every fabric of your life. Your life is turned upside down… I am simply overwhelmed by the warmth, kindness and love of friends in the industry.”
Later, movingly, he added: “I have to talk about my two children – my two gorgeous girlies who are both here tonight, Hannah and Charlotte. It’s very difficult for them to deal with my situation. They are both young; they have to come to terms with my condition and deal with it in their own way. But their support, their love, their enthusiasm, and their belief has been an absolute inspiration to me.”
Finally he paid tribute to his wife Christine, noting: “My final personal thanks has to go to this incredible lady on my side, standing as she always does, next to me.
“No matter what happens, she has a ‘can do, will do’ attitude.” And to absolute silence he said: “Over the past five months… there has never been an occasion when Christine has not been at my side. During this time I have come to realise that we, together, will fight this – the most difficult challenge of my career.”
Quite how he managed to deliver such words in such an understated and dignified manner is still difficult to comprehend. As I write this Blog, listening to my tape recorded version of Ray’s speech brings back powerfully the immense strength of his words, the poignancy of the moment and the sheer courage of the man.
[Pictured: Ray and Christine Martin with long-time friend and industry colleague Rakhita Jayawardena at ISPY earlier in the week].