Sad news arrives of the passing of my Mum's cousin Tony O'Connell in Southampton. For those of us close to my Mum and Dad (Sally and Adrian) and/or cousin Irene and Tony - the garden party in Spalding, Lincolnshire, last year will now be the documented memory of their last reunion.

Let me step back a little. My Mum was organising a party for the late summer 2017 and was inviting our close family. Mum has a few cousins on the Ralph side of her family but not many. Indeed the legendary photograph of great grandmother Annie Ralph's 80th Birthday Party taken in the 1950's has all the Ralph cousins: Les, Tony and Sally (Mum), Sylvia, Daphne and Irene.

My Uncle Les died tragically a few years ago leaving his widow Paula and four children, Uncle Tony lived at home with my grandparents and is now cared for by my Mum (Sally) and Dad (Adrian), Sylvia was never close and that side of the family lost touch, Daphne married David Gooch and Irene married Tony O'Connell. As a youngster learning about the family Daphne and Irene I had assumed that they were not just sisters, but twins. It was only later that I appreciated that in Daphne and Irene were two loving sisters, who were also the closest of friends. A further understanding also revealed that my Mum and Irene, as cousins, were very very close.

When I was 17 I spent some time exploring eastern and southern England by train and bike and it was this that propelled me to contact Irene and her husband Tony living in Southampton, so I could to go and stay. In the course of a couple of brief days then I got to know both and my memories of Tony on this occasion and since remain fresh and make me smile.

His own smile was usually mischievous, I was a teenager yet he was interested in me, engaged and fun, a deep grin and a twinkle in his eye. I think looking back he was the first person to teach me that sarcasm need not be unpleasant but could be fun, almost like a tickle. Tony spoke his mind but it was always fair, honest and, as I saw it, never brutal or cruel. I found him warm, relaxed, engaging and genuine to a fault. You would not necessarily describe him as subtle, but it was never malicious and usually hilarious. These are memories that make me immediately smile now as I type this.

I have always loosely kept in touch, but never seen enough of this part of the family, with distance the main excuse. I know my Mum has always regretted not seeing more of them but was delighted when Irene and Tony and Daphne and David came to their silver wedding anniversary in Lincolnshire, now over 25 years ago. Sadly I did not see enough of these gentle, fun, quality cousins since then, but at the sad funeral of dear Daphne, not long ago, I decided to act.

Working with cousin Jane and Paul (Irene and Tony's daughter and son-in-law) we arranged that Tony and Irene would be the surprise guests at my Mum and Dad's garden party up in Lincolnshire this summer gone. It was a long drive and a long day, but came they did and the squawk of sheer joy from my mother as she opened the door to see her dear cousins was a noise I won't forget in a hurry. As ever Tony was lively, witty, sharp interested - the passage of time had not dimmed him in any way and we captured then the joy of cousins and friends well-met. Indeed, the photos of that happy event will be ever treasured - relaxed, special, almost spontaneous and a delight. A brilliant memory that will shine on for all those who were there.

So Tony O'Connell: Undimmed then amongst family, undimmed now and smiling down on us - if stars twinkle, then it is in part due to that cheeky, mischievous and outspoken wit and charm that was so unmistakeable. Farewell friend, well met, and thank you for everything - especially for always being you. Ed x