My Tribute to Tony (by Esther Kwaku)

It’s almost a week since Tony passed away and the feeling of devastation is still raw.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a piece but I felt compelled to write and put down on paper the impact Tony has had on me and my career as a fundraiser.

You see, Tony wasn’t formally my mentor but he was always there, in the background somehow, prodding me along. Encouraging me to shine. There have been times throughout my career when I’ve wondered what my true mission was…searching deep to find that special thing that I could bring to the table as a fundraiser and change-maker. He always believed I had it in me…that special ‘something’. He’s one of the reasons why I’m here at the Resource Alliance.

He believed in me.

One of my most memorable times was the first time I ever saw Tony speak at a conference. I was wowed. “Who is this man?” – he exuded such vibrancy, dancing and hopping about the stage talking about futurology and, as a young fundraiser, he really challenged my thinking at the time. He was bold and he brought swagger. I loved his energy and he seemed relentless with it. Then many years later, when he asked me to co-host an opening plenary at IFC’s 30th anniversary year I was so excited I thought I was going to burst into a million pieces. Excited yet anxious because I wanted to deliver and be at my best.

Watching him behind the scenes, the immense energy and unbounded creativity he poured into the production left me in awe. Who knew? This wasn’t just about ‘The Tony Show’ as many people often described it. It was an unbelievable feat of orchestration to deliver an immersive experience that would stop you in your tracks and get you to think the unimaginable. Unstoppable.

But does Tony’s departure mean this energy will stop?

Not for me. His unconditional way of pushing me along has left a lasting motivation in me. Such that I want to do for others what he did for me. Encourage the emerging leaders out there to shine and inspire them to discover that special thing they have to offer as change-makers in this world.

Last week was indeed tough. Sadly I will miss Tony’s funeral because I’ll be away with a close friend of mine who recently had a baby. Last Monday, she called and told me that the doctors noticed a strange lump in her neck. Cancer. On Tuesday I received a mail pack from a well-known cancer charity I support. On the front on the envelope was “We (heart) tomorrows” and I was so numbed by the timing I did nothing but stare at the pack for a while. And then on Wednesday, Tony died.

Cancer sucks.

You fought bravely Tony and I will always miss you. My heart is heavy, yet lifted by the mark you’ve left in my world and by a renewed legacy that I know I want to pass onto others.

Rest in vibrancy, energy and go rock your thing on that big stage in the universe. I will never, ever forget what you did for me.


Esther Kwaku is Communications and Marketing Director at the Resource Alliance.