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Sunday 15 September 2019

Desperately missing Martin

Earlier this year charismatic music promoter Martin Thomas lost his battle with cancer. His wife Venetia tells Joy Orpen she will do all she can to help their three wonderful sons through this first Christmas without their beloved dad. After all, Martin would have wanted no less

Venetia Quick with her children Arlo (8), Casper (6) and Felix (13)
Venetia Quick with her children Arlo (8), Casper (6) and Felix (13)
Venetia with her beloved husband Martin

Watch Venetia Quick as she flies around the city juggling her three demanding jobs. This 44-year-old is wearing skinny jeans, leopard print high-heeled boots and a colourful jumper. Her clobber is high-end high street, her jewellery Danish minimalist, polished silver against honey coloured skin. Watch this dynamo go with her three beautiful, good-natured, well-mannered boys in tow and you can't but envy her. How could you not with her high-profile jobs, lovely family and cute house in Dublin 4?

But the Venetia you see popping into the coffee shop in Sandymount or high-tailing it out to the TV3 studios for a weekday magazine programme is only one aspect of the totality. Ask her about Christmas, which is just around the corner and she crumples. There's a sharp intake of breath while her eyes well with tears.

"This," she says, "will be our first Christmas without Martin."

It's so easy to say those words. But it's the colossal pillars of sadness, pillars of pure raw grief on which they stand, that give those simple words their true-to-the-heart substance. "Our first Christmas without Martin."

Venetia with her beloved husband Martin
Venetia with her beloved husband Martin

Venetia first met Martin Thomas in the POD nightclub (in the old Harcourt Street railway station) almost 25 years ago. "He was doing the music for a fashion show and I was dressed as a mermaid. We hit it off straight away. He had long hair and earrings and was incredibly funny. He always made me laugh a lot," Venetia volunteers. The two connected straight away and that was that. By then, Martin (aka Murt) was already making a name for himself as a music promoter and creator of night-time experiences.

Jim Carroll writing for The Rattler (RTE) earlier this year said: "There's probably not a venue in the city where he didn't lay his hat at some stage, with scene-setting and attention grabbing clubs like Strictly Fish, Strictly Handbag, Ultra Lounge, Rock & Roll Rescue Squad, The Good Life, Songs of Praise and many more. He was a fizzing, bubbling, fast talking, always well turned out prince of the city."

When Martin first met Venetia, she was 20 years old and studying Russian and French, while testing her wings and doing whatever came along - as long as it interested her. She was invited to be a guide for a Eurovision Song Contest delegation from Slovenia - even though she didn't speak a word of their language. But it didn't matter, the visitors spoke English so they had a ball anyway.

At the time Venetia had a friend who worked at a local radio station and that began to pique her interest. So she submitted a proposal to produce and co-host a breakfast show on a voluntary basis, and she ended up doing that for six months. Gradually, this Dalkey native was inching her way into the world of media. Her first paid job as a broadcaster was with Lite FM which would, in 2004, morph into Q102. And she's been there ever since, co-presenting and producing. She also writes a weekly newspaper column and does continuity for Virgin Media Three.

She did all this with Martin firmly supporting and encouraging her. "We were young," says Venetia. "It was a really fun time. Sometimes we split up, but we always stayed talking, and we always stayed in touch." Even though she was bowled over by Martin from the start, it wasn't the glitzy side of him that captivated her, it was the love he showed for the people who really mattered to him. She remembers their first Christmas together. "He seemed to know everyone, and everyone knew him. But for him, the most important thing was to get home to Drogheda to help his dad in the last few days before Christmas, in his toy shop. Martin also adored his nieces and nephews, and of course his mum was the apple of his eye."

This unbridled loyalty would colour every aspect of Venetia's life with Martin. "He showed this love of family, to my own parents in spades as well. When my dad was very ill a few years ago, he looked after dad's meals and took him to his hospital appointments. In 2005, when I told Martin I was pregnant with Felix, he started to cry; he said this was a dream come true."

But it wasn't all plain sailing in the Thomas/Quick household. "We got married in 2008," explains Venetia. "When we got back from our honeymoon it was all over as far as the nightclubs were concerned. The recession and the change in the licensing laws hit us badly."

But this enterprising pair soldiered on doing the best they could. Venetia still had her radio/media career and together, they opened up one of Dublin's first artisan food stores in Ringsend. So, having weathered the recession, they marched on and celebrated the arrival of two more sons, Arlo and Casper. Martin was a hands-on dad, who took responsibility for a good deal of the childcare, while Venetia was working.

"He was always happiest when he was with the kids in the car, U2 blaring, and everybody having the craic. He was just great fun to be with, whether you were young or old."

In September 2017, storm clouds began to gather when Martin developed a bad cough; he lost weight, he had no energy and became breathless after walking short distances. After scans and X-rays he was admitted to St Vincent's University Hospital as an abscess on his lung was suspected. Then there was talk of tuberculosis. Venetia and Martin weren't too alarmed at this stage.

However, a week later they were told a specialist was coming to see Martin, and it was recommended that she be there too. They thought that this was standard practice. But in reality, they were being prepared for the most devastating news. "They said Martin was suffering from stage 3B lung cancer, and it was inoperable," says Venetia. "He had radiation and chemotherapy which finished just before Christmas. After that, he was in and out of hospital and lived his life by the thermometer."

In January this year, Martin was given a blood transfusion and that bucked him up enormously. In the meantime, he and Venetia had learned from a friend who was a medical specialist, that his condition was life-limiting. So, they decided the time was ripe to take an extended period of time off with the kids, so they could head off somewhere warm to spend quality time together. But sadly, that wasn't meant to be.

On February 10, Martin took Arlo and some friends to a birthday party and was still in great form. The very next day Venetia took Casper to football, while her husband stayed home with the other two boys. Martin then began to feel so unwell, he asked Felix to call an ambulance. Once it arrived, the crew contacted Venetia who immediately rushed home, to find them still attending to her husband. She thought this was just another crisis that would be handled successfully, like all the others, so she busied herself doing minor household chores while the paramedics were busy with Martin. He was then rushed to hospital where valiant attempts were made to revive him - but tragically, to no avail.

Martin's funeral was totally in keeping with his charismatic and colourful character. "The vicar called it 'Martin's Gig'. It was like a scene from Love Actually, which was our favourite Christmas movie, where they're all over the place," Venetia explains. "And like that very famous scene from the movie, we showed photos of Martin, the man we all knew and loved so well. We also played AC/DC, and songs from our wedding. Paul Harrington, Niall Morris and students from the National Performing Arts School all sang. The church was packed; everyone clapped and cheered. It was a real celebration of Martin's life."

Venetia says Martin only realised he had lung cancer when it was too late. So, she is now an advocate for the Marie Keating Foundation which does much to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis when it comes to all forms of cancer.

"More people die of lung cancer in Ireland every year than any other form of cancer," says Helen Forristal, director of nursing services at the Marie Keating Foundation. "It is the biggest cancer killer of women even though many people believe it to be breast or cervical cancer. Lung cancer is expected to increase by 136pc by 2040 according to the National Cancer Registry Ireland."

The symptoms of lung cancer include persistent cough, change in cough, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, fatigue, unexplained weight loss and recurrent chest infections. Risk factors include smoking (including passive), pollutants and family history of lung disease. They stress that early diagnosis and early intervention are key in giving lung cancer patients more treatment options and improving overall survival rates.

Venetia had hoped to have had much more time with her beloved Martin but that was not to be. However, it has to be said that he will never, ever, be forgotten in that place called home for her, Felix, Arlo and Casper.

"Like every couple we had our ups and downs," says Venetia. "Martin was out of work for a while, which was an incredibly stressful time for us. It was around the same time his beloved mum passed away and eight weeks after Casper was born - but we got through it thanks to humour and our lovely kids."

Her and her sons' first Christmas without Martin is one of her biggest challenges since his death.

She says: "I was walking the kids to school a couple Fridays ago at the start of December, overnight, loads of people had put their decorations up and it hit me like a train, Martin wouldn't be here this Christmas. I then went to Lidl to do my shop with my friend and the minute I saw the plum puddings and quince jam, the tears started - Martin would have bought them straight away and got stuck in.

"I bought them and they're sitting in the cupboard staring at me every time I open the door, I have absolutely no desire to eat them, even though plum pudding is one of my absolute favourite things about Christmas. Christmas songs are the same - I'd normally be the first up, dancing and singing away badly to Last Christmas - this year it's just white noise," she says.

Determined to do her best for her boys, she admits, "I feel like an outsider looking in to everyone else's Christmas. I've also felt quite selfish, as although of course you always count yourself lucky at Christmas to have three amazing healthy kids and a roof over you head, I had never really fully understood people for whom this time of the year is completely unbearable. Now I get it.

"The twinkly lights have, for me, lost their sparkle and it all seems so alien, for somebody who loved Christmas so much to have absolutely no sense of excitement. In the 10 months since he's been gone, I've never felt his absence so profoundly, and neither too I think have the kids. Their giddy anticipation of what Santa might bring is too frequently followed by tears with the acute knowledge that what they really want this year they've absolutely no way of getting - their daddy to walk in the door.

"We miss him so much and would give anything for one last hug, one last laugh together about something funny that has happened, one last Christmas," Venetia says.

She treasures memories of Martin at Christmas. "Christmas will always hold the happiest memories for me, it was our very favourite time of the year, and in the run up to this year's festivities it's already feeling unbearably sad and lonely without Martin."

But there is absolutely no question that this spunky, sparky dynamo will do her utmost to make absolutely sure that her lovely boys celebrate Christmas as their dad would wish them to do - full on.

However, it goes without saying that in among the fun and laughter, inevitably tears of great sadness will be shed.

You can hear Venetia on Dublin's Q102 weekdays breakfast show 'Mornings with Liam Coburn & Venetia Quick'. The Marie Keating Foundation's 'I Am Lung Cancer' campaign is supported by MSD and Roche. For more information contact the Marie Keating Foundation: (01) 628-3726/ Find Grief Encounters podcast on iTunes

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