Homerton held an afternoon of tribute and reflection today for Daniel Fry, a second-year Historian who tragically died this week, aged 20.
Daniel’s parents, Susan and Chris, his brother Jonah and his grandparents, who had travelled from their home in Belfast, joined students, Fellows and staff on the lawns outside the Fellows’ Dining Room for a series of readings and reminiscences.
The Vice-Principal, Dr Louise Joy, described this week as “the most raw and solemn days our community has known.”
“We come together in shock, and indescribable pain,” she said. “We have lost one of our own. It has meant so much to us to have Daniel’s family with us, supporting us as we have supported them. You are part of our Homerton family, you will always be part of our Homerton family, and together we will remember Daniel.”
The Principal, Lord Woolley, detained by proceedings at the House of Lords, was unable to be at Homerton today but has spent much of the past week with Daniel's family and his friends. His words were read by two students, Isabella and Ines.
"Sadly - too often - we live in world of ‘winning at all costs’. ‘The world only remembers the winners’, we tell ourselves. And sometimes this can feel true, and life can seem - and is - unfair.
And then, out of nowhere, someone special, someone like Daniel comes into our lives to remind us about the meaning of what it is to really win. To win is to open your heart, to make others smile, laugh, to make others feel special."
From his friends’ words emerged a consistent picture of someone with an extraordinary capacity for friendship, for connecting with people, and for making other people feel better. A film buff, a photographer, and a budding journalist, who also found time to discreetly volunteer for the Cambridge homelessness charity Streetbite.
One friend, Ashley, said:
“Daniel had a tradition where he’d challenge us on nights out to see who could make the most friends. His record was 14. I think mine was two. Everyone who met him fell in love with him.”
George recalled the impact of this friendliness on a stranger:
“My girlfriend came to visit me last year in West House, which I think we can all agree is an intimidating thing to do. The first person she met was Daniel, who smiled, asked how we both were despite never having met her before, and immediately made her feel at home.”
This was echoed by another friend, Nora, who had bonded with Daniel over their shared Irishness.
“For me Daniel was a constant reminder of home. Making someone feel so at home abroad is a really difficult thing to do, but Daniel did it so effortlessly. He even managed to make early mornings brighter.”
His ability to squeeze joy out of the everyday, and to brighten the lives of those he met, was another recurring theme.
“Spending time with Daniel was always magical, even in the small moments, when we’d be doing nothing,” said Alicia. “He was my rock here. Pure sunshine.”
Isabella agreed: “My favourite thing about Daniel was the way he told stories. I know that I will never stop telling stories about Daniel.”
Daniel’s enthusiasm for his subject was such that, according to the Vice-Principal, “his father, Chris, is halfway through vicariously studying for a degree in History at Homerton, since whatever Daniel was studying, he would relay to Chris, setting him reading assignments and following up with probing questions afterwards.”
His Director of Studies and Supervisor, Dr Bill Foster, described his final supervision with Daniel, a week ago today, in which he had been bursting with excitement over a new research idea.
“I had never seen him happier. We both knew he had written his best essay ever. And that’s saying something. He fearlessly chose to take on the study of humanity at its worst. I’ve noticed that it’s often the most humane, gentlest souls who grasp the full horror of the study of war and genocide, because they understand what’s at stake. Daniel was a historian, which is the highest honour I can convey.”
The Charter Choir paid musical tribute through the beautiful anthem Hear My Prayer, by Moses Hogan, while friends read the poems Dash by Sinéad Morrissey and The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis. Rev. James Shakespeare, vicar at St John the Evangelist, Homerton’s local church which Daniel had attended, also spoke and, acknowledging St Patrick’s Day, read an Irish Blessing.
Daniel’s mother, Dr Susan McNerlan, also noted the significance of the date in her reading of St Patrick’s Breastplate. She thanked the College for the happy times Daniel had spent here, and the response to his death.
“These past few days have helped us to feel part of what Daniel’s life has been, these past two years. As we’ve walked in the places he walked, we’ve been part of the community he was part of.”
As the crowd dispersed, attendees were given a packet of wildflower seeds to scatter in Daniel’s memory. In an afternoon of anecdotes and memories made more precious in the retelling, the words of another friend, Colin, rang true.
“We shouldn’t worry about forgetting the details – that’s natural. We won’t always remember exactly what was said on one particular night out. But what we won’t forget is the way those interactions made us feel. And that will connect us with each other, and to Daniel, for a very long time.”
Information on support accessible to members of the Homerton community is available here.