An ordinary man who became extraordinary after tragedy – Karyn McCluskey

After John Muir’s son Damien was killed, he dedicated his life to campaigning against knife crime and violence, writes Karyn McCluskey.

John Muir is pictured here with his son Christopher Muir and daughters Karin Forrest, left, and Vicky McGarrity (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

I had a phone call last week with someone I’ve known for a long time, who I met through the worst of circumstances but who’s remained a friend and colleague since 2007, when his son Damien was killed at the age of 34 in Greenock. I met John a short time after, and he epitomises some of the very best of Scotland.

John Muir is now a sprightly 80, but since 2007 he’s educated, agitated and campaigned around knives and violence. Having suffered the most unimaginable loss, he dedicated his time and energy to preventing this happening to another family.

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He has been to schools and youth clubs, spoken repeatedly to the citizens of Inverclyde, noised up politicians and he has been utterly single-minded in his focus to stop another murder like his son’s. That’s not to say we always agreed on everything – we didn’t, but we were travelling the same road to the same destination and I loved having him as a companion along the way.

John Muir was utterly single-minded in his efforts to try to prevent another murder like his son's, says Karyn McCluskey (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

And what a difference he made. An ordinary and yet extraordinary person who drove change, from the bottom up, top down and sideways – John Muir could get to places that water couldn’t.

He now has great grandchildren to occupy him. He told me he is winding up his work, and I will miss him doing what he has done best – holding us all to account.

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It’s truly something to witness a person, whose life has been changed through unforeseen and devastating events, throw themselves into campaigning and making things better for others. If I had the capacity to bestow an Outstanding Scottish Citizen award, John Muir would be my first port of call. He has more than earned time to rest.

After the headlines have faded and the court cases have concluded, it’s easy to forget the families that are also serving a sentence. The ripple effects of crime and justice reach far and wide and they persist.

Families and friends carry the burden of it, and their pain impacts everywhere you expect as well as those places you don’t. John said that things are often “okay” for six months and then he’s struck by a dark cloud that hangs over him for many weeks.

John broke the mould

The loss of a child will define his life. It will be there in the background during all the good things that should have happened for him and his family. John Muir should have enjoyed his retirement. I am sure, at age 67 he was thinking about holidays with family, grandchildren and time to spend with his wife after a lifetime of work. A moment changed all of that, and in that moment his life was changed.

Our phone call covered the differences we were pleased we could make, the times when it was difficult to keep those differences in our sights, the resilience it takes to keep going when terrible things happen, and the many things that still need to be changed.

It’s easier for us mentally when people fill the roles we want them to play. John broke the mould. John dedicated his life to trying to ensure that others didn’t suffer in the way his family did.

The past couldn’t be changed but the future was unwritten and people could be saved. He got an MBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours and sent me a picture of himself at the Palace, a small token of our gratitude to him. It’s typical of him that he’s donated the small amount of money left over from winding his work up to Ardgowan Football Management for a defibrillator.

Maybe another life will be saved because of John. Yes, John and I didn’t agree on everything but we both believe in prevention – and more importantly, that ordinary, extraordinary people can change everything.