I was very sorry to hear that Gian Turci, CEO of the smokers' rights group Forces International, had died of a brain haemorrhage last week.
I got the news on Thursday and I've been mulling it over ever since, wondering what to say. You see, I knew Gian but not well enough to write about him with any authority. In addition, while I liked him personally (he could be very charming), we had our differences and it would be hypocritical to suggest otherwise.
Better, perhaps, to say nothing. Then again, one or two comments have appeared on this blog asking why I haven't mentioned his death ... so, fingers crossed, here goes:
I first met Gian through Joe Jackson. Joe was keen for Forest and Forces to work together so we flew Gian over to London and the three of us had a long (and exhausting!) lunch at Boisdale. I say "exhausting" because Gian never stopped talking! He was relentless, and there was an intensity about him that was a bit daunting, if I'm honest.
To be fair, he was a mine of information, especially when it came to his specialist subject - secondhand smoke. As a result I commissioned him to produce a report that was published by Forest in 2005 under the title "Prejudice & Propaganda: The Truth About Passive Smoking" with a foreword by our then chairman, the late Lord Harris of High Cross.
Following our initial meeting in London in 2004, Gian invited me to visit him in Genoa where he lived. For various reasons I couldn't go, but we kept in touch. A typical email, sent by Gian in February 2006 shortly after MPs voted overwhelmingly for a public smoking ban in England and Wales, read:
How are you doing? I have heard of what is going on, my heart is broken, but it was not unexpected. I have interesting news and developments. Looking forward to further contacts! Take care, Gian.
Later that year we met again in London to explore what Gian called "some form of mutually beneficial cooperation". Unfortunately, while I admired his commitment and valued his opinion, Gian was infuriatingly intolerant of any strategy that differed even slightly from his own, and in 2007 he abruptly dissolved our embryonic working relationship citing irreconcilable differences.
I wasn't offended because, being Gian, it was all very amicable: "I hope you do not construe this as personal, Simon - for absolutely it is not." That was the last direct contact I had with him.
Despite our differences of opinion, I shall remember Gian as an immensely kind, warm-hearted man whose love of liberty inspired many who met him. My condolences to his wife, his two children - and to Forces International which has lost a dedicated champion of smokers' rights.