Pete Kenny and his partner Dinah Scott will always remember their son Jamie as a “beautiful, shining, perfect” young boy who brought so much fun into their lives. He had an effortless talent for running, a passion for politics, larger-than-life goals and an expansive social circle. But sadly, Jamie’s life was unexpectantly cut short in 2019 at just 17 years old.
Labelled by his dad as “truly remarkable”, Jamie was an ambitious teen who “could have been anything he wanted”. At 14, his desire for driving change saw him join his local Labour party where he’d spend his evenings canvassing and engaging with his local community. He’d thrive in debates, whether it be on a local scale or on a national broadcast while exchanging views with notable political figures.
On top of his natural flare and interest for social issues, Jamie was a keen runner, regularly accompanying his parents at local park runs and even joining his dad at the start line of a half marathon when he was just 17. If he set himself a goal, he’d ensure he’d reach it – though Pete says he never did know whether that was out of drive, or sheer competitiveness.
“I know parents will always have this view of their children, but Jamie was phenomenal. He really was phenomenal,” says Pete. “He was so bright; he was so intelligent. I found out just the other day in a chat with one of his college friends that in his history class they jokingly nicknamed him ‘the God amongst men’, just because he was so knowledgeable.
“But he’d always use his knowledge to help others; he was brilliant.”
Jamie excelled in everything he did. He was passionate and motivated. He was strong minded and driven. He had a “powerful idea of personal autonomy” and while he was gregarious, he seemed to thrive independently. He spoke about his goals and things he wanted to achieve, often referencing a future in politics – something his parents were slightly ambivalent about!
He studied hard for his A levels, and was confident he’d done well, however it was soon after that Pete, Dinah, Jamie’s friends and family were left heartbroken by the news of his death. It was shortly after his funeral they heard that Jamie had succeeded in getting the grades he needed for his first choice of Sheffield University to study History.
In suicide prevention, we talk a lot about recognising the signs, however in some cases such as Jamie’s, his loss was “completely out of the blue” to everyone who knew him.
“There’s a common idea that anyone who takes their life had a lot of problems and were really struggling, or perhaps had tried to take their life or self-harmed before. Of course, this is true for many, but for a significant minority it isn’t, and our son was one of them.” Pete says.
“There were no signs of depression. He wasn’t sleeping abnormally, wasn’t eating abnormally. He was well liked and so knowledgeable. He could have been anything he wanted. It was completely out of the blue. His death came as a huge shock to us and everyone who knew him, we didn’t see it, and I don’t think we could have.”
Following his death, Pete and Dinah were not only conscious of their own grieving process, but that of those around Jamie. Wanting to offer comfort and support to everyone whose lives were touched by their son, they sent out an open invitation to friends, family and many others to attend his funeral. They wanted to use the day as an opportunity not only to celebrate the life of their only child, but to be open; to start the conversation around suicide and to help those who had been impacted by Jamie’s loss. On the day, nearly 300 people attended to pay their respects to Jamie.
As the years passed after losing Jamie, Pete and Dinah were inspired to raise awareness of suicide prevention in Jamie’s name after supporting the work of the Three Dads Walking. As a keen walker himself, Pete had been threatening to partake in a long distance journey for many years, however, saw now as the perfect opportunity to challenge himself while simultaneously raising invaluable funds that could save the lives of young people just like his son.
Deciding on the Cape Wrath Trail, Pete spent the first part of 2022 training for the 230-mile walk which would enable him to honour his son. He posted regular video updates on social media to keep people informed of his progress and boost awareness of the cause, which by the end accumulated over £8,000 in fundraising. At the same time, while Pete was occupied with his training, Dinah wanted to pay tribute to her son in her own way, and so she launched ‘Swims for Jim’, where she completed open water swims in various locations across the country.
In May 2022, Pete set off for the Cape Wrath Trail – reputed to be the hardest long-distance walk in the UK – through remote country in the notoriously variable highland weather. Along the way, Pete shared Jamie’s story and information about PAPYRUS with strangers and fellow walkers. He exchanged anecdotes and recalled memories of his son, who had visited the Highlands many times with his family and loved the outdoors. He walked for Jamie, and for others who had lost a loved one to suicide.
On his journey, what struck Pete most was the volume of people who not only engaged with him, but shared their own experiences of suicide and could relate to his situation.
“When I was having conversations along the way, one of the things I heard that I really didn’t expect was around half the people I spoke to had been affected by suicide in some way,” Pete adds. “For some people it was very close, for others it might have been someone they had worked with or a friend of a friend. Half – and that was just the people that opened up to me about it. I was really struck by that because if that’s true in terms of the population, there are millions and millions of people who are affected by suicide and yet you’d think it was a much smaller number.”
This realisation left Pete wanting to do more; he and Dinah then decided to dedicate the entirety of 2022 to fundraising and increasing awareness. It didn’t take long until Pete was presented with his next opportunity, either, as after around a decade of applying for the London Marathon’s ballot, he’d learned he had been successful for the 2022 event – and so the training began.
With this event however, Pete and Dinah wanted to place emphasis on raising awareness through providing information. As Pete readied his body for the upcoming 26 miles, he and Dinah attended a total of eight park runs which had a connection to either their local area or that of family’s. At each event, Dinah presented a speech to the attendees, around 3,000 people overall, where she told Jamie’s story and invited people to make suicide as normal and important a conversation with their young people as they would with drugs, alcohol and intimacy.
By completion of Pete’s training and the marathon in October, the family added a further £4,000 to their fundraising for the year.
By the end of 2022, following various raffles, smaller fundraisers and a charity night dedicated to Jamie which saw his community and loved ones unite for an evening of music and togetherness, Pete and Dinah raised a total of £17,906 for PAPYRUS, but more importantly, opened the conversation of suicide up with thousands across the nation.
As they continue to grieve their son’s loss, Pete and Dinah’s unwavering dedication to honouring his memory has become a source of inspiration for many. Jamie may no longer be with them, but his legacy lives on through the countless lives he has touched, and the hope his parents’ efforts brings to those who may be struggling.
“If you’re having thoughts of suicide, or you’re worried about someone you think might be suicidal, you need to know that there is help available and that talking to others about your thoughts and feelings in the first step, either your friends, family, professionals,” Pete shares.
“If you’re concerned about someone else, sharing those worries is a key step, its crucial.
“Jamie didn’t show any signs. He had no apparent mental health issues. This could happen to lots of people. However well someone seems to be doing, however they appear, it might not be how things are for them, they may be more fragile than you know.”