They all had stories of triumph over adversity. Some had been born into poverty and overcame terrible odds to create jobs and bring investment to Yorkshire.
Others had defied convention to spot opportunities for growth in unfashionable sectors. Every story has been worth telling.
But Ben Wolfenden’s life story moved me the most. Ben, who has passed away at the age of 39, was an inspiration to everyone who met him.
As a teenager, Ben was told that he would probably die before his 30th birthday.
He defied this bleak prognosis to become an award-winning businessman, who believed other sufferers from life-limiting conditions must never abandon their dreams. In 2014, he won the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs, taking home a cash prize of £50,000 to help him grow his business.
Ben founded the digital marketing agency Visibilis – now known as Wolfenden – to allow him to continue doing what he loved. It also gave him the flexibility to work around his health issues.
Ben lived with cystic fibrosis, and after complications arose following a double lung transplant in 2019, he sought potentially life-saving treatment in Geneva, Switzerland.
As well as establishing an award-winning digital marketing agency, which now employs 40 members of staff, Ben was an avid campaigner for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Adversity made him appreciate the fleeting moments of joy. When I spoke to him in 2020, he was delighted just to be alive, so he could watch his son Max blow out the candles on his birthday cake.
“Success is all about perseverance,” he added. “There will always be days that don’t go to plan. You’ve got to look ahead and be optimistic. There is always the potential for better days to come.
“This was much more than my own journey. It’s about the love and support of my family and in particular my wife, Daisy, who has not only kept me going, but also our children and the business we’ve created and developed together.
“As they say behind every great man is an even greater woman and she is testament to that.”
His dedication to Wolfenden and his influence on the agency’s recent success was recognised in April 2021 when Ben was voted Digital Leader of the Year at the Digital City Festival Awards.
Ben’s wife, Daisy, said: “Whilst the treatment in Switzerland wasn’t granted, we’ve had a beautiful year of memories created and moments of freedom for Ben in Geneva that I wouldn’t have previously thought possible.”
Whenever I met or spoke to Ben I was always struck by his determination to gain the maximum value from each day. He marshalled his time so he could grow the business and also spend precious moments with his family.
He was one of the wisest men I’ve ever met. He knew our lives are short and we must focus on the things that really matter.
Ben was always quick to praise the people around him because he realised how profoundly we all rely on each other.
I last spoke to him in Spring 2020. Britain was in lockdown and the familiar rhythms of life had been lost. He was still intensely grateful to the organ donor who had given him more time.
“A year ago I was just thankful to be waking up with my family around me in hospital,” he said. “I never would have imagined 12 months later we’d have achieved such success for the agency.
“Because of my illness, as a business we’ve always placed a great deal of emphasis on creating a work environment that people enjoy, as well as encouraging staff to take care of their health and really value their time.
“This is more important in recent times than it ever has been before.”
Ben was a remarkable, compassionate, brave and humble man who will be missed by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.
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