In Memoriam: Tony Gottelier


[Editor's note: Lighting designer/inventor Tony Gottelier died at age 64 at his home in England in July. As a principal in the firm, Wynne Willson Gottelier, and with his partner, Peter Wynne Willson, he was responsible for many innovations in the lighting field. The following is an excerpt from Wynne Willson's talk at Gottelier's funeral in Kent.]

I had the luck to be Tony's business partner for twenty years. What to say about a man with whom I never had a cross word in all the time of this long partnership?

Our very first collaboration was the Camden Palace project. Tony's design became the benchmark for all discothèque lighting rigs to come — kinetic art extreme.

In lieu of an office in London, our meetings were held upstairs in the Neal's Yard Tea House. When we got our first significant check, Tony and I went to a Covent Garden outfitters, and to celebrate, we each bought a suit — the one I still wear today.

Decades filled with mirth, the odd disaster, and many triumphs brought us from there, to elder status, grizzled warhorses still stamping in the traces.

Without question, Tony knew, and in turn was admired by, more people in our industry than any other person. He and I got on so well together that once an envious competitor was moved to spread a story that we were lovers! In a way though, he was on to something: there was enduring love in our relationship, beyond business.

Tony and Ali [Browne] handled all the commerce in our company, using skills I don't naturally possess, and I now have to learn. Tony was always proud that, over the years, we never resorted to loan or overdraft.

We traveled widely, and I became a connoisseur of Tony's dry wit and also the embarrassed companion when, at his most irascible while flying, he might reduce a stewardess to tears just because she brought cream instead of skimmed milk for his coffee.

Tony and [his wife] Sue's relationship was a perfect design in light and shade. I am one of many people who have basked in the warmth of their household — special for me during my own crippling marriage. I am in awe of Sue's strength and devotion. She gave me one insight into their happy alchemy; a few years ago, returning from a Greek holiday, she said, “We shagged so much I thought his cock would fall off.''

Unconventional for a 60s person, Tony held firmly that there is no spiritual life after death. Well, if I am right, he is now enjoying the fruits of his many kind deeds. Equally, he may have been right. Either way, he certainly seized the day while he was here. At every breakfast we had together, he would fill pages of his little orange notepad with tasks for the day. When he was working beside Tony, [his son] Jonathan took up the habit and developed it into something of an art form. Meanwhile, [his other children] Gemma and Luke have applied Tony's artistic DNA to their own great effect. These three lovely young people really have had the best parents available, bar none.

On this subject, Kalil Gibran said: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark on the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer's hands be for gladness. For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Tony was a most stable bow, and gladness was most visible in his life.

I would love to have told you stories of Tony's campaigns in the Far East, of foraging in Nashville, Tennessee, of the night we were stranded in Death Valley, Nevada, but wisely, I have been given a time limit.