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Daniel Thomas

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The Day Tragedy Struck Our Team... But No One Knew


In 2014 we came to work for what would be one of the hardest days at work we have and are ever likely to experience.

Tragedy had struck our team with the death of Robin's husband and we were all hurting for her and her family.

Now for the first time, Producer Ruth reveals what it was like to keep the show going when no one else knew of the pain that was threatening to cripple our team.


My hardest day...

Everybody has bad days at work. But I think the day after Robin's husband Tony died was the hardest of my career. It has kind of set the benchmark for what constitutes a bad day for me now. I'm blessed that I love my job and that I work with a fantastic bunch of people. But the early hours are tough sometimes and producing can be relentless. If I ever find myself heading for a whinge though, especially first thing in the morning, I remember how it felt to get out of bed on that day.

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Working together so closely, for years as we have, the Breakfast Team are like a second family. We laugh, we cry, we challenge each other, we fight just like siblings sometimes - and then we keep going, day in, day out, to do what we do. We support each other behind the scenes. We have each other's backs. I always marvel at how brave the team are to share their lives and experiences so openly with our listening family. But of course there has been times where there was something happening in one of our lives that no one outside our world would ever know about. Everybody has a part of their lives that they keep to themselves. Everyone.

The day Tony died brought us all to our knees. Our hearts were breaking for Robin and their beautiful boys. How do you go on when your heart is breaking? One foot in front of the other, that's how.

We had so many discussions about what to do, how to go on, could we go on so soon? But just as we are a little radio family, our listeners are our family too. Robin is so loved. So, so loved. By everyone she shares her life with day in and day out. Someone had to explain to the world why she couldn't be with us. To honour Robin and Tony and the boys. And that someone had to be us. It just had to be.

WATCH: Robin's Message Of Thanks After Tony's Death

Every morning at 5am we have a pre-show planning meeting where we map out the show on the studio whiteboard. Things we already had prepared for the show mixed with any breaking news overnight, anything that would colour the day.

I remember the day after Tony died standing in front of the studio whiteboard, whiteboard marker in hand and drawing a blank. I usually pop up the things known and then we discuss the things unknown and shape it into a final show plan together. But on that day I couldn't bring myself to write a word. What could we possibly say?

I remember turning to the team and saying point blank that this was the hardest show we were ever going to do. We just had to own that. That is was going to be tough. That there was no roadmap. No manual for wading through this. We've covered some hard and heartbreaking topics before, but nothing like this. It was one of our own this time. This was our real life.

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We decided to open the show and acknowledge that Robin couldn't be with us right now. Then we planned with Barry the Boss that he would come in later in the show and explain the situation. We had over three hours of show ahead of us and we couldn't cover it constantly so we put it in a box. Just like anyone does with grieving, I guess. You wrap it up and put it on the shelf and take it down when you can.

And then as counterintuitive as it felt, we put on a show. As close as possible to a normal show as we could. We just kept Robin and the boys in our minds, our hearts and in our pockets and we pushed on. This was bigger than us.

Because Robin wanted us to keep going, she begged us to in fact. Her life had fallen apart in an instant and she was in a world of pain but she wanted us to go on. To keep some light and laughter in the world. So that was our reason. That was what kept us going. That's how we found the words when we didn't know what to say.

And then the most beautiful thing happened. The outpouring of love began and it just didn't stop. For Robin and the boys of course but also for us. Brisbane, in your love and support for Robin, you lifted us up. The phone calls and messages started flooding in. Barry's words encouraged us. Everyone thanked us for being there and sharing the news ourselves. In retrospect we couldn't have done it any other way.

I feel like I questioned everything I knew as a producer that morning. It was my job to lead the team and though I tried to separate myself out from myself and the grief I felt, I still didn't know if what we were doing was the right thing. But how could you know? The main thing is we picked ourselves up and we did something. We did our best and sometimes that's all you can do. So much of producing is instinct and if there was ever a day to just go with my gut it was then. I look back now and although I don't think there really was a right way or a wrong way, I know that we found OUR way. 

I take my hat off to the boys, Terry & Bob, for their bravery that day and all the days that followed. To our Assistant Producer at the time Ashleigh who had only been a part of our radio family for a few months and coped like a champ. To Louise whose alarms suddenly got a whole lot earlier as she brought her crazy big heart to join The Breakfast Team for a while and help keep us sane. To our gorgeous newsreader Mon. Our epic Audio Producer Greg. Barry our illustrious Boss. Our Digital & Communications teams who helped us manage the world around us. Every single person in our building and the wider company who offered us love and support. Who knew we were going through something extraordinary and gave us a wide berth. Those who were patient and kind and those who brought us breakfast and pastries. And coffee. Thank goodness for coffee. A true team effort. And what a team.

WATCH ROBIN Reflects On How Her Role Has Changed

It was five weeks before Robin found her way back to us. Especially in those early days, but for what felt like weeks I would stop by her house on the way home and literally deliver the love that was showering down for her and the boys. Flowers, cards, presents, letters, baking, goodwill in all its forms. I told her time and time again that one day I would find a way to explain to her that the city had opened its arms to her in a way that I'd never seen before and would likely never see again. That the messages and emails and calls were coming in their hundreds. That all the people whose lives she had touched over the years had now been touched by hers and they wanted to send their condolences and messages of support. So many stories shared of heartbreaking times where listeners had struggled to put one front in front of the other in their own lives - but hearing The Breakfast Show each morning on their radio was like having a friend cheering them on. That they'd laughed and cried with us so many times and that it does get better. Little by little, day by day. One foot in front of the other.

I'm not sure if I ever found the words to really explain it although trust me, I tried. Maybe today is the day. Usually it's Robin writing these stories but today I write for her. Just as we kept the show running all those moons ago.

Getting up at 3.25am is tough. No bones about it. But some things are bigger than you and the overwhelming desire to pull the covers back over your head. After that day, the hardest day, if I ever falter I just remember a card someone once gave to me that said "No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up". And so I do. x

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline 13 11 14, Mensline 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

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