Eltonjohnworld.com’s George Matlock knew the late director of the EJAF, and offers some thoughts on the loss of the”quiet man” of charity fundraising below. . . .
Like many who knew him personally, the news of the loss of Robert Key, director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, has come as an acute shock as well as deep sorrow.
I first met Robert in March 1994 as EJAF was just starting. He was at that time still involved in managing Rocket Records, Elton’s recording label and I was the new UK manager of an Elton John fan club eager to meet someone who could be an interface for the fans and their limitless “Dear Elton” letters. Robert’s charming manner and calm voice were the two loudest things I noticed about him — he was the kind of man who, by speaking softly, could defuse any heated exchange. A remarkable skill.
A few months later, he was able to put that to good use when a new fan club in France tried to use the Rocket name to raise funds for EJAF without prior approval by the London-based charity. I was at the meeting to ask that the new group behaved fairly and also because our own – unconnected – pan-European fan group bore the “Rocket” name in our branding. By the end of 1994 we changed our name to Hercules, Elton’s middle name.
At the confrontation with the French group, it became evident Robert enjoyed a light spar with the French group while I somewhat “let rip” on the rival group’s behaviour too. But Robert’s manner was so conciliatory it was evident both fan clubs had met a True English Gent.
I bumped into Robert at various functions in later years, and the last time I met him, was around four years ago. It was not in some lavish setting with crowds and glare. It was a dark carpark in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket! I spotted him near his car and hailed him over. We spoke briefly and I told him of my successful battle with cancer. He looked genuinely moved and upset but showed consideration. Sometimes people don’t know how to respond if you tell them you have a life-thtreatening illness.
But just as with those suffering from AIDS or the HIV virus, so too with everything that Robert reacted to. I may have moved onto other media activities in recent years away from the Elton fans’ world, but I will always remember Robert as one of the kindest and most genuine people in showbusiness. He didn’t court the celebrity limelight, but he managed to engineer a very successful series of Elton’s sales of cast-offs to the willing fans. It was a stroke of genius which has helped save many lives. He was always modest about his role in the process.
I said the news of Robert’s departure was a shock and sorrow. Shock because we have been robbed of someone with youth still on his side, and sorrow because we will no longer be able to benefit from his tireless strides to improve the way charity fundraising is done.
But his contribution will not pass without fanfare or legacy because his work has changed the way fundraising is done and his efforts to save lives and improve people’s wellbeing will have a lasting impact.
To Robert’s partner Gerry and relatives, as well as all those who knew him, we share the grief at this difficult time.