Many families of soldiers fighting overseas always dread a phone call saying a loved one has been killed in action. But for NMGB Sales Director Tony Lewis and his wife Sandi that sadly became a reality when their son Conrad was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the Parachute Regiment in February 2011.
The loss of a son is hard to imagine but the couple’s grief gave rise to a determination to help others and they set up the charitable trust 353.org.uk in Conrad’s memory.
The trust’s name is derived from the fact Conrad, who was 22, was the 353rd British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. It has since raised more than £400,000 in support of the military community and their families, contributing to a range of charities including The Parachute Regiment Afghanistan Trust, Nowzad Dogs and Troop Aid.
The outstanding work of the charity, and the way in which Tony tackled such tragic circumstances with dignity and courage, inspired colleagues at NMGB to nominate him to carry the Olympic Torch on its journey to the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tony recalled: “I was working as the commercial vehicle manager in Paris when I got a call from my wife to say that Conrad had been shot and killed and that I needed to get home.
“He was in Three Para and in what was described by the coroner as the most dangerous place on Earth, fighting daily and leading every patrol. He was doing the most crazy stuff and was mentioned in dispatches for his unique bravery.”
No one should have to suffer a death alone and Tony also paid tribute to his colleagues across the Nissan family, who came together at his time of need to provide help and support for him and his wife.
He said: “I have to say that from the moment Conrad died, everyone at Nissan was absolutely superb. I couldn’t say enough about them. They made a fabulous contribution and made everything really easy for me and were really caring.”
Now Tony’s looking ahead to his trip to Brazil where he will carry the Olympic flame for approximately 200 metres through the city of Belo Horizonte – the City of Beautiful Horizons – as part of its 95-day, 36,000km journey that will be seen by an estimated 90 percent of Brazil’s population.
His stint as a torchbearer will be the highlight of an incredible five-day trip that will take in the sights of Rio and Belo Horizonte. Tony will be accompanied on the trip by Sandi.
Looking ahead, he sees the experience as a fitting tribute to Conrad and knows his son would be proud.
He explained: “When I found out I was to carry the Olympic Torch, given the background of the reason why, it was pretty emotional. But it is also very humbling and a massive honour.
“Conrad would love it. He was an incredible athlete, which was why he was in The Paras. He would run 50 miles if he could carry it.
“What an once-in-a-lifetime gift carrying the Olympic Torch is, I am passionate about doing the best I can for everyone here and for Conrad.”